Andy Dalton eager to get elusive road prime-time win

CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton's best football has been played before the sun goes down.

At night he hasn't fared quite as well.

Dalton has a 2-4 career record in prime-time games. For a quarterback who ranks among the few all-time who have won 30 games in their first three seasons, and to have made the playoffs in each of those years, it's an ominous sign about how he performs on the grandest scales. When you include Dalton's postseason performances with his results in prime time, you see he has a 2-7 career record in prime-time and playoff games.

Dalton is well-aware of his past struggles in those situations. And beginning with Sunday night's game under the lights at New England, he's ready to prove that he's beyond them.

"We want to be playing our best when we get a chance to play at night when everybody is watching," Dalton said. "That's what we're setting out to do."

One of the knocks against Dalton coming into this season was that he couldn't win at Baltimore, let alone take a division game on the road. It only took one week for the fourth-year quarterback to render that point moot when he led the Cincinnati Bengals to a 23-16 road win over the Ravens.

Better pocket awareness, more sound decision-making and an extremely high level of confidence appear to have Dalton at ease through three games this season. He still hasn't been sacked and has only turned the ball over once. Had running back Giovani Bernard better handled a screen pass in the Bengals' previous game, the tipped ball wouldn't have been picked off and Dalton's turnover record would remain spotless, too.

Credit Dalton for exhibiting a measure of growth and maturity as a more veteran quarterback, but also give respect to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson for putting him in better positions to succeed.

While the Baltimore win may have been a good sign that Dalton's improving, a win this weekend could really start convincing his staunchest critics that he deserved the six-year, $115 million contract extension he signed during training camp.

Dalton's prime-time struggles his first three seasons have been exacerbated by the high number of road games he's played with nighttime kickoffs. Only twice in his career has be played a night game in Cincinnati. He won one of those; last year's early season Monday night victory over the Steelers. Following this week's game, the Bengals will host a Thursday night game against the Browns in November and a Monday night game against the Broncos in December. He'll have a chance to improve upon his home prime-time record both weeks.

Entering this week's game, Dalton and the Bengals are 1-4 on the road at night since 2011. Crowd noise has been a factor in those games. He knows to expect more of the same Sunday.

"The crowd is going to be into it, you have to know that," Dalton said. "But you can't let the nerves, the energy you have going into it affect too much. There's going to be more going on on the road, but you just have to go out and play your game and feel comfortable doing it."

Dalton has looked comfortable so far this year. He's remarked often about how much fun he's having. If he remains that way this weekend, he should get one of those often-elusive, prime-time road wins.