Bengals' Dalton has to get past another awful game

CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton is trying to forget it, and fast.

The Bengals quarterback had another horrible game in primetime last Thursday, throwing three interceptions during a 24-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium. He completed only 10 passes for 86 yards and finished with a passer rating of 2.0.

The loss knocked the Bengals (5-3-1) out of first place in the AFC North and raised more questions about whether Dalton is capable of handling big games.

''That's not the kind of player I am, not the kind of offense we are, not the kind of team we are to put that showing out there,'' Dalton said on Wednesday. ''So you can't lose any confidence. You can't all of a sudden panic or anything.''

Dalton said the team has to hang on to its successes.

Dalton has the best career winning percentage of any Bengals quarterback with more than 10 starts. He's one of only five quarterbacks in NFL history to lead his team into the playoffs in each of his first three seasons.

That's the good Andy. Then there's the other one.

Dalton is 0-3 in the playoffs, where he has one touchdown, six interceptions and a passer rating of 56.2. He's 2-6 in prime-time games with seven touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 66.1.

That other Andy tends to show up when the Bengals need the good one. And his showing on Thursday night raised questions about his big-game readiness all over again.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth said everyone has games where they don't play their best.

''He'll find a way to fix what he needs to fix and do better because it means the world to him,'' he said. ''He believes in working himself to be good and working himself to be the kind of player he is.''

The Bengals need Dalton to get it together quickly as they start a stretch of three road games on Sunday at New Orleans (4-5). Five of their last seven are on the road, with the two home games, including a Monday night game against Denver.

Dalton was one of the league's most efficient quarterbacks during Cincinnati's 3-0 start, throwing only one interception and avoiding a sack. The offense came apart during a 43-17 loss at New England on Sunday night, during a 27-0 loss at Indianapolis, and again during the loss to the Browns on Thursday night.

''He is the centerpiece of it all. I'm not running from that. I don't think he's running from that,'' offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. ''He's the key. He'll bounce back.''

Through nine games, Dalton has thrown for only eight touchdowns with nine interceptions. His passer rating of 78 would be the lowest of his four seasons.

There's been a common thread to the bad performances: Dalton tends to make mistakes under pressure. After getting sacked only two times in the first five games, Dalton has been dropped nine times in the last four games. He has only two touchdown passes and six interceptions in those games.

The showing on Thursday night will make him a focal point for the rest of the season.

''The truth is, at the end of the day, he's a good football player and a lot of guys didn't play their best football the other night and we all share in that,'' Whitworth said. ''Because he's the guy that's going to get paid the most and carry the football around, he's going to take the most scrutiny. That's the way this game is.''

Notes: CB Leon Hall (concussion) was cleared to practice fully on Wednesday and is expected to play against the Saints. LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring) and RT Andre Smith (ankle) were limited in practice, but also are expected to play. ... RB Giovani Bernard (hip/shoulder) and LB Vontaze Burfict (knee) were held out of practice, making it unlikely they'll play on Sunday.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.