Dalton gets first NFL winning drive

Published 3:18 am Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Associated Press

CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton doesn’t have the strongest arm. He’s not the fastest runner. In his first four NFL games, he has shown a lot of resolve.

The Bengals rookie quarterback orchestrated his first NFL game-winning drive on Sunday, leading Cincinnati to a 23-20 victory over previously unbeaten Buffalo. Dalton scored the tying touchdown on a 3-yard run, then kept the winning drive alive by diving for a first down.

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Not pretty, but impressive.

“It’s not about whether he’s got Superman talent or all this,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “He knows how to get you in and out of the huddle and put you in the good situations, and he’s going to play with his heart. And that’s going to help you win football games.”

So far, they’ve won two of them, leaving them halfway to their win total last season. The Bengals (2-2) have one of the AFC’s least-experienced teams, but seem to be growing a little bit in front of those small crowds at Paul Brown Stadium.

The second-round draft pick went from playing like a raw rookie to a clutch quarterback against the Bills (3-1), who got ahead 17-3 during Dalton’s dreadful first half. He threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and was only 7 of 20 for 116 yards with a pair of sacks.

Didn’t faze him.

“We have a great quarterback in Andy, and he didn’t flinch one time out there,” rookie receiver A.J. Green said. “He had a couple of passes that were off, but he came back strong.”

Dalton repeatedly overthrew his receivers in the first half and forced throws into coverage. In the second half, he went 11 of 16 for 182 yards without a sack. He threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham that started the comeback, and ran 3 yards on a draw play to tie it with 4:09 left.

Dalton scrambled for a first down on the winning drive, diving out of bounds while stretching the ball as far as he could to get the needed inches. Mike Nugent’s 43-yard field goal won it as time ran out.

“Watching Andy as a teammate and a fan, I’m really proud of him,” Nugent said.

That’s twice now that the rookie has overcome a bad beginning and led the team back in the fourth quarter. During a 24-22 loss in Denver the second week of the season, Dalton put the Bengals in position to pull it out, only to get sacked on the final drive.

Dalton is learning to avoid the temptation to force things.

“I feel like we’ve been in good situations because we’ve been in every game in the fourth quarter,” Dalton said. “I can’t try to do too much. I have to trust the guys around me.”

Coach Marvin Lewis likes his resilience.

“He is a tough young man and it is just like water off a duck’s back for him,” Lewis said.

Dalton followed the comeback in Denver with a flat performance during a 13-8 loss at home to San Francisco, followed by another dreary opening half against Buffalo. The Bengals play next Sunday at Jacksonville (1-3), with more growing pains expected.

“All of a sudden, the glass got half-empty for a second,” Lewis said, referring to the reaction to Dalton’s showing in the 49ers game. “And now it’s half-full again. But last week is over. Let’s move on.”

Notes: The Bengals received a one-week roster exemption on RG Bobbie Williams, who was suspended the first four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He can practice with the team. Lewis said it’s possible he could play Sunday. … The Bengals’ defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed, the first time it’s held that spot since the end of the 1983 season. … Cincinnati came out of the win over Buffalo with no significant injuries.