BENGALS QB ANDY DALTON VS. DOLPHINS QB RYAN FITZPATRICK
In Sunday's game in Miami (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) pitting two teams observers believe are looking for their next franchise quarterbacks, Dalton faces old friend Fitzpatrick in the 13th game in Bengals history they're opposed by one of their former starting quarterbacks. Some would call it "The Red Rifle vs. The Amish Rifle," one of Fitzpatrick's many nicknames as Dalton tries to post his third victory over Fitzpatrick while Fitzmagic wears a third different uniform.
Dalton, who has defeated Fitzpatrick's Bills (for his first Paul Brown Stadium victory) and Jets (to win the 2016 opener on the road); tries for the AFC East sweep. A victory over Miami's 30th-ranked defense would give him a percentage point lead over Ken Anderson (.530-.529) heading into next Sunday's finale against the Browns at PBS as the Bengals' winningest quarterback ever. A split in the last two games puts him at .534. Two losses would put him at .526.
The Bengals have won only four of those 12 matchups and Dalton has won three of them. Two of those wins against Fitzpatrick and a split over the man Fitzpatrick backed up, Carson Palmer, as the Bengals ponder their quarterback for the 2020s.
If there is ever a day the Bengals can top their season high of 23 points, which they set on Oct. 6 against Arizona, they have to hope this it in a game featuring a Bengals offense scoring the fewest points in the league at 15 points per game and a Dolphins defense allowing the most at 31 per.
And then there is Fitzpatrick. The Harvard man who holds the NFL record starting at quarterback for the most teams (seven) has always credited the Bengals (Team No. 2) for allowing him to establish himself in the league with the 12 games he started in place of the injured Carson Palmer in 2008. He has a fond place in Bengaldom lore after piloting them to a 4-3-1 finish that set the table for the AFC North sweep of 2009.
GAMES IN WHICH OPPOSING QB PREVIOUSLY STARTED A GAME FOR BENGALS
(Elias Sports Bureau)
Date Opp QB RESULT
- 9/25/1983 TB Jack Thompson W 23 17
- 11/21/1993 NYJ Boomer Esiason L 12 17
- 12/18/1994 ARI Jay Schroeder L 7 28
- 10/25/1998 OAK Donald Hollas L 10 27
- 11/10/2002 BAL Jeff Blake L 27 38
- 12/01/2002 BAL Jeff Blake L 23 27
- 11/02/2003 ARI Jeff Blake L 14 17
- 11/21/2010 BUF Ryan Fitzpatrick L 31 49
- 10/02/2011 BUF Ryan Fitzpatrick W 23 20
- 11/25/2012 OAK Carson Palmer W 34 10
- 11/22/2015 ARI Carson Palmer L 31 34
- 9/11/2016 NYJ Ryan Fitzpatrick W 23 22
By then he had nabbed a three-year, $7 million deal in Buffalo that has translated into about $70 million over the next decade. He's 53-83-1 (the tie came in '08 in the Donovan McNabb Game at PBS) in his career, but he's stayed in the league because he's smart, is one of the best teammates of all-time, has no fear and can get hot. And forget that he's 37, a year older than Bengals head coach Zac Taylor.
(How great a teammate? Remember when he lost the Bengals quarterbacks' accuracy competition one week and had to show up at a Friday practice dressed like wide receiver Chad Johnson and he did complete in glowing orange spandex?)
Remember, 14 months ago he came off the bench at PBS to engineer 18 points in the final 17 minutes, firing up Tampa Bay on 11 of 15 passing for 194 yards and two touchdowns to pull the Buccaneers into a 34-34 tie with 1:05 left. Only Dalton's 11-yard pass to a sliding A.J. Green (the play that injured his big toe) that set up Randy Bullock's field goal at the gun saved them from a McNabb overtime.
"He's confident and smart," says Bengals safety Shawn Williams. "That's a hell of a combination. That makes him dangerous."
It says a lot about the 3-11 Dolphins that Fitzpatrick is their leading rusher. It also says a lot about Fitzpatrick. Not exactly a new age quarterback like Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray, who hit them for a combined 245 yards rushing on back-to-back weeks in October. But look it up. He's not statuesque like Tom Brady, either. He hit them for a back-breaking 18-yard run last year. He's not far off the swashbuckler of '08.
Or '10 for that matter.
Overall this is Fitz's fourth start against his old club and there's no one on this roster that played with him here. He's 1-3 against them with his only win over the dear friend he backed up, Palmer, in a 2010 game for the Bills that displayed his signature streakiness. Down 28-7 early in the second quarter, he finished with 316 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-31 Bills victory at PBS.
"He still seems to play with that kind of tempo," Dunlap says. "You have to make sure you contain him. He can be streaky hot. He can make mistakes, too. But you have to battle him. You can't let him get going."
Fitzpatrick is the first to tell you he's up and down. He had the Dolphins media rolling this week when he reminded them he's thrown six touchdown passes in a game as well as six interceptions. The Bengals aren't laughing. A media member this week handed Dunlap a list of the quarterbacks he's sacked on his way to 79 career sacks. He's grabbed Joe Flacco the most times with nine. Then there's Philip Rivers (six) and Big Ben (5). In his fifth game against Brady, he got him for the first time last week. Which means Dunlap got Brady before he got Fitz.
"He's gotten away from me," Dunlap says. "You don't think of him as a real explosive runner, but he's very crafty in the pocket and getting out of the pocket."
And here's the thing. Fitzpatrick can throw on the run and do it on a dime at times. Shawn Williams has a lot of admiration for that confidence.
"He's super confident. Even if you've got a guy covered, he's not afraid to make a play," Williams says. "Those are the dangerous ones. The ones that don't care if you're covered. He makes a throw that he shouldn't make, he completes it and his confidence steadily rises. We see it on film. He can extend a play. Even when he makes a play, he's looking to make another, flipping it to someone to get 10 or 15 extra yards."
Williams gets him.
"I like him," Williams says. "I like how he plays."
Sam Hubbard, Dunlap's bookend who wasn't even at Moeller when he Fitzmagiced the '08 Bengals, sounds like he does, too.
"He has a lot of fun out there. Running around and he's not afraid to take shots," Hubbard says. "He can run and he doesn't slide, either. He puts his shoulder down and gets what he can get. He brought some life into Tampa Bay last year. We have to get to him and when we do we've got to put him on the ground."
Dunlap needs Fitz for No. 80. He know it's like hunting a fox. A Crimson fox.
"You have to rush," he says, "but you have to rush him slow."