What a difference 12 days makes, when Andy Dalton engineered a fourth-quarter victory over the Ravens.
Andy Dalton's dreaded Pandora's Box re-opened and all the questions came flying out again with wings after another puzzling performance in prime time during the 24-3 loss to Cleveland.
By the time they turned out the lights at Paul Brown Stadium early Friday morning, the Bengals were either getting second-guessed for signing Dalton to an extension back in August or being saluted for making it so team friendly.
But head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson didn't desert Dalton Friday after the worst passer rater game ever by a Bengals quarterback. From now on Dalton's good and bad performances that swing so wildly are going to be separated by "Uncle Andy," and "Andy 2.0."
(As Jackson says in the effort to avoid interceptions, sometimes you just have to say, "Uncle.")
Lewis observed they had not fallen off a cliff and Jackson was holding on to Dalton's outing of a mere five days ago.
"Now's the time not to panic," said Jackson Monday at noon, working on no sleep.
"I think the first thing is you got to have total belief in yourself and in your preparation and who you are and what you are. I believe Andy has that whole-heartedly," Jackson said. "I don't think that's not the case. You have to go back to work and go rally your teammates, your offensive mates to go get this thing on a consistent basis to be what you know it should be. There are times they look very good, you guys know it and have written it, have talked about it. There are times we've looked very, very bad. Last night was one of those times. He is the centerpiece of it all. I'm not running from that. I don' think he's running from that. He's the key. He'll bounce back."
Lewis, who never left PBS after viewing the tape until 3 a.m., and sleeping until 5, didn't sound like a man ready to bench a guy whom has thrown six interceptions in the last three games after throwing one in the first four games.
"We lost the football game. We didn't fall off a cliff. We're all right there," Lewis said. "It was an important football game, one we know that was important. I would say the same thing to our football team come Monday--win or lose--that it makes the next one up that much more important."
In his first season as his coordinator, Jackson had Dalton off to a huge start. After three games he was on pace for career passer rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt. Now he's on pace for a career-low passer rating (78) and his lowest completion percentage since his rookie year with 60.9.
If Dalton can find any solace on a night he consistently missed the widest of open receivers, he can go back into Bengals history. Ken Anderson, the club's all-time leading passer, had the two worst passer ratings by a Bengals QB with at least 14 attempts until Dalton, according to Elias.
Both came in years Anderson won the NFL passing title. And the worst one, the infamous 2.8 against Seattle at Riverfront Stadium in which he got pulled in a Bengals victory, came in the opener of his 1981 MVP season.
The 3.9 he churned out six years earlier against Oakland, also came in a home victory on Oct. 19, 1975. It came a month before his greatest individual effort in his 16-year career, a 447-yard effort on Monday Night Football.
Jackson says he doesn't have to go into history or into his own experience to buck up his quarterback.
"The example is him. We did this in Indy and bounced back. We bounced back the last two weeks, so it can be done. It will be done. It's got to be done to a different level, that's all," Jackson said.
"I'm not talking about the quarterback position. I'm talking about positions. I don't want us to think we're having an issue with Andy. We're not."
While Lewis thought the Bengals got away from the run a little too quickly, Jackson is recalling that just two weeks ago Dalton hung an 89.3 passer rating on the red-hot Ravens. He calls their rambunctious inconsistencies, "The elephant in the room." Just five days ago Dalton lasered in two red-zone TD passes against the NFL's best red-zone defense while navigating 33 points against Jacksonville's defense that gave up the fewest offensive points in October.
"I know you guys think, fourth season, they should be doing this, they should be doing that. We should be," Jackson said. "And we have. Again, I would feel very, very badly if we hadn't had any success on offense. That's not the case and I've watched some teams in the NFL stub their toe. Maybe not to the extent we did, but lose games, not play well. Whatever all that is and everybody goes bananas and I understand why.
"Now is the time to really focus on getting better. Now is the time to really tighten the screws and dot the Is and cross the Ts and make sure thing are done right," he said. "That's the only chance you have. All I know is hard work. I don't know anything else."
The Bengals ran it 22 times for their third fewest attempts of the season. The two other lows (18 in New England and 12 in Indy) were also in losses.
"We were able to effectively run the football, and then we got away from running the football," Lewis said. "We were forced away from running the football. We had the fumble (by rookie running back Jeremy Hill) on another big gain. We've got to have the mindset to stay after it, continue with it. It was a 17-3 game at halftime. We've got to stay after those things. It wasn't that big a deficit."
The 14-game unbeaten streak at PBS encompassed two playoff berths, an AFC North title and three wins over the Ravens. "That's what I'm saying. So there's something to grab on to. There is a body of work that says you can do it," Jackson said. "I'm joined at the hip with him. I understand that. That's the way it goes. I've not run from that. As he gets killed (publicly), I get killed. That's the way it goes. That's part of this business."
It is the turnovers that gall Jackson, but he wasn't going to throw anyone under the bus on the night's first interception. It looked like tight end Jermaine Gresham stopped his route to Dalton's surprise, a replay of the incompletion in the opener where Gresham was wide open for a red-zone touchdown.
Jackson offered a reminder that Gresham was limited in practice this week with a knee issue
"I think it's all just communication. I think its timing, communication and practice. I think you go back to practice and do it all over again. You guys know he didn't practice much this week and sometimes you need guys out there so they can work through some bugs," he said. "I'm not going to blame it on that but at the end of the day I just know there's only one way to fix things, there's only one way to become a very good offense and execute things: you've got to practice together to have that chance and we to get our guys out there."
Dalton's prime-time numbers are there for all to see and judge. A 2-9 record with eight TDs and 14 interceptions. Jackson prefers not to look at the time of the game.
"You know the stats, I can't dispute what is fact," Jackson said. "We are not going to let this define us. We are not going to let last night define who we are because I have seen some really good football on offense. We are going to grow from it, we are going to learn from it we are not going to bury our heads in the sand and say it didn't happen, either.
* BENGALS FIVE WORST PASSING GAMES*
ATT COM YDS TD INT RATE
11/06/2014 CIN 3 vs CLE 24 Dalton, Andy 33 10 86 0 3 2.0
09/06/1981 CIN 27 vs SEA 21 Anderson, Ken 15 5 39 0 2 2.8
10/19/1975 CIN 14 vs OAK 10 Anderson, Ken 19 4 75 0 4 3.9
09/25/1994 CIN 13 at HOU 20 Klingler, David 30 10 115 0 3 6.2
11/25/2001 CIN 0 at CLE 18 Kitna, Jon 19 8 85 0 2 16.2