Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton prepares to pass in the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Don Wright
November 05, 2015

CINCINNATI (AP) Running back Giovani Bernard likes Andy Dalton's new look. Specifically, the swoosh of red hair that sticks up from the front of his scalp.

''The Dalton `do,'' Bernard dubbed it.

The Bengals quarterback has started doing something new with his hair this season, making the frock by his forehead stick up like an exclamation point. And that's not all that's new. Those passing statistics stick out, too.

Dalton has been one of the NFL's best quarterbacks during Cincinnati's so-far undefeated season. He ranks fourth this week with a rating of 107.6, which includes 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Three times already, Dalton has led Cincinnati (7-0) from fourth-quarter deficits with a newfound knack for making the big plays in the most pressure-filled moments. His 9-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with 2:57 left on Sunday set up a 16-10 win in Pittsburgh that gave the Bengals the best start in their history.

''Great resiliency, persistence, leadership,'' running back Jeremy Hill said. ''That's just the Andy we've seen all year. We're going to continue to expect to see that.''

He's got a chance to show it again on Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium against the Cleveland Browns (2-6), who made Dalton look awful in the same setting a year ago. The Browns visited for a Thursday night game and handled Dalton like no other defense during a 24-3 win.

Dalton went 10 of 33 for 86 yards with three interceptions and a passer rating of only 2.0, the worst of his career. Joe Haden shut down Green, who managed only three catches for 23 yards. And Dalton added to his legacy of coming apart in the high-profile games.

''I don't know how much of it was Andy and how much of it was our football team struggling in general,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ''The quarterback always gets the blame.''

In this case, he deserved it.

''I have to put that behind me,'' Dalton said. ''I think it was a one-time thing. You can't let anything like that creep into your head because we are in a much better place than we were last year.''

And Dalton gets a lot of the credit for that part.

After the Bengals suffered a first-round playoff loss for the fourth straight year, Dalton spent the offseason working on his throwing to get more accurate with the deep passes. He also immersed himself in studying other defenses.

The biggest change came after offensive coordinator Hue Jackson challenged him to be more of a leader on the field and in the meeting rooms, making sure everyone around him was playing to a higher level.

''He's more of a leader now,'' Bernard said. ''There's a little more spunk in him.''

It's rubbing off, especially in the fourth quarter. Dalton led the Bengals back from deficits twice in Baltimore, helped them overcome a 17-point deficit to beat Seattle in overtime, and got the Bengals ahead for the first time in Pittsburgh with a late touchdown drive.

''It may not have gone exactly how we wanted it to (in Pittsburgh) for the first part of the game,'' Dalton said. ''Then at the end of the fourth quarter, we put a good drive together that won the game. I think it's just the resiliency. When you need it most, that's when you've got to be at your best, and we've done that this year.''

His teammates have seen it enough times to develop a confidence in his ability to pull games out at the end.

''He's been like that,'' Green said.


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