ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Andy Dalton used his unique brew of resourcefulness and resilience Sunday to lead his offense out of the firestorm of criticism into its most prolific day of the season during the 27-24 overtime victory over the Bills.
Dalton, who gets ripped for not rolling up the big play or big numbers, was at his classic point guard best at Ralph Wilson Stadium when he made enough plays to throw three touchdown passes, jack his career record to 23-15, his road record to 12-7, and put the Bengals into first place in the AFC North by themselves with 483-yard effort that tied the best in his 38 NFL starts and is the most in a victory.
Sunday should have solved the identity crisis once and for all because not only does the offensive line like to mix it up in the running game, but the numbers say so does Dalton and the rest of the team like that balance. The Bengals are now 16-1 under Dalton when they have at least 30 rushes and in those 16 games he has thrown 24 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.
On Sunday he didn't have a pretty 40-yard touchdown bomb like his opposite number, Bills journeyman Thad Lewis in his second NFL start, and for the second straight game he threw an ill-advised interception. But when the smoke cleared Dalton had his second 100 passer rating of the season (105.9) on 26-of-40 passing for 337 yards and distributed the ball well enough to eight different receivers on screens, swings and seams, to rack up over 100 yards after catch.
"We feel like we have lots of options here. Like you said, we have a bunch of guys catching balls and making plays for us. My job is to spread it out to our guys. It is good to see A.J. (Green) do what he did today but we have a bunch of guys that were making plays and it is fun to see," Dalton said. "A.J. made some big plays, gave him chances to make plays and he made them so we just have to continue to do that."
After watching his regular-season record go over .500 for the first time since September 2008 and the first Bengals win in Buffalo in 28 years, head coach Marvin Lewis gave a thumbs-up to his quarterback.
"I just don't want him to listen to you guys," Lewis said of the media jabs at Dalton and he doesn't have to worry.
Dalton may have fiery red hair, but he combs it down.
"Everybody can say whatever they want but everybody in the organization knows what is really going on and so for me," Dalton said. "It was good to come out and play well. Not only so that there will hopefully be some positive stuff written about us but just for this team, just to get a win. The most important thing is for us to win the game and we were able to do that today."
The offense got out of its two-game funk in a big way with Green regaining his two-time Pro Bowl touch with 103 yards on six catches and the running game following up its 162-yard effort against New England with 165 more that featured a season-high 86 yards on 18 carries by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and seven sneaky runs by Dalton for 17 more against Buffalo's highly-regarded front seven.
And when does running back Giovani Bernard become a lock for AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year? After another highlight film touchdown catch-and-run, Bernard has four touchdowns and is on pace for a Bengals-record 465 receiving yards by a back.
The offense that came into the game scrounging for just one touchdown in the last 130 minutes, pumped in three with 10:49 left in the third quarter with Green getting help with career days in the passing game from second-year wide receiver Marvin Jones (71 yards on three catches) and Bernard (72 yards on six catches) as the Bengals also came up with their longest run of the year on Jones's 34-yard reverse.
"I felt like we had the whole balanced attack going with the running game and the passing game," said Green, who along with Jones used screens to generate the receivers' first plus-40-yard plays since the Sept. 8 opener. "I got some shots to make a play and a lot of the other guys made some plays and that really helped me out because they kept singling me."
On the snap before he floated an 18-yard touchdown pass to Green on a post-corner route that gave the Bengals a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter, Dalton generated a first down on his third-and-six scramble in which he made rookie sensation middle linebacker Kiko Alonso miss for the final yard.
Dalton then saw Green working one-on-one on cornerback Leodis McKelvin in the back right corner of the end zone and Green wrenched it off McKelvin's back before going out of bounds.
It was a play the Bengals hadn't come close to making for the past two weeks as Green and Dalton struggled to get on the proverbial same page.
"It was a good ball by Andy. He gave me a shot and I went up and made the play," Green said.
Green's longest play of the season came on the next drive when his 54-yard ramble on a wide-open screen was set up by the rampaging blocks of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Whitworth was particularly frightening as he roared into space and cut down 188-pound safety Jim Leonhard like he was picking wild flowers.
"That was good; he set it all up," Green said. "Whit is probably one of the best we've got. He got out there and ran and created that separation for me. I just hit it. I got caught, but it was a good chunk play."
It set up Dalton's swashbuckling 20-yard touchdown pass to Bernard. Dalton stepped up as the pocket collapsed and shoveled it to him at the 16 before Bernard proceeded to make four tacklers miss.
"I felt pressure and I had to step up and Giovani was there and doing a little improvising and kind of shuffled it to him," Dalton said. "It was the easiest way to get it to him. I don't know how many guys missed and we scored a touchdown. You've seen him do that before; he did it against Pittsburgh and I was just making plays."
Throw in Dalton's patient third-and-eight throw from the Bills 8 early in the third quarter that found Marvin Jones improvising as Dalton bought time running out of the pocket for a 10-yard touchdown and isn't that what quarterbacks do?
"Like we said, it all starts with running the football," Whitworth said. "If we run the football well then they've got to cover everybody else. You start running the ball well, you can't double A.J. as much, and then when you start singling everybody up because you're trying to get an extra guy to stop the run it provides opportunity for all the guys that have matchups to win."
Like those lethal flares to Bernard and the screen to Green.
"I've always felt good in space, and always felt that was one of the plusses in my game. We were able to do that some, get out there in space and do some things, it was fun," Whitworth said.
Dalton spent his postgame session shrugging. There had been a headline earlier in the week blown up from a comment from cornerback Adam Jones talking about Dalton's new weapons and the headline making the assumption he hadn't done enough with them.
"That's the media, that is the media twisting things and for Adam, he is a guy who has my back 100 percent," Dalton said. "If you go ask him if he is confident in me, if I am one of his guys, he would definitely say that I am. So that's where you just can't worry about the stuff that is written. It is easy to take one thing out of context and twist and turn and say whatever you want, but all that matters is that we are 4-2 right now, we are winning games, and we have to keep getting better."
The Bengals still had to overcome more madness in the overtime. Green said he fouled up the first snap, thinking that Dalton had changed the play to a run. But he hadn't and Green was called for pass interference as he went to block. Yet he came back on the next play and got a big 12-yard pickup on another screen.
"The overtime was just like all the time; we didn't flinch," Green said. "(This game was) not just for the critics, but ourselves. We'd only scored a touchdown the last couple of games, so just to come in here and move the ball like we did gives us another boost."