Rest of season could be win-win for Bengals, Andy Dalton

CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton couldn't hide the joy he felt after one of the most notable wins of his career.

The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback smiled as he walked up to the lectern for his postgame news conference following Sunday's 22-6 victory over the New York Jets. And he had every reason to grin.

After a three-game hiatus as the starting quarterback, Dalton led the offense to one of its best days of the season. He broke two franchise passing records and helped Cincinnati (1-11) win its first game of 2019.

And Dalton showed why the final four games of the season could be a win-win for him and the Bengals, even though their futures might not be aligned next year. He proved to be a valuable asset for a franchise desperate for something good to happen.

"For him to be the leader he's been, to come back and get this reward and this win, I'm just really proud of him and the whole group," said Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who picked up his first win as an NFL head coach.

If Dalton repeats the performance he had against New York, he could increase his stock as a starter and as a potential trade asset for the Bengals, who figure to look for Dalton's successor in the 2020 draft.

Dalton was 22-of-37 passing for 243 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers. He broke Ken Anderson's team records for most passing touchdowns (197) and completions (2,654).

In the first half, when the Bengals asserted a sense of control in the game that was never relinquished, Dalton completed 70 percent of his passes. That was 6.4 percent higher than his expected completion percentage, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

The numbers also don't account for Sunday's weather conditions. At kickoff, wind gusts reached 28 mph. Taylor said passing was considerably easier when the Bengals were moving in the direction of the Ohio River instead of downtown Cincinnati.

The blustery day was yet another set of adverse conditions Dalton had to deal with this season. When he was benched after the loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8 in favor of rookie Ryan Finley it was the first time Dalton wasn't the top quarterback on the depth chart since his first year at TCU, when he redshirted.

Regardless of the circumstances swirling around the season, Dalton was just happy to be on the field for his 129th career start and have a chance to bring Cincinnati a win during its worst start in franchise history.

"This one feels good," Dalton said. "Knowing that I was going to be starting again this week, I wanted to attack each day. I wanted to give my teammates confidence in me, again."

Dalton and Cincinnati could find themselves at a crossroads depending on what happens in the draft.

In 2020, Dalton, 32, is set to make $17.5 million in base salary in the final year of his team-friendly contract. The Bengals could opt to keep him for another year while grooming a young quarterback or trade him to a team that is willing to give up a quality draft pick.

And during this tumultuous season, Dalton showed his worth isn't limited to his on-field production. Wide receiver Auden Tate said Dalton preached a sense of swagger during pregame warm-ups. Running back Joe Mixon said Dalton was vocally positive in the huddle at levels Mixon said he hadn't seen during his three years in Cincinnati.

When the Bengals rushed back into the locker room to start celebrating their first win, Dalton received a game ball. In his mind, it was as much a career achievement award for his time in Cincinnati as it was a reward for a performance that enhanced his stock.

"With all of the adversity he's faced, he's stayed up and never changed who he was," Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard said. "He stepped right in and led us to a victory today. I've got even more respect than I had before for him."