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The Homecoming King

Andy Dalton crushes the doubters, gets his J.J. Watt revenge in a pure Katy family moment

Andy Dalton crushes doubters, gets J.J. Watt revenge in family moment

25 Texans vs. Bengals Andy Dalton after the game…He went over to the sidelines and his wife Jordan came down, handed him their son, Noah and then kissed him
Andy Dalton enjoyed his dream Houston homecoming with his wife Jordan and baby son Noah stealing a moment. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
8 Texans vs. Bengals first half November 2014 Andy Dalton and J.J. Watt
Andy Dalton finally avoided any J.J. Watt nightmares. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
11 Texans vs. Bengals first half November 2014 Bengals 25
The Bengals had just enough of a running game for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to dominate. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
25 Texans vs. Bengals Andy Dalton after the game…He went over to the sidelines and his wife Jordan came down, handed him their son, Noah and then kissed him
8 Texans vs. Bengals first half November 2014 Andy Dalton and J.J. Watt
11 Texans vs. Bengals first half November 2014 Bengals 25

With meticulous care Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton placed a travel bag on the floor in the corner closest to the podium he would soon occupy. Atop that bag sat his haphazardly folded game jersey and atop that jersey rested a black Sharpie.

In the moments immediately following the Bengals' 22-13 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium, Dalton shared with his family some casual revelry to commence the celebration. However, the game-worn jersey and the black Sharpie represented a specific acknowledgement that was soon to come. 

Greg Dalton celebrated his 55th birthday on Sunday, thus the timing of the Bengals' triumph could not have been more perfect. His son Andy had stumbled twice during previous trips home, performing poorly in consecutive postseason appearances against the Texans at then-Reliant Stadium. Homecomings are often bittersweet yet on this occasion the third time was the charm.

 On a micro level, Dalton needed to triumph in Houston. It's but one game, but a victory will help to muffle the noise emanating from his doubters. 

In one fell swoop Dalton scrubbed away past failures, delivered the Bengals a second consecutive road victory, and played skillfully and willfully enough to produce a most memorable birthday gift.

"Absolutely," Dalton said when asked if this victory was particularly significant. "I think the last couple of times we've come here, the last couple of times I have been in this room right here, it hasn't gone in our favor so it is good just to get that behind us. We don't have to worry about anybody talking about that anymore.

"Those are the first couple of years and we have moved on from that, and so we have to keep doing whatever we can to win these (remaining) games."

Those "first couple of years" included the initial two seasons for Dalton as a professional and his first two postseason starts. The Bengals were eliminated by the AFC South champions in consecutive years, first in 2011 when, as a rookie, Dalton tossed three interceptions in a 31-10 loss to the Texans on Jan. 7, 2012. One of those picks was returned for a touchdown by Texans defensive end J.J. Watt — a harbinger of things to come.

The Bengals returned to Houston the following postseason and suffered a similar fate. Dalton threw another interception, completed just 46.7 percent of his attempts, and passed for only 127 yards in a 19-13 loss. Miraculously, his passer rating in the second appearance (44.7) was worse than that of his three-interception postseason debut (51.4).

Statistical minutiae aside, the losses marred what should have been exhilarating games for the native Houstonian, whose exploits at Katy High School and Texas Christian University cemented his status as something of a local legend.

As desperately as the Bengals collectively craved a victory in Houston, Dalton needed this win even more individually. Despite signing a lucrative contract extension this past offseason, Dalton remains a bit of a signal calling pariah, with plenty questioning both his postseason credentials (the Bengals are 0-3 with Dalton at the helm) and his ability to elevate the performance of those around him. Dalton has ample weapons at his disposal, from the brilliant A.J. Green, the ascendant Mohamed Sanu, the imposing Jermaine Gresham, and the effective tailback tandem of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.

The Bengals are stout on all three levels defensively and, even taking into consideration the constant state of flux in the AFC North where all four teams are above .500, Cincinnati is the class of the division. All that remains for the Bengals is to win when it counts.

On a micro level, Dalton needed to triumph in Houston. It's but one game, but a victory will help to muffle the noise emanating from his doubters.

"Hopefully now that all can be over the hump," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Hopefully he's over the hump with that now. He can come home and play here.

"Take back that one throw (a third-quarter interception returned 60 yards for a touchdown by Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph) and push forward. It's good for Andy to be able to come here."

From Katy With Wins

Somewhat humorously, Dalton shattered his hometown glass ceiling by offering a performance in line with so many that had come before it. He completed 24 of 35 attempts for 233 yards, a touchdown and the Joseph interception. His passer rating — 84.6 — almost hit the button on his career rating of 85.3. In his previous three seasons, Dalton produced passer ratings of 80.4, 87.4 and 88.8.

Following his effort against the Texans, his rating this season is 83.4. One would be hard-pressed to list inconsistency among his perceived shortcomings. Dalton isn't dynamic but he's steady.

 As much as fans and pundits crave super stardom at quarterback, outrageous talent isn't needed to thrive at the position. 

Any thorough examination of the Bengals' roster underscores how steady is all that's required of Dalton. As much as fans and pundits crave super stardom at quarterback, outrageous talent isn't needed to thrive at the position. It doesn't require in-depth analysis to conclude that turnovers have undermined what Dalton longs to accomplish in the postseason.

The greater strides he takes to mitigate miscues, the more reliable he will become.

That much was evident on Sunday. Two possessions after Joseph closed the gap to 16-10, Dalton engineered a 17-play, 71-yard scoring march. Later, when presented with an opportunity to built a two-possession lead in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, the Bengals did exactly that. Over those two drives Dalton was 5 of 9 for 54 yards. He wasn't spectacular but was effective and did precisely what the job description required. 

The end result included Dalton removing a monkey from his back and presenting his father a signed jersey. The Bengals were rewarded with another defining road victory and the burgeoning sense that their past shortcomings and present resilience will one day yield a winning formula.

"This is the time of year where you have to be playing really well," Dalton said. "As you know, in this league it's the team that gets hot right now and carries it into the playoffs.

"We are putting ourselves in a good position and we have to keep winning these games and find a way to win every one."