CINCINNATI -- It may come as little surprise the day after his quarterback posted his best outing in a year that Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis would come out and vow support in his starting signal-caller. But given the way the last three weeks have gone for Andy Dalton, the vote of confidence should put to rest, for now, calls to replace him.
"As I told him, it's his football team," Lewis said during a news conference at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday. "And he's doing well. He's directing our football team. We're in a good spot and we have to keep going."
The head coach was addressing reporters at home for the first time since Sunday's 27-24 overtime win at the Buffalo Bills. During the victory, his third-year quarterback threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time he had crossed the 300-yard threshold in 364 days. Last October, at Cleveland, he threw for 381 yards and three scores in a loss.
Given the way Dalton played against the Bills, those outside the fan base would be surprised to know just how embattled the quarterback has been, not only this season, but throughout his entire career. He currently leads a team that is 4-2 and looks like a viable playoff contender. When it comes to his career, he has been to the postseason both of his first two seasons, but has yet to win a game.
And that's where the knock on Dalton comes. To some, he can't win big games.
Lewis begs to differ.
"I don't know if his predecessor has won these kind of games week in and week out," Lewis said. "That's important all the time. The ultimate goal we all have is to win the football game."
For context sake, it's important to note that Lewis brought up Dalton's predecessor, Carson Palmer, only because he was asked to compare the two quarterbacks. Just before the question about the comparison was raised, Lewis on his own brought up the fact he believed there was so much lacking support in his current quarterback because of the other NFL starters he has been compared to his entire career.
"There's a couple different comparisons," Lewis said. "Are you comparing Andy to Matt Ryan? Are you comparing Andy to Drew Brees? Aaron Rodgers? It depends on who you want to compare him to. You know what I'm saying? Those latter two are a different time frame [for when they first started games]. They sat around and watched for three years, four years and then they got an opportunity."
Ryan, like Dalton, started right away when he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2008. Brees and Palmer were understudies their rookie seasons and didn't start a game. Rodgers was on the bench three seasons until he finally got an opportunity to start for the Packers.
"So there's a little bit of difference," Lewis continued. "We're asking for Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers right now, today."
Those are the great expectations Dalton has shouldered since the Bengals drafted him in 2011. Those are the great expectations that make fans and coaches alike scratch their heads when he throws an interception right into the waiting hands of a defender, who everyone inside the stadium and at home saw. Those are the great expectations that a quarterback wants to have.
As a former quarterback, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden knows exactly what challenges Dalton has seen and what he will continue to face. Still, he wants to see as many outings like Sunday's as he can.
"Overall, you have to grade his performance in a positive way," Gruden said. "We're still going to coach him up on some of the negative ones, the bad decisions. But I think he played well."
Dalton wasn't the only topic for Lewis on Monday. Here are a few other tidbits from his time with media:
After re-watching film of the win over Buffalo, Lewis had no problems with the way linebacker Vontaze Burfict played on two of the three 15-yard penalties he picked up against the Bills. "Don't think either one he really did anything," Lewis said. "You keep reinforcing the same things regardless." Burfict was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he came in late to help tackle Bills quarterback Thad Lewis, who was just breaking into a slide. Burfict also was nailed with a personal foul as he tackled Bills receiver T.J. Graham in the second quarter. He also had a facemask penalty that Lewis agreed with.
One phase of Sunday's game that impressed Lewis was the Bengals' perimeter blocking. Receivers, tight ends and offensive tackles set strong edges and opened holes for their teammates to go through. The blocks propelled Cincinnati to its highest yard-after-catch performance in more than a decade. The Bengals rolled up 243 yards after the catch Sunday. "No doubt that's as good as we've had this year," Lewis said about his perimeter blocking.
The Bengals have owned opponents in the time of possession battle the last two weeks, leading them to rank fourth in the NFL in the statistic ahead of Monday night's game. They had the ball for 42:52 compared to the 25:24 that Buffalo possessed it. In addition to outpacing the Bills, they also outpaced the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers this season. Said Lewis: "To help us become successful, we got to continue to control the football. The team is built that way. That's the way the offensive line is put together. That's the kind of back we have in BenJarvus [Green-Ellis]."