AJ McCarron isn't short on confidence, and that's good for Bengals

AJ McCarron, DeAngelo Williams receive game balls in Steelers win (2:02)

ESPN Bengals reporter Coley Harvey gives AJ McCarron a game ball, while ESPN Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler gives his to DeAngelo Williams following Pittsburgh's 33-20 win in Cincinnati. (2:02)

CINCINNATI -- Let's take a quick trip back to a time to just before AJ McCarron was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Remember it? For a couple of days way back in May 2014, the former Alabama quarterback was blasted soundly on sports networks for his attitude, one that some NFL general managers and owners reportedly perceived as cocky and overly confident. It was during pre-draft meetings with some of their teams that McCarron had said he believed he was going to be a first- or second-round pick, and that he would eventually take the league by storm.

Sure, such statements might come off as brash and full of braggadocio. But once you spend more than 15 minutes with McCarron, you realize he doesn't say such things to be arrogant.

He says them because he actually believes them.

For a Bengals team that had to turn the reins of its offense over to McCarron on Sunday afternoon, that confidence -- yes, with a hint of cockiness -- is precisely what the team needs so it can hang on until starting quarterback Andy Dalton returns. The Bengals do know Dalton will be out next week when they travel to San Francisco, so McCarron will get his first career start. If Dalton's meeting with a hand specialist Monday reveals that the Bengals' worst nightmare is true, McCarron could end up behind center not only through the rest of the regular season but also well into the playoffs.

"We've been so impressed with him, and now he's got to lead us for however long," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of the fifth-round pick. "This is why we have him. This is why we drafted him."

Whether it's in a meeting room with owners and GMs or on a football field dodging burly linemen, McCarron wants anyone who will listen to know that he's going to be a winner.

If he didn't believe it, he wouldn't say it.

"I've always believed in myself when I step inside those white lines," McCarron said. "You need to carry that confidence as a quarterback because when you step inside those white lines, it's a nasty and dirty game. If you lose confidence, it can go bad for you real quick. I've always believed when I step inside those white lines that I'm the best one out there."

Looking back on his pre-draft remarks with the benefit of hindsight, it now seems like he was only trying to convey that protective confidence. It's the same thought process he had during his run of two national championships and a near-Heisman Trophy campaign at Alabama.

With the Bengals going through these next one, two, four, six or more weeks without Dalton, that's the type of approach they are going to need to keep them convinced that this season can still finish just as well as it began.

"This kid has a great personality," Lewis said. "He's got the guys in the building's confidence."

Added offensive guard Kevin Zeitler: "We just have to keep trusting the process. We trust the coaches, they trust us to go out and make plays, and we'll trust AJ to make plays."

Clearly the people around McCarron think he can build on his 22-for-32, 280-yard, two-touchdown, two-interception effort in Sunday's loss to the Steelers. But why does he feel it's important to think that?

"Because if you don't," he said, "you're doomed."

In the hands of a confident, well-studied McCarron, doom shouldn't exist for the Bengals.