Every Cincinnati Bengals fan who is currently complaining that Andy Dalton is worse than the love child of Rob Ford and Justin Bieber, a little perspective: Dalton is 26 years old and three years into his NFL career. At the very same point in his career, Peyton Manning had yet to win a playoff game. In fact, it took Manning six years before he finally won in January. It took Matt Ryan five.
In Manning's case, though, that was a different era. Expectations for quarterbacks have exploded, and now there's no room for error. There's no buffer.
Dalton isn't Andrew Luck, who just won his first playoff game Sunday. And he isn't Cam Newton, who still has yet to compete in a postseason game despite the same amount of time in the league. Unlike Manning, Luck and Newton, he wasn't a No. 1 overall pick. He wasn't even a first-round pick, for heaven's sake, but we're expecting him to carry a franchise on his back in playoff games?
How have our standards become so warped? Dalton has helped the Bengals get to the playoffs three years in a row for the first time in franchise history. Newton hasn't lost a playoff game, but he also hasn't been good enough to play in one until this upcoming weekend. Why should we punish Dalton for being a solid young quarterback on a very solid team?
Dalton screwed up Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. No doubt about it. He committed three turnovers. But so did Luck on Saturday, actually. The difference? Luck recovered faster, and his defense was much better down the stretch. The Bengals failed as a team Sunday — the defense wasn't good enough, Jay Gruden's game plan wasn't good enough and Marvin Lewis' coaching wasn't good enough.
And this is what it really boils down to, Cincinnati fans: There isn't an available quarterback on the planet right now who is better-suited to run the Bengals offense than Andy Dalton. That's the simple reality of it. I say the same thing to Dallas Cowboys fans who complain about Tony Romo. Who would you prefer they go with under center? Keep in mind that elite quarterbacks aren't traded, ever, and that none of them will be hitting the free-agent market anytime soon.
You could use a late-first-round pick on a signal caller, but what tells you that guy will be any better than Dalton? The odds, again, certainly don't favor that happening right now. We're talking about a guy who still threw for nearly 4,300 yards while posting the third-highest total touchdown in the NFL in 2013. Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles will likely be long gone before the Bengals pick, and the same probably applies to Johnny Manziel if he declares. The rest of the 2014 quarterback class has been depleted thanks to those who are being cool and staying in school.
You're stuck with Dalton for now, but not everyone can have a Luck or a Manning or a Brady. It could be worse, guys. You could have a Manuel or a Weeden or a Pryor or a Geno Smith. You don't realize what you've got until it's gone.
It sucks that the Bengals have lost three consecutive playoff games, and it's a shame that Dalton didn't perform well in any of them, but without him, they might not have even earned the right to play in those games. Dalton is learning from these experiences. It might pay off, it might not. But it's far too early to bail.