Andy Dalton has become something of a lightning rod in Cincinnati. The former second-round pick started as a rookie and immediately had success. In fact, he's helped lead the Bengals to back-to-back-to-back playoff appearances, which was welcome news for a franchise that won four games before Dalton arrived in 2011.
But the Bengals are 0-3 in those postseason appearances with Dalton throwing one touchdown and six interceptions. Still, former Cincy quarterback Boomer Esiason thinks everybody needs to take a deep breath because, on the whole, Dalton has been very good.
"I never had a season like he had this year," Esiason told Bengals.com. "He'll be fine. The trajectory is like this, 9-7, 10-6, 11-5, 22 touchdowns, 27 touchdowns, 33 touchdowns. The guy is a really good player. Everyone just has to calm down.”
In 2013, Dalton completed 62 percent of his throws for 4,293 yards, 33 TDs and 20 INTs. He ranked 16th in Football Outsiders' QB efficiency metric, ahead of Cam Newton and Jay Cutler. Not bad, especially for a young quarterback, but Esiason is being modest about his own success.
By way of comparison, in 1989 (the earliest Football Outsiders has data), Esiason ranked third in QB efficiency, behind only Joe Montana and Jim Everett. That season, he completed 57 percent of his passes for 3,525 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Four seasons later, Esiason, then with the Jets, ranked fifth in QB efficiency behind names like Elway, Young, Aikman and Montana.
It's also worth pointing out that Esiason was a four-time Pro Bowler, and the NFL MVP in 1988, the same season he led the Bengals to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the 49ers.
So while Dalton, in general, has been a good, the problem is that he has an uncanny knack for shrinking in big games. Now he's entering the final year of his rookie contract and it's reasonable to think that if he doesn't show vast improvement in that area, the Bengals will seriously consider letting him walk next offseason. For now, though, Dalton remains the unquestioned starter.