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Dalton taking charge of Bengals offense

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CINCINNATI — By any measure, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is having an exceptional start to the season.

He’s completing 66.3 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and one interception. He’s thrown for 866 yards with a passer rating of 121.

But stats aside, most observers agree that Dalton just looks different.

He’s more demonstrative on the sideline, showing more emotion on the field and in the huddle, and in moments like Sunday when the game was on the line, he looked his teammates in the eye and declined failure as an option.

“Never any doubt we were going to go down there and score,” Dalton said. “That’s the mentality you have to have.”

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Dalton’s performance in the 28-24 win at Baltimore, was how he reacted when things didn’t go right.

In fact, there were a couple of Dalton-defining moments on Sunday.

He underthrew a fade route resulting in an interception in the end zone. He didn’t protect the ball while being sacked and his fumble was returned 41 yards for a touchdown by linebacker C.J. Mosley.

How did Dalton respond? With a laser to A.J. Green for an 80-yard touchdown.

“That’s one of Andy Dalton’s best qualities is decisiveness and his ability to feel the spacing on the field,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He’s got to make sure the ball go to the right spots. He’s done a good job of that.”

Dalton and the Bengals face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium looking to start the season 4-0 for the first time since 2005, and for just the third time in franchise history.

During Monday’s press conference, Lewis lauded Dalton’s ability to recognize the defense and make pre-snap adjustments prior to his seven-yard TD pass to Green with 1:46 remaining.

“That’s part of his job description,” Lewis said. “That’s part of the role we give our quarterback in certain situations. He’s got a couple of options and he’s got to take advantage of those options. That’s so important for a quarterback.”

Fair or unfair, judgment day for Dalton ultimately will come in the playoffs where he’s 0-4 as a starter.

“Everybody wants to compare,” said Lewis. “Every year’s a new year.”

REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus. Andy Dalton passed for 383 yards and three touchdowns, made more impressive when you consider how and when he produced those yards. Sure, he underthrew a fade route resulting in an interception and had a sack fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Those Dalton moments will happen on occasion. But, when his team needed a big play, Dalton produced. His 80-yard strike to A.J. Green was still being talked about the next day. And head coach Marvin Lewis raved about Dalton’s ability to check the coverage and make pre-snap adjustments before delivering the game-winning pass to Green in the fourth quarter.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D. Jeremy Hill was the Bengals’ big-play back last season. Last week he was benched following a pair of critical fumbles in a win over San Diego and on Sunday looked tentative in rushing for just 21 yards on 12 carries. His backfield mate Gio Bernard remains a fixture in both the rush and pass offense with 49 yards on the ground and 34 on three catches Sunday. But the Bengals need more out of this duo as the season progresses to keep the pressure off Dalton.

–PASS DEFENSE: C. This could be taken as a tough grade when you consider how many times in his career Ravens receiver Steve Smith has made opposing defenses look bad. Bengals corner Adam Jones was playing hurt, compounding the issue as did some horrendous tackling for which there’s no excuse. Smith finished with 186 yards on 13 catches and two TDs. But, the Bengals won the game.

–RUN DEFENSE: A. The Bengals held the Ravens to just 36 rushing yards and an average of two yards per carry. DT Domata Peko had just one tackle, but his ability to stuff the gaps freed up other Bengals to make plays. Baltimore’s longest rush was nine yards. Justin Forsett led the team with a whopping 13 yards on 10 carries.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. No real issues here. Mike Nugent didn’t attempt a field goal but was 4-for-4 on extra points, which means more these days. Kevin Huber continues to be a weapon for Cincinnati, averaging 43 yards on three punts with one inside the 20.

–COACHING: C. The Bengals staff, most notably offensive coordinator Hue Jackson pushed the right buttons in Sunday’s come-from-behind 28-24 win at Baltimore. But this grade took a hit when head coach Marvin Lewis’ much-maligned clock management skills, or lack thereof, resurfaced just before halftime when the Bengals had the ball at their own 41 with 33 seconds left, used one timeout when the clock was stopped, failed to use a timeout in another instance, and ran a total of four plays before stalling at midfield.


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