Andy Dalton eyes his own franchise record in season finale
Andy Dalton has been steady. The sixth-year quarterback has quietly put together a very solid 2016 season with a relatively new cast.
Coming into 2016, no one knew what to expect from Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton. The last time he was on the field, an injured thumb cost him a shot at playoff redemption.
In the offseason, the most interesting thing to happen with Dalton was a frantic search for his lost luggage four days after the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50. One month later, he watched two of his receivers, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, leave Cincinnati for bigger contracts in Detroit and Atlanta, respectively.
So when the 2016 regular season rolled around, who was he to throw to? A.J. Green was the only familiar name in the lineup with Tyler Eifert starting the season on the IR. Despite being sacked a career-high seven times against the Jets in week one, the Red Rifle completed all four of his passes for 33 yards on the Bengals’ final drive, setting up a game-winning field goal that lifted Cincinnati to a 23-22 win.
Andy Dalton’s 17th career game-winning drive came against the Jets in week one. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
Fast forward 16 weeks from that opening-day win. The Bengals are 5-9-1 and were officially eliminated from postseason contention on Dec. 18th. Cincinnati hosts Baltimore on New Year’s Day in a game that will end disappointing campaigns for both teams.
What’s at stake
Dalton has been quietly good in such a down season. His 17 passing touchdowns might throw you away from that hypothesis, but heading into Sunday he needs 314 passing yards against Baltimore to break his own franchise record for most passing yards in a single season.
Dalton set his current record of 4,293 passing yards in 2013, the same year he won the first of his two AFC North championships. That season, he also set a franchise record with 33 touchdowns through the air.
But 2016 has been more impressive. In 2013, he threw 20 interceptions, that has dropped by 12 this year. If he doesn’t throw two picks on Sunday, he will be the only quarterback in Bengals’ history to throw less than 10 interceptions in a season while starting every game.
Also, one has to consider the cast he was working with. Through 15 games, he’s completed passes to four Bengals (Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson) he had never thrown to before and four more with limited experience with him heading into this season. Tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah each had one reception from Dalton in 2015, James Wright had five catches in ’14, and H-back Ryan Hewitt sprinkled in 16 receptions in two seasons.
Despite the new targets, Dalton has turned LaFell into a quality No. 2 receiver, Boyd is 4th among rookies in receptions (52) and yards (564), and Core has turned some heads with his ability to stretch the field in recent weeks.
With nothing to play for but pride, Dalton can put a positive on what has been a negative season. In 10 career games against the Ravens, he’s eclipsed the 300-yard mark three times, including a career-high 383 yards in a 28-24 win at M&T Bank Stadium last season.
Dalton accounted for 393 total yards and four touchdowns in his lone start against Baltimore last season. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
If the Red Rifle could get his 314 passing yards on Sunday, he would join some elite company to hit 300 yards against Baltimore this season. Only Eli Manning (401), Dak Prescott (301), and Tom Brady (406) have done it.
On average, Baltimore’s 11th-ranked pass defense is giving up 86.2 more yards per game on the road compared to at home (294-207.8).
Working without Green and Giovani Bernard in the two team’s first meeting, Dalton completed passes to eight different receivers. He finished with 283 passing yards and one touchdown in a 19-14 loss in Baltimore.
With just 20 yards, Dalton will tally his second 4,000-yard season. Carson Palmer also did it twice in 2006 & 2007.
Early next season, Dalton will get the 707 yards he needs to pass Palmer for third on the Bengals’ all-time passing list.
He has nine touchdowns, six interceptions, and a 90.2 passer rating over his current 4-1 stretch against Baltimore.
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