Fire and ice

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Hue Jackson liked the look in Andy Dalton's eyes in crunch time.

Andy Dalton celebrated his 27th birthday Wednesday getting celebrated by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

Jackson detests stats, but as a former quarterback he loves red-hot intensity and ice under pressure and he got both from Dalton in the final drive on the last play of last Sunday's come-from-behind victory over the Ravens.

The one thing Jackson hates more than stats are turnovers. But after Dalton's sloppy ball-handling led to the Ravens' go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Jackson wasn't surprised at what happened next.

"That was water off a duck's back. He was ready to go make the next play. That's why he's who he is," said Jackson after Wednesday's practice. "That's why he's one of the leaders of this football team and our quarterback. You have to shake that off and go play, and he demonstrated that against a good defensive football team."

When people talk about Dalton, they're going to have to start talking about his ability to come through late in games, no matter who is on the field. Against the Ravens he posted the eighth fourth-quarter comeback and 12th game-winning drive of his career without his favorite target. Without Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green again two weeks ago, he twice put them into position to win with one drive in the fourth quarter and two more in overtime of the 37-37 tie against Carolina.

"He can do it. I told you guys he can do it. I have no reservation with him whatsoever. The guy's playing tremendous football," Jackson said. "

Jackson is a gutsy guy by nature. Just look at some of his calls. But even he was impressed by Dalton's nerve when the 1s were strung across the board. Fourth-and-one from the Ravens 1 with 1:01 left and No. 1 in the AFC North on the line down by four.

"That last play was very characteristic of my trust and belief in him and his trust and belief in me," Jackson said. "I told him if the look's there you got to take it. He didn't blink. You know how some time a guy will leave instruction and have that blank look on their face? Like, 'What is he talking about,' or 'How is this going to happen?'

 "I didn't sense any of that. What I sensed was a guy who was very confident and he knew that boy if we line up like this and if they gave us a look that he was going to go make a play and that's what he did."

 It sounds easy. Jackson sent in his spread package and told Dalton if the Ravens honored it, think about a sneak up the middle.

But when the season is staring back at you, Dalton had to do more than think about it.

"I told him if we got the look as far as how they aligned based on what we had in the game, because if you go through the series we were in big personnel, we were in spread out personnel and you just keep looking at the looks how they were aligning," Jackson said. "And then here it is fourth down and they have to make decision and there's not a lot of time to make that decision and we were able to make the right one at that time and it was able to work out."

 Jackson won't like this, but it shows you what Dalton has accomplished before he turned 27 if you take a look at the numbers of the Bengals' best quarterbacks.

                                  BENGALS QBS BY AGE 26

                       Record    TDs  INTs    Yards         Rating

Andy Dalton      34-20-1  86    53     13,001       86.1

Ken Anderson    34-23    69    44       10,959       85.4

Carson Palmer   25-19    76   43       10,517        91.5

Boomer Esiason  23-23    70   51       11,253        83.1                       

With three post-season appearances, Dalton piloted as many playoff teams as Ken Anderson (2), Boomer Esiason (0), and Carson Palmer (1) combined by the time they turned 27. His 12 game-winning drives are more than any of them with Esiason and Palmer tied at nine before their 27th birthday and Anderson with sixth. Esiason also had eight fourth-quarter comebacks at this age, Palmer had five, and Anderson three.

Dalton's 34 victories are what Anderson had through the 1975 season before he turned 27 in February of 1976. Esiason broke even at 23-23, thanks to the '87 strike when he went 3-9 before turning 27 in April of 1988. Palmer, who sat his rookie year, was 25-19 before he turned 27 the week of the 2006 finale and a loss that knocked him out of a back-to-back playoff berth.

Dalton still has a ways to go in chasing his Astroturf ancestors of Anderson and Esiason. When he was 26, Anderson won the second of his four NFL passing titles and Esiason was a year away from taking his team to the Super Bowl while being named NFL MVP.

But they are numbers to be celebrated. And Jackson will take one of those stats.

"Everybody gets caught up in stats and touchdown passes and all that stuff," Jackson said.
"I get caught up in winning and I think he is too. At the end of the day no one is going to talk about touchdown passes or this, that or the other they're going to talk about wins and losses. That's how he's going to get judged so his job is to find a way for us to win games and that's what he's been able to do."

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