Andy Dalton continues MVP bid as excellence becomes his norm

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Ho-hum, just another day at the office for Andy Dalton.

Against the Buffalo Bills in a key midyear road test, the Cincinnati Bengals' starting quarterback had the type of Sunday that is becoming the norm for him: 243 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks, a QBR greater than 85 and a passer rating higher than 115. It was just another routine day in the quarterbacking life of the NFL's most improved offensive player.

Those numbers aren't just OK. They are excellent single-game figures -- elite signal-caller statistics, if you will. They were compiled against one of the league's more brilliant defensive coaching minds, no less.

"Dalton got hot," Bills head coach Rex Ryan said. "That's about as good of an offense as you can play in this league."

Isn't it amazing? In a game in which Dalton continued to solidify his spot in the thick of this season's early MVP race, the major storylines didn't revolve around him. Marvin Jones dominated the headlines with his career-high nine catches for 95 yards and the acrobatic stretch for the end zone that at first glance looked like it might come with a broken arm. Flexible, he bounced up off the turf after the touchdown with nary a bone nor muscle adversely affected.

Along with Jones, the Bengals' multitude of offensive weapons earned their share of attention, headed by running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, whose first-half touchdowns solidified an early lead. The defense received its share, too, for a string of timely stops on an offense that had its share of drive-moving chunk plays. Then there was Dalton's offensive line -- a stout group that has been considered one of the NFL's best the past three years -- which kept Dalton clean and allowed just one quarterback hit.

Each of these people and position groups were deserving of the postgame acclaim, but wasn't Dalton?

Then again, this is exactly what the Bengals want: for the rest of the football world to know their quarterback isn't only sometimes good. They want people to know he can be all-the-time great too.

Not only are the Bengals gladly entering largely uncharted territory with their impressive 6-0 start, but they also are happily getting the best play of Dalton's career. His completion percentage (67.4), yards (1,761), yards per attempt (9.12), touchdowns (14), passer rating (116.1) and QBR (84.2) are at their highest points through the first six games of a season. His interceptions (two) are also at their lowest point across a similar span.

It makes many wonder who this quarterback is.

"I wouldn't say I see a different one," Bengals running back Giovani Bernard said. "I see a more comfortable one. He's out there just making plays and distributing the ball. He has really done a great job this entire season not forcing anything. He's really done a great job, and we're just following his lead."

The Bengals better keep following Dalton the next 13 days, all the way to the nexus of the Three Rivers. After this week's bye, the Bengals hope to win at Pittsburgh in a big AFC North road showdown and a chance at franchise history.

Never before has Cincinnati started a season 7-0. The most recent time the Bengals began a year 6-0, they went to the Super Bowl. What happens if they go 7-0?

Even if the quarterback isn't different, and even if three-touchdown, 243-yard days are his new norm, there's no doubt about this: Something has changed for the better in Cincinnati this year. Excellence is Dalton's -- and the Bengals' -- new norm.

Ho-hum indeed.