Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton walks the sideline with a cast on his throwing hand in the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
Frank Victores
December 14, 2015

Not too many folks are going to compare Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron to three-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady.

McCarron basically did just that.

The second-year QB stepped in for the Bengals when starting QB Andy Dalton - who entered the day leading the NFL in passer rating - broke his right thumb trying to make a tackle after getting intercepted Sunday. The amount of time the black cast remains on Dalton's throwing hand could go a long way toward determining how long Cincinnati's season lasts.

And so here was McCarron's take on his current position: ''You've got to love pressured moments. That's what makes you great. That's when the great ones really shine. I guess Tom Brady was in this same situation when he had the opportunity, so I've got to make the most of it.''

Guess so.

Brady's transcendent career began in earnest in 2001, his second year in the league, when he replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe for the New England Patriots - and wound up leading Bill Belichick and Co. to a championship that season.

McCarron also is a second-year player. He had thrown a grand total of four passes until Sunday, when he had a pair of scoring passes and a pair of picks in a 33-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

''If you lose confidence,'' McCarron said, ''it can go bad for you real quick.''

In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season's 14th Sunday:

MAKE `EM COUNT: Panthers wideout Tedd Ginn Jr. is known for two traits: blazing speed and dropping catchable passes. This time around, he hauled in two balls from Cam Newton - and both went for TDs. Ginn's scores went for 74 and 46 yards in a 38-0 victory over the Atlanta Falcons (remember their 5-0 start?) that put the Panthers at 13-0 and clinched a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

NICE CALL, COACH: Now here was a significant development that could alter the course of the NFC playoffs: Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy reinstalled himself as the play-caller. McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers won a Super Bowl together, remember. ''It was what I felt I needed to do,'' McCarthy said. Sure worked. Eddie Lacy rushed for 124 yards, and he and another running back, James Starks, combined for three TDs.

BIG MACK: Maybe it's a good thing for 39-year-old, fragile Peyton Manning that he was not the Broncos' quarterback against the Raiders. That's because Oakland's Khalil Mack produced five sacks in the second half of a 15-12 win against Denver and Brock Osweiler, who called the defender's performance ''phenomenal'' and ''tremendous.''

GOING SOUTH: The NFC East - led by the Redskins and Eagles at 6-7; the Giants can pull even Monday night - is not the only terrible division in the NFL. The AFC South is right there with it, with the Colts and Texans tied on top at 6-7, too. Plus, next week, Houston is at Indianapolis, and given the injuries to Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck and Brian Hoyer, there is a chance of a Charlie Whitehurst vs. T.J. Yates showdown with control of the division at stake. Avert your eyes.


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