CINCINNATI -- It's playoff time in the Queen City, and the last three seasons, that has meant just one more week of football before the sport begins its seven-month hibernation period here.
This year, however, the Cincinnati Bengals are optimistic their offseason won't begin quite as early as it has in the recent past. They all have varying reasons why.
For offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, it's faith in his quarterback that has him believing the Bengals will go into Indianapolis on Sunday and win to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1990 season. His expectations are that nothing less will occur.
"I expect a winning quarterback, period," Jackson said inside his Paul Brown Stadium office Monday afternoon. "It's time to win. It's winning time.
"We know what losing feels like. Let's find out what winning feels like."
Andy Dalton was 3-years old when the Bengals franchise last experienced winning beyond the regular season. Even Jackson, the patient assistant who could in the next couple of years get another chance as a head coach, was near the start of his career the last time the Bengals won a playoff game. He was a budding young coach at Cal State-Fullerton in Jan. 1991.
What gives Jackson confidence Dalton will perform well this week is the quarterback's understanding of his role in the Bengals' offense. It's a system that has favored the run in recent weeks, easing the pressure piled atop Dalton's shoulders. The Bengals have rushed for more than 100 yards in six of their last seven games. In two of them, they collected more than 200 yards.
At the same time as the run-game resurgence, the Bengals have turned into a veritable turnover machine in the passing game. Dalton has thrown four interceptions in the last three games. Receiver A.J. Green also fumbled at an inopportune moment in Sunday night's 27-17 loss at Pittsburgh after catching a first-down pass that would have kept momentum on the Bengals' side.
Aside from the turnover mystery -- one Jackson vowed to address this week -- the coordinator still believes in his signal-caller.
"Andy Dalton is a good quarterback and has a tremendous future," Jackson said. "I know the guy gets a lot of the blame, and I know he gets a lot of the heat when things don't go as well. And deservedly so. He plays quarterback. He understands that, I understand that. We understand the position has to play good in order for us to win these kind of games. He will."
Naturally, it's easy to bring up Dalton's three-loss, one-touchdown, six-interception past when discussing the postseason. But Jackson contends that when it comes to his quarterback, he can't think about what has happened. Credence has to be given to what will transpire Sunday afternoon and in subsequent weeks after, he said.
"It's how you finish this thing now," Jackson said. "We're not going to delve back into the past. What he's done is help this team accomplish a fourth appearance to the playoffs. That says a lot. Maybe not with hoopla or fanfare that everybody wants, but he did it again.
"What we have to do now in order to right everything that hasn't gone the way we wanted is to go win these games."