Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has had better weeks.
Dalton entered this past Sunday's Wild Card Weekend home game versus the San Diego Chargers with an opportunity to prove any and all critics wrong. The opposite happened, as Dalton was erratic and seemingly lacking any confidence throughout most of the contest. Dalton was picked off on two occasions, and he also twice put the ball on the turf, losing one of those fumbles.
The Chargers cruised to a 27-10 road win.
The additional injury to the, well, injury, of falling to 0-3 in career playoff games has been the discussions regarding Dalton's future with the Bengals. One doesn't have to look far to locate somebody suggesting that Cincinnati would be better off with a proven quarterback leading the offense as quickly as next season.
There is more than a little merit to the idea. The AFC North was largely lackluster throughout much of the 2013 campaign. Cincy was the only team in the division to finish above .500. The Baltimore Ravens folded at the end of the season, while the Pittsburgh Steelers began the campaign with a winless September.
Cincinnati needs only look at the Cleveland Browns to see how important quarterback play can be for what isn't a playoff side. Cleveland won three games when a good quarterback, Brian Hoyer, started. The Browns managed to notch only a single win after Hoyer went down to a torn ACL in October.
One big problem with the Bengals potentially making a switch at QB this offseason is that there aren't a lot of appealing options out there. We've already seen what Matt Flynn looks like when not with the Green Bay Packers, and it's not pretty. Matt Cassel could be someone to consider, but he is not, on paper, that much of an upgrade from Dalton.
Then there's Mark Sanchez. The five-year pro who has been replaced by Geno Smith is expected to be released by the New York Jets. Sanchez has plenty of critics, and deservedly so.
The 27-year old also has four more career playoff victories than does Dalton. Looking back, it's not a stretch to suggest that the Bengals would have been better of with Sanchez on the field against San Diego.
Cincinnati would likely have to move up in order to receive immediate help in the upcoming NFL Draft. With both Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and UCLA redshirt sophomore Brett Hundley staying in college for the 2014 season, targets who may have, at one time, fallen to the Bengals could be taken earlier in the first round once a run on quarterbacks begins. Cincy probably isn't pulling off a blockbuster move in order to grab one of the projected top three QBs in the draft; Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel.
Would the Bengals really be all that better off next fall with Derek Carr or Zach Mettenberger running the offense instead of Dalton?
The biggest concern when it comes to Dalton is not that he isn't going to improve. It's that he won't do so quickly enough. Cincinnati had the goods to make a run this month as did Baltimore last January. That didn't happen, and Dalton is a big reason for the Bengals once again being a one-and-done playoff team.
Cleveland waited one year too long to move on from the failed Brandon Weeden experiment. It set the Browns back at least one season, and another losing campaign could end up being a reason that Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward decides to move on from the franchise this winter. Cincinnati cannot afford to make a similar mistake if those running the team do not believe that Dalton will improve to where the Bengals need him to be next holiday season.
Giving the Steelers and Ravens a chance to catch up would be a massive mistake.