Bengals need a patient Andy Dalton

CINCINNATI -- Has a quarterback ever been given more nicknames by fans and media than the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton?

The latest nickname for Dalton has popped up: "Greedy Andy."

When Cincinnati hosts the San Diego Chargers next week in the opening round of the playoffs, the Bengals have to hope they've completely vanquished Dalton's latest incarnation.

The desperate, overly aggressive and apparently touchdown-starved person who got behind center Sunday afternoon against the Ravens could have cost Cincinnati a victory in its regular-season finale. If he shows up again in a few days, he just might cost the Bengals an entire season.

There are any number of reasons the third-seed Bengals could fall flat next weekend. There also, naturally, are any number of reasons why they could succeed, too. One way to increase the odds of a victory? Prevent your quarterback from throwing four interceptions.

That could be easier said than done.

"Sometimes when he gets into a rhythm he gets too comfortable and gets a little greedy, so to speak," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said.

Now you know where the new nickname comes from.

Right before making that comment, Gruden was discussing how complacent his quarterback can sometimes be when the offense appears to be rolling. Decision making in those instances can be problematic for Dalton, who has misread routes or been a touch off with the precise delivery of his passes. Gruden felt that was the exact player who showed up in Miami on the last Thursday night of October. Against the Dolphins in that game, Dalton passed for 338 yards and three interceptions in an overtime loss that was decided by a walk-off safety.

Had it not been for several game-saving plays by Cincinnati's defense on Sunday, including three fourth-quarter interceptions, Dalton might have added another high-yardage but turnover-filled performance to his ledger.

"It was a roller coaster, man," Gruden said of Dalton's day. "He was either really, really good, as good as anybody, or he made a couple of really poor decisions. We need to eliminate those."

That might be the best summation of Dalton's latest performance. He was flat-out stellar the time he saw A.J. Green sprint past Baltimore's secondary, only to be hit in stride for a 53-yard touchdown pass. But when Dalton got picked off four times, including once on a ball that was thrown well over Green's head, Dalton didn't look so strong.

The greediest the quarterback got Sunday was in the middle of the fourth quarter when he tried to force a pass on first-and-goal from the Ravens' 1-yard line. One play after Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis plowed through Baltimore's defensive line with a physical tackle-breaking carry, Dalton was picked off when he tried to dump a fade route to a single-covered Green.

"I got a little greedy and I tried to take a shot," Dalton said. "I didn't throw it how I wanted to, and should have ran it in or handed it off."

There's that word again.

He's right, though. Instead of throwing short on the fade that looked more like a flat, he should have either switched to a play that would allow Giovani Bernard to run in or scramble out and take it in on the run himself. So why didn't he do that?

"Usually I'd put in goal-line personnel and we didn't have that," Gruden said. "We were in two tight ends and two receivers and thought they were in goal-line defense. We knew with numbers that we would have been splattered with a run, so we threw a fade. ... [But] he should have handed it off. But I'm not mad. We won the game, 34-17. Had we lost the game, that play would have been glaring and stuck out in our minds for a long time. But luckily our defense held us up and covered our backs because that was a terrible play and a terrible call."

Gruden wasn't shy about admitting that he had a few play calls that he wished he could take back. He shouldered as much of the blame for Dalton's performance as the quarterback himself.

While head coach Marvin Lewis wasn't pleased with the up-and-down nature of Dalton's play Sunday, he still couldn't feel more confident about where his quarterback can take him now that the playoffs are beginning. Performances like this one won't be repeated, he believes.

"I feel great about where Andy is right now," Lewis said. "He just keeps playing and is really unflappable. He is in a good spot as we move forward. We just have to coach better and play better as we move forward."