|Dalton had a rocky outing against the Ravens. (US Presswire)|
Andy Dalton's 2012 regular-season debut didn't serve as an encore to his Pro Bowl rookie effort. In fact, for most of the evening against a Ravens defense that was without Terrell Suggs, he looked like a first-year quarterback. Which is to say: equal parts indecisive and overwhelmed. It wasn't completely his fault, of course -- there were missed blocking assignments and dropped passes -- but the reality is this: any success the Bengals have this season will hinge Dalton.
By the time it was over, the Ravens had eked out a 44-13 victory and the second-year quarterback's line looked like this: 22-of-37 for 221 yards, 0 TDs, 1 iNT (it was a pick-six ... and Ed Reed was on the receiving end, natch), 1 fumble, and he was sacked four times. Dalton also took two big hits in the back, one from Haloti Ngata that led to this inevitable grimace:
What Dalton accomplished last season -- 3,398 passing yards, 20 TDs, 13 INTs, 10 wins and a wild-card berth -- exceeded everyone's expectations. And it made the organization look pretty smart for unloading Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens, and sending Carson Palmer to Oakland for a first- and second-round pick. All of it was enough for some media folks (including CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco) to pick Cincinnati to win the AFC North.
We were less bullish on their chances. Not because they're suddenly a bad team but because playing quarterback in the NFL is an extremely difficult job. We talked about it on the latest Pick-6 Podcast but it comes down to this: Dalton snuck up on a lot of teams last year. Now with the offseason to meticulosity break him down, defensive coordinators could focus on exposing his weaknesses. Plus, let's not forget: this is Dalton's second season. He's still learning and there's plenty he doesn't know. (Cam Newton can attest to this.)
That's not to say he's a fraud, or that he won't be the Bengals' quarterback for the foreseeable future, just that there's a learning curve in the league. And it's steepest for quarterbacks.
For now, all the Bengals can do is regroup and prepare for Cleveland on Sunday. We expect them to roll and Dalton to get back on track. Then again, if the first week of the NFL is any indication, anything can happen.
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