Football

John Clay: Dalton atones for late mistakes to rally Bengals

CINCINNATI — You know the story line. There's Good Andy. There's Bad Andy. There's the Good Andy Dalton that throws touchdowns and raises hopes. There's the Bad Andy Dalton that turns the ball over and breaks hearts.

Two straight fourth-quarter possessions Sunday, Bad Andy visited Paul Brown Stadium. He fumbled, which led to a Baltimore Ravens' touchdown and a one-point Ravens' lead. He then threw an interception, which led to a Baltimore Ravens' field goal and a four-point Ravens' lead with 3:59 remaining.

Bad Andy, however, didn't trump Good Andy.

"I used to say the best and worst thing about Andy is that he's one of the most stubborn people I know," said offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. "He just doesn't flinch."

"Regardless of what goes on," said Dalton, "you just got to know that the next play, you're going to make a big one."

Enter Good Andy. With 3:59 left, Bengals' backs wall-hugging, Dalton directed a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped by his own fourth-and-goal sneak into the end zone with 57 seconds left to give the Bengals a 27-24 win and a sweep of the division rival Ravens.

It would be no exagerration to call it a must-win. "We haven't had much sleep for a couple of weeks here," said head coach Marvin Lewis.

After a 3-0 start, the Bengals drifted head-first into a New England sea storm. The Patriots responded to heavy criticism by rolling 43-17 on a Sunday night. The next week, the Bengals missed a chip-shot field goal at overtime's end and cursed a 37-37 tie with Carolina. Last Sunday brought rock bottom at Lucas Oil. Colts 27, Bengals 0.

Defense hit the sourest note. New England gained 505 yards, Carolina 431, Indianapolis 506. For a Cincinnati defense considered one of the league's better, those were astounding numbers.

Sunday's numbers improved. Baltimore gained just 294 yards. If not for the fourth-quarter turnovers, Paul Guenther's defense might have held Joe Flacco to 14 points, a replica of the 23-16 Bengals' win in Baltimore to start the season.

Yes, Bad Andy entered, but to be fair, the fumble wasn't his fault. Bengals' right guard Kevin Zeitler had just departed with a calf injury. And when Dalton turned around on a naked bootleg there was Baltimore's mountainous defensive tackle Haloti Ngata cheek-to-cheek.

"I didn't think he'd be on me that quick," Dalton said later. "I still had the ball in my left hand."

Soon it was out of his hand. Daryl Smith returned the recovery 51 yards. Lorenzo Taliaferro scored from eight yards out. Baltimore 21, Cincinnati 20 with 6:31 left.

The interception wasn't Dalton's fault either. He put the ball right on receiver Mohamed Sanu, only to have Matt Elam jar it loose and into the waiting hands of teammate C.J. Mosley. Justin Tucker's 53-yard field goal made it 24-20 Baltimore with 3:59 left.

Not to fear, the Bengals never doubted Good Andy's reappearance. "He just has a way of blocking things out," Lewis said.

In A.J. Green's absence, Sanu has a way of breaking out. Third-and-10 from the 20, Dalton lofted a deep ball that Sanu made a great adjustment on for a 53-yard catch, putting the home team back in business.

Six plays later, fourth-and-goal from the one, Dalton called his own number. His line got a good push in front of him as Whitworth filled in from behind, pile-driving his friend across the goal line.

"I didn't know Whit was the one who pushed me," said Dalton, "but I knew he was the one on top of me when I was getting out of the pile."

Now the Bengals are back on top of the AFC North, sort of. Cincinnati is 4-2-1. Baltimore is 5-3. Cincinnati owns the tiebreaker advantage, thanks to the sweep. And finally, it owns a smile.

"We needed a win," said Dalton. "We hadn't won in the last three weeks."

Someone asked the quarterback to summarize.

"Up and down," he said, "then up at the end."

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