John Clay: For Bengals' Dalton, more questions than answers

CINCINNATI — The rains came Sunday to Paul Brown Stadium, but the drought continues.

It is now 23 years and counting since the Cincinnati Bengals won a playoff game. Three straight years they've had a chance to stop the streak. Three straight years they failed. Sunday had no charm. San Diego 27, Cincinnati 10.

"The truth is we deserve the criticism we'll get at this point," said Andre Whitworth, the team's best offensive lineman, standing in a locker room that seemed more shocked than dejected.

"We had a great year, Whitworth continued, "but when everything counted we didn't play well. That is the truth. That is the reality."

Here is reality: Andy Dalton will get the blame.

For the third consecutive year and the third consecutive playoff game, the quarterback failed to meet the moment.

In a season that alternated between Good Andy and Bad Andy, Sunday was all about Bad Andy.

Starting in the third quarter and leading into the fourth, three straight possessions ended with the Cincinnati quarterback turning the ball over.

He fumbled while diving untouched to the turf two yards short of a first down. He threw an interception to San Diego's Shareece Wright. He threw an interception to San Diego's Melvin Ingram.

A 10-7 Cincinnati halftime lead became a 20-0 San Diego second-half surge.

"The biggest difference in the football game was turnovers," Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said.

Cincinnati fans saw no difference. Not from last year. Not from the year before. Not in Dalton. In back-to-back playoff losses, his offense had scored a combined 23 points, and his passer rating was a paltry 48.6.

The latter number improved Sunday to 82.1, but San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers completed 12 of 16 passes for 128 yards without an interception. His passer rating was 118.8.

"When things don't go right, the quarterback is going to get the blame," Dalton said. "I'm going to take every shot that's said to me, but there's different stuff that goes on. That's part of playing the position. You've got to have thick skin."

This year was supposed to be different. Unlike the last two years, the Bengals won their division. Unlike the last two years, the Bengals played host to a playoff game. Unlike the last two years, the Bengals were favored to move on to the next round.

And yet, the season progressed no farther than the previous two.

"The finality of things hurts," said Lewis, now 0-5 in the post-season. "You don't get to start it tomorrow, that's the problem with it. You don't get to go back and rectify it tomorrow."

Three years and the question remains the same: Is Dalton good enough to get this team where it wants to go?

When asked if he had questions about his quarterback, Lewis said, "No, I don't. I don't have any questions about Andy's role in this thing."

Others will have questions, legitimate questions. After all, Dalton was afforded additional weapons in rookies Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert and still couldn't get the job done.

Whitworth was asked: How do you defend a quarterback who is now 0-3 in playoff games?

"You can't," he said. "You just have to come back and win a game. That doesn't matter if it's him or us or anybody in this building or with this organization."

Still, it's different for the quarterback.

"He is the football team," Lewis said. "And I'm sure he's very disappointed."

"Obviously, the quarterback is going to be judged by how good he plays in big games," Dalton said. "There's going to be a lot of criticism, there's going to be a lot of talk. Until we win a playoff game, there's going to be that. That's the way it works.

"Until you prove people wrong, people are going to say whatever they want."

Outside, on the banks of the Ohio, the rain beat down strong and steady, but the drought lived on.

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