By 4 p.m. Sunday, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton could emerge from the season finale against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) with home wins over Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, as well as Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and New England's Tom Brady.
Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, all.
Dalton has had plenty of help from his defense in that stretch, but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden believes it also shows that Dalton is capable of taking the Bengals all the way.
"He's beaten Brady, he's beaten Rodgers, he's beaten Roethlisberger, he's done it all. We just have to do it in the playoffs," Gruden said after Thursday's practice. "That's to be determined. But even if something happens where there are turnovers or a bad referee call or something happens and we don't win the game, I don't think you can discount what he's done the last three years as a starting quarterback."
Last Sunday, Dalton joined Flacco on that list of four quarterbacks that have been to the NFL playoffs as a starting quarterback in their first three years as a pro. Flacco went into the finale of his third season with a record of 31-16 while Dalton is 29-18. By this time in his career, Flacco had three playoff victories while Dalton seeks his first. In the three previous games this season at PBS against those Super Bowl winners, they had a combined two touchdowns and four interceptions while Dalton threw three touchdowns and two interceptions and out-passed them by 88.2 to 63.2 in passer rating.
"It says something to me. It says something to the coaches, it says something to the people in here," Gruden said. "That's all that matters. I don't know what it says to you guys (in the media) or the fans. If you're talking about winning 30 games as a starter in three years, that's an impressive stat. … We know what he's all about. As long as everybody in this room has faith in him, that's the only thing we care about."
But Gruden acknowledges what a playoff victory means for the players for whom the Green-Dalton era is named. Wide receiver A.J. Green is 76 yards from the franchise's single-season receiving yards record and Dalton is two touchdown passes and 117 passing yards shy of the club's two biggest single-season records for quarterbacks.
"It's exciting for both those guys," Gruden said. "I think what's more important for them is to get the playoff stigma off them. No matter what they do, until they win a playoff game, they can still be criticized. The only way to stop the criticism for good is to win playoff games. And Super Bowls."
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