CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton is happy to be the Bengals' starting quarterback again and is ready to lead Cincinnati to a victory. And if that puts the franchise's potential top overall draft pick at risk and hurts his popularity, so be it.
"If this city isn't happy for wins then I don't know what to tell them," Dalton said with a laugh on Wednesday. "Our whole goal is winning. We're going to do everything we can to win this week against the Jets."
With five weeks left in the regular season, the winless Bengals have a two-game lead on the rest of the pack for the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, the reward for the team that finishes with the worst record.
Dalton was re-inserted into the starting lineup after he was benched for three games in favor of rookie Ryan Finley, who struggled in the team's 16-10 loss to the Steelers in Week 12. Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Dalton gives the opportunity the best chance to win a game.
When the switch was announced on Monday, Taylor was asked about the possibility of any potential victories lowering the Bengals' top pick. The first-year coach said he isn't concerned about that.
"We're just focused on the Jets and what we need to do to win a game," Taylor said. "The other stuff takes care of itself later. Right now, this decision is to help us beat New York."
Dalton started the first eight games of the season before Taylor went with the switch hours before October's trade deadline. In that stretch, the quarterback completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 2,252 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. At the time, Taylor told Dalton the move was about evaluating Finley in 2019 before the upcoming draft, when a top quarterback could be available.
Dalton, the team's primary starter since it drafted him in 2011, said he didn't expect to be moved back into the starting spot this season. And while the news was tough initially, Dalton said he chose to not be negative and bitter about the situation.
"This is just part of my story and part of something I'm going to be able to relate to people on a different level now than I probably could have before," Dalton said of the adversity. "Initially it was tough, but I wasn't going to let the circumstance really get to me."
Even though he's the starter again, Dalton's long-term status in Cincinnati is still up in the air. The Bengals will be in the running for high-end prospects such as LSU's Joe Burrow in the upcoming draft. And Dalton, who explored a trade when he was benched, said he doesn't know what will happen moving forward. His contract expires after the 2020 season.
Dalton said the rest of the season will be another opportunity for him to prove he can be a viable starting quarterback in the NFL. The ninth-year veteran also said he doesn't want to lose, no matter how it affects the Bengals' draft plans.
"To sit out for three weeks and then to come back in for these last five, my whole goal is to win," Dalton said. "I want to win every single game we play."