Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) makes a catch getting away from Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (22) during the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium last Sunday. (Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)
Exactly a year after the Cincinnati Bengals were knocked out of the playoffs at Houston, they will face the San Diego Chargers in an AFC Wild Card round game today at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati insists things are different this time, and in many ways they are right. They are ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense (only New Orleans can also lay claim to that), host a playoff game for the first time since 2009 and have a three-game winning streak against the Chargers.
However, until quarterback Andy Dalton proves he can win a postseason game, the doubts remain on how good this team can be.
In two postseason games, Dalton is 41 of 72 for 384 yards with no touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 48.6. The two most memorable plays are J.J. Watt’s Pick Six two years ago and Dalton overthrowing A.J. Green for what would have been a touchdown in the fourth quarter last year. The Bengals have not scored an offensive touchdown in their last seven postseason quarters.
“Offensively, I don’t think we’ve done very well, but we haven’t put a pretty complete game together,” Dalton said. “This is the time. What you’ve done in the regular season doesn’t matter anymore; it’s all about what you’re doing now. It’s the team that gets hot that ends up winning it all. We’ve got to play to our potential and good things are going to happen for us.”
In December, Dalton completed 63 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions (four came in last week’s win over Baltimore). He was sacked only three times and had a passer rating of 97.3. There was also a span when the Bengals had 14 straight red zone possessions with a touchdown.
That’s quite a change from last December when Dalton had only four touchdowns, five interceptions and a rating of 71.3.
In an AFC playoff field that includes Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers, Dalton and Kansas City’s Alex Smith are vying for the title of most lightly-regarded quarterback in the conference. Smith has something though that Dalton doesn’t — a playoff win.
In the two times the Bengals have faced the Chargers with Dalton under center, Cincinnati has won both. In the Week 13 game at San Diego, Dalton was 14 of 23 for 190 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Already this season Dalton has won matchups against Rivers, Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers. He is also the fourth drafted quarterback to lead his team to the postseason three straight years along with setting single-season franchise records for touchdown passes (33) and passing yards (4,296). All of that doesn’t matter though unless they can win in the playoffs.
“I feel great about where Andy is right now. He just keeps playing and is really unflappable,” Lewis said. “He is in a good spot as we move forward. We just have to coach better and play better as we move forward.”
Notes: The Bengals went 8-0 at home in the regular season for only the second time in franchise history. The other was in 1988 when they advanced to Super Bowl XXIII.
Overall, it was the fourth time they were unbeaten at home. The others were the 1982 strike season (4-0) and 1973 (7-0).
The Bengals have won nine home games in a row, dating back to the 2012 season finale vs. Baltimore. That is a team-high in the Marvin Lewis era (2003-present), as well as the Paul Brown Stadium era (2000-present). The club record for consecutive home games won is 10, comprising the 8-0 mark in 1988 and the first two games of ’89.
• This marks the 18th postseason game in franchise history. The Bengals are 5-11 and 1-5 in either Wild Card or first-round games. They are 5-2 in home playoff games.
• Andy Dalton has a .625 career winning percentage as Cincinnati’s starter (30-18). His win percentage is the best in franchise history for any QB with 10 more starts. Ken Anderson stands second at .529 (91-81).