NFL

NFL AM: Bengals QB Andy Dalton Out For The Season

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Bad Luck Bengals

For years, detractors of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton have wondered if the team would be better off moving away from the solid, yet unspectacular, and spectacularly bad in the playoffs signal caller.

Now they get to find out.

Dalton broke his thumb early on in Sunday’s 33-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and will reportedly miss the rest of the 2015 season. 

“I hurt my thumb,” Dalton said. “They told me there is a fracture in there.”

Dalton was having a career year in 2015, as he was a borderline MVP candidate.  He was completing a career-best 66.1 percent of his throws, for 3,191 yards with 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions.  His quarterback rating of 107.4 is nearly 20 points higher than his best season in the NFL.

The red-haired quarterback had led his team to a 10-2 record entering Sunday’s action and were a threat for home-field advantage in the AFC.

“The thing that really impressed me about Andy Dalton was his leadership this year,” NBC Sports analyst and former Super Bowl champion Rodney Harrison said.  “He really took this team under his belt and carried them.”

Cincinnati will now turn to former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who completed 22 of 32 throws, for 280 yards, with a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions, one of which was taken back for a touchdown by William Gay in the loss.

“If you don’t [have confidence], you’re doomed,” McCarron said after the game. “I’ve always believed in myself when I’ve stepped between those white lines where it’s a nasty and dirty game. If you lose confidence it can go bad for you real quick.”

It’s good that McCarron has confidence, but how much of that confidence should Bengals fans have in him?  Not all that much.  There’s a reason why he was a fifth-round pick and he doesn’t have particularly good arm strength.

McCarron will look to ride a very talented supporting cast as he did in college at Alabama, but even with possibly the best roster in the NFL as Cincy boasts, they can’t win against elite playoff teams with an ill-prepared, young backup quarterback.

To put it simply, things just got a lot easier for the real contenders in the AFC.

Blown Opportunities Across the League

There were a number of teams who had opportunities to take strides forward in the playoff chase, but fell short on Sunday.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on the verge of competing for an NFC Wildcard spot, but they are seemingly the only team in the NFL that had trouble scoring points against the New Orleans Saints.  Tampa dropped to 6-7 after their 24-17 loss at home to Drew Brees and company, as the Saints quarterback was a masterful 31 of 41, for 312 yards and a pair of touchdowns for a 113.1 quarterback rating.

“We kind of knew what was at stake today,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said. “Normally you play your best ball when this much is on the line. It’s amazing we lost, but by seven points. You have to give the Saints a lot of credit. They played well [on] both sides of the football. Things we did, you just can’t win football games [like that].”

With the chance to take control in the AFC South race in front of them, the Indianapolis Colts laid a major egg in Jacksonville as they lost to the Jaguars, 51-16.

The Colts were outclassed by the young, upstart Jags, who now pull to within one game of the division lead.

“Obviously very disappointing loss,” Colts embattled head coach Chuck Pagano said.  “We played a pretty good half.  We didn’t take advantage, again, of opportunities.  We got the ball down in the red zone, and we couldn’t convert on third down.   We had to settle for field goals again.”

Jacksonville outscored Indianapolis 42-3 in the second half and knocked quarterback Matt Hasselbeck out of the game.

“I definitely thought it was a complete win,” Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who completed 16 of 30 passes for 250 yards with four touchdowns (one rushing) said.  “I thought the defense played really well in the first half and kept us in it. I think in the second half, we had a touchdown in all three phases which is impressive. Then I thought the guys did really good job of not folding to adversity and coming out in the second half and responding offensively.”

The Colts will need a victory against Houston on Sunday to regain first place in the division.

Finally, the Denver Broncos were up 12-0 at halftime at home against the Oakland Raiders before the bottom completely fell out in a 15-12 loss.

“We had a chance to really do some damage in the first half and didn’t do it,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak said. “And we obviously helped them in the second half with turnovers, I think four or five drops. We lost line of scrimmage offensively. We played great defense.”

The loss was Brock Osweiler’s first as Denver’s starting quarterback and it also drops the team from the No. 1 seed in the AFC down to possibly the No. 3 seed.

Denver’s offensive line issues reared their ugly head as Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack registered five second half sacks, including the one that ended the Broncos final drive.

“He was unbelievable,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said of Mack. “He’s just getting better and better.”

The loss to Oakland and the poor showing by Osweiler again opens up the door for a potential Peyton Manning return, which Gary Kubiak can’t want.  Manning’s physical limitations are so much that even with the great Broncos defense playing behind him it would be a surprise if they won a playoff game.

Panthers Eyeing 16-0

The Carolina Panthers perfect season steamrolled through the visiting Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, 38-0, moving them to 13-0 on the season.

The undefeated debate now rears it’s ugly head as talking heads will now be pondering if the Panthers should try to go 16-0, or win a Super Bowl title.

As if they are somehow mutually exclusive.

“Don’t ease up on the gas,” NFL MVP candidate Cam Newton said,” after completing 15 of 21 passes for 265 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.  “We want to be considered finishers.”

Newton and the Panthers are on an unbelievable roll, and unlike the 2007 New England Patriots who finished 16-0 and ultimately 18-1, they are playing their best football as the season progresses.

Trips to New York to play the Giants, and Atlanta to play these same lowly Falcons, as well as the season finale at home against Tampa Bay separate the Panthers from becoming the first NFC team to finish a regular season undefeated.

There’s no reason to change anything if you’re Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.  Resting players down the stretch can cause rust, as it did with the Indianapolis Colts of the last decade.

A team wins the Super Bowl every year.  Only one has ever been completely undefeated, and no team has ever finished as undefeated Super Bowl champs in a 16-game regular season.  It appears as if the Panthers are embracing potential history.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.