Dalton puts on blinders to lead Bengals

Andy Dalton put distractions behind him and put up his first 300-yard passing day since last season. AP Photo/Gary Wiepert

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- An NFL quarterback's worst enemy often resides in his own mind.

Shaped and framed by so many outside factors, it can be difficult for even the most accomplished signal-callers to distinguish fact from fiction and determine their own reality. From friends to family to coaches to teammates to media, a host of influences can raise doubt and cause unnecessary concern.

Maybe it's best those guys live in a bunker for six days and only come out on Sundays to play.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is the poster child for players who need to be airlifted to the middle of nowhere every Monday and come out of hiding just in time to get under center Sunday afternoon. The more he isolates himself from the rest of the world, the more he trusts himself, the brighter the future can be for both Dalton and the Bengals.

"As long as he doesn't worry about what everybody else says about him, he's fine," coach Marvin Lewis said.

Dalton must have had blinders around his eyes and earmuffs strapped to his head for at least the last three days. The way he played in Sunday's 27-24 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills certainly seemed to suggest that. Focused completely on himself and his offense, Dalton hooked up with eight different receivers en route to throwing for 337 yards -- the most for him since Week 6 last season.

Even though he did have one interception, Dalton also threw for three touchdowns, and he led a drive that tilted the field-position scales in the Cincinnati's favor in overtime. The Bengals entered Buffalo territory before punting to pin the Bills deep in their own field. The Bills went three-and-out, and after after Brandon Tate's 29-yard punt return and a couple of Bengals runs, Mike Nugent nailed the game-winning 43-yard field goal.

"I felt good. I felt like I was in a good rhythm out there," Dalton said. "I was seeing everything and the ball was coming off my hand well. Games like this are fun."

There wasn't much fun for the quarterback to have four days earlier, though, when a report surfaced claiming one of his teammates challenged his leadership skills and wasn't sure if he could do enough to lead the Bengals to postseason glory.

In a Pro Football Talk story titled "Adam Jones not 100 percent convinced Andy Dalton can lead Bengals to Super Bowl," Jones is quoted as having said he felt Dalton needed to "step up vocally and lead the team."

Jones' comments came from a phone interview with NBC Sports' Erik Kuselias. Once the full interview was added to the story, it gave a little more context to how Jones specifically felt about his quarterback.

Asked by Kuselias if he was convinced Dalton could lead the Bengals to the Lombardi Trophy, Jones said, "I'm convinced. I'm 99 percent convinced Andy can take us to the Super Bowl." He went on to cite his belief that Dalton needed to be more vocal, and added that the pieces the Bengals have around the quarterback do make a long postseason run a distinct possibility.

But don't worry, Bengals fans. There is no brewing rift between Dalton and Jones.

"That's the media twisting things, and for Adam, he is a guy who has my back 100 percent," Dalton said. "That's where you just can't worry about the stuff that's written. It's easy to take one thing out of context and twist and turn and say whatever you want, but all that matters is that we are 4-2 right now, we are winning games and we have to keep getting better."

What else matters? The fact that Cincinnati's offense, two games removed from one of its worst showings of the three-year Dalton Era, finally got in sync again. After sharing the load among their running backs and receivers last week, the Bengals split pass-catching duties and rushing responsibilities in a similar fashion this week. While Dalton attempted 40 passes, the Bengals ran the ball 41 times.

For a unit that heard the groans two weeks ago about its stagnant scheme, Cincinnati's offensive players were glad to answer with a such a strong showing.

"Not just the critics, but ourselves, too," receiver A.J. Green said. "Just to come out here and to be able to move the ball the way we did was another boost."

Against New England last week, Dalton targeted his running backs and tight ends 15 times and his receivers 12. Against Buffalo, the bulk of his passes went to his receivers -- 24 of his 40 throws went in their direction. Many of Dalton's passes, particularly in the first half, were short screens that resulted in long gains by skill players who used their athleticism to break away for big gains. Marvin Jones' 42-yard reception, Green's 54-yard reception and Giovani Bernard's 23-yard catch were mostly products of yards after the catch.

"We have the receivers where we're dynamic," Jones said. "All of us, when we get the ball in our hands, we're able to take it the distance and take short passes and make them long. That's what we want to be."

That's why Jones technically was right. The personnel is there. The skill, also, clearly is there for Dalton.

What the Bengals' future comes down to is Dalton doing one thing: ignoring everyone and trusting himself.

He seems well on his way.

"Everybody can say whatever they want, but everybody in the organization knows what is really going on," Dalton said. "It was good to come out and play well, not only so that there will hopefully be some positive stuff written about us, but just for this team, just to get a win."

Well, maybe not. Good or bad, don't read what's written about you or your team, Andy.