Katherine Terrell, ESPN Staff Writer 370d

After historically bad game, Andy Dalton now has to face prime-time demons

CINCINNATI -- Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton returned home on Sunday to a welcome sight. Dalton's 3-year-old son, Noah, who had attended the 20-0 loss to the Ravens that day, remained happily oblivious to what had happened at his dad's place of work just hours earlier.

"My son had his Superman cape on," Dalton said, smiling slightly. "We were running around the house. He was flying around the house. I think you just surround yourself with family, regardless of [whether] it's a good win or a bad loss. That's just kind of how it is. ...

"The kids don't know what happened. Noah had no idea we just lost a game. He was just happy that Dad was home. It just makes going home really enjoyable because you just get time with family."

The game had been one of Dalton's worst as a Bengal: a 4-interception, 1-lost-fumble, 5-sack loss that was topped off by a fan throwing something at him as he walked off the field. Dalton and left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who was the target of a barrage of ire on social media, kept their helmets on as they ran through the tunnel at their home stadium.

"You suck!" one fan screamed at Dalton. "We want Carson [Palmer] back."

Things had calmed down slightly an hour later, as Dalton exited the stadium after addressing the media.

"Shake it off, Andy," one woman said with a smile. "Like the Taylor Swift song."

By Monday morning, Dalton had done just that. He had already watched the film and was looking ahead to playing the Texans on Thursday night. Even though Houston is coming off a 29-7 loss to Jacksonville, it's going to be a challenge.

Dalton has two pieces of history working against him: a 5-11 record in prime-time games and a 1-5 record -- including playoffs -- against the Texans. The Bengals have scored 16 points in their last two meetings with the Texans.

Cincinnati's team leader also has to deal with the fact that the Bengals are coming off a 6-9-1 season in 2016 and play at Green Bay next week. So a loss Thursday could lead to an 0-3 start and a tall task to avoid back-to-back seasons out of the playoffs.

It would be surprising if Dalton actually got sleep Sunday with so many things likely swirling in his head. "Sometimes you can't sleep," he acknowledged. "But sometimes you can't sleep when you win a game, too. You think about stuff that goes on. It's just part of it."

Dalton earned a 0.6 Total Quarterback Rating against the Ravens, the third-lowest in the history of a statistic that dates back to 2006. Total QBR takes into account down-and-distance, the strength of the defense, rushing contributions and whether a play occurred in "garbage time." Total QBR is more complex than passer rating, which is a mathematical formula. But that measurement wasn't great for Dalton, either, as he earned a 28.4 rating -- the second lowest of his career.

That alone would give Dalton plenty of reason to toss and turn. The Texans' trio of J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, combined with a porous Bengals offensive line, might give him nightmares.

But if there's one thing Dalton has going for him, it's his ability to block out these things. Sunday was not the first time he had been booed and probably won't be the last. He was booed during a celebrity softball game in Cincinnati prior to the 2015 season.

That was after a season in which Dalton earned a 2.0 quarterback rating in a game against the Browns, the worst of his career and among the worst of all time.

One week later, he led the Bengals to the first of three straight wins, throwing three touchdown passes against the Saints in New Orleans.

Human nature would make it easy to dwell on the mistakes, and maybe even the boos, but Dalton's seven years in the league have taught him that moving forward quickly is the only option. With so much riding on this week's game, he doesn't have much of a choice.

"You have to," he said with a shrug. "It's unfortunate that was the first game of the year, but it's also fortunate that was the first game of the year. We have 15 more games, and the whole season is in front of us. You can't dwell on it. You've got to find the areas you need to get better at and move on."

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