Back in September, they were given little chance of succeeding. They were leaning on a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton, a rookie offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, and the entire team was learning a new offense. Dalton's top receiving targets -- rookie A.J. Green, fourth-year wideout Jerome Simpson and tight end Jermaine Greshman -- had started a combined 13 games. Owner Mike Brown's only major move in free agency was to lose promising young cornerback Jonathan Joseph to the Houston Texans. Moreover, he drew a line in the sand and said he wouldn't trade dissatisfied Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer, who insisted he'd never play for the Bengals again.
Well, as the NFL approaches midseason, Cincinnati is a healthy 4-2, Dalton is battling Cam Newton for offensive rookie of the year honors and the Bengals pulled off a coup by trading Palmer to the Raiders for a first- and second-round pick, the latter of which can become another first- if the Raiders win a playoff game.
Three quarterbacks (Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder) were taken in between No. 1 overall draft pick and Heisman winner Newton and Dalton. While Newton's passing yardage is better than Dalton's (1,847 to 1,311), the Bengals' quarterback has a better completion percentage (62.4 to 58.5), the same number of touchdowns (7), fewer interceptions (5 to 9) and a higher quarterback rating (84.3 to 78.3). All of which is odd because second-round quarterbacks are historically mediocre, at best.
Of the 26 quarterbacks drafted in the second round in the past 27 years, a whopping three have made Pro Bowls: Boomer Esiason, Brett Favre and Drew Brees. In fact, teams are lucky if they end up with a Jake Plummer or a Kordell Stewart instead of a Brian Brohm or a Kellen Clemons. Will Dalton be the next Pro Bowl quarterback from the group? Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese met with him four or five times before the Bengals selected the TCU product and cites Dalton's personality as the reason for his success. He mentions things like his humility, driven character and mental stability, but never mentions Dalton's physical tools and doesn't cite the QB's inability to throw a football through a goalpost from midfield while sitting down as a weakness.
"In a very short period of time period of time he's been able to grasp our offense and he's been able to win at the end of games," said Zampese. "You only have to tell him things once."
Which is music to the Bengals' ears.