Andy Dalton's career-day boosts Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Veteran offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth is one of the more thoughtful interview subjects inside the Cincinnati Bengals locker room.

You can always count on him to drop some nugget of wisdom that makes you pause and say, "You know, I never looked at it that way."

Sunday afternoon, minutes after the Cincinnati Bengals earned a 42-14 win that helped them not only clinch a playoff spot but also claim their third AFC North title, Whitworth had one of his notoriously profound statements.

Asked to reflect on the career-day quarterback Andy Dalton had in the win over the Vikings, Whitworth compared his signal-caller's up-and-down season to the roller coaster nature of the Bengals' year as a whole.

"He symbolizes what this team does," Whitworth said. "People keep talking about this team and what we can't accomplish and we keep bouncing back and accomplishing it."

After dropping last Sunday night's game at Pittsburgh, pundits questioned their toughness and focus, and considered them a slightly flawed team because they couldn't win on the road.

The Good Andy, Bad Andy conundrum suddenly gave way to Good Bengals, Bad Bengals. Much like how Dalton has been hot and cold at random times this season, the Bengals have been equally as enigmatic when it comes to playing at home and playing on the road. With this latest win, they are now 7-0 inside Paul Brown Stadium, and 3-5 outside it.

Dalton was a major reason as to why they were so successful at home Sunday. In arguably his most complete game of the year, Dalton had a completion percentage of 71.0 percent, he threw for 366 yards and had four touchdowns. It was the type of performance that had his head coach saying he "played extremely well," and one that had his teammates fawning.

"He was really grooving out there," receiver A.J. Green said.

Green had a hand in the groove that Dalton got into. He caught seven passes for 97 yards and had his first two-touchdown game since the season-opener at Chicago. The second of those touchdown receptions was on a 2-yard pass that gave Dalton his 31st passing touchdown of the season. It also was the last of his four passing scores in the game, leaving him one shy of Carson Palmer's single-season franchise record of 32.

For as much trouble as Dalton has had at times this season -- during one stretch he had thrown an interception in five straight games -- he has had some days like Sunday that have helped quell some of the animosity about his play.

"We're in a really good spot right now," Dalton said. "We've just got to keep going. We've done a lot this year; a lot of the guys have gotten better. I think I've gotten better."

This marked the fifth time this season that Dalton had gone beyond 300 yards, and the fifth time he had hit a completion percentage beyond 70 percent. This was only the second time, though, that he passed for 300 and completed 70 percent of his passes in the same game.

At least one Bengals offensive lineman has embraced the cloud of doubt that he believes Dalton has played under this season. In his eyes, the bigger the cloud, the better Dalton has played.

"Just keep doubting him, please," center Kyle Cook said, joking with two reporters. "You should write something on there: 'Dalton played great, but ...' Don't give him too much credit."

After the teasing, Cook added a reason why he believed Dalton has played well much of this month, putting some of his darkest days this season well behind him.

"He's got a group of guys around him that tailor to his skill set," Cook said. "You give him time and guys get open. He'll throw the ball and deliver it to you. When all 11 guys are playing as one, that benefits him."