You might recall roughly the exact moment at which the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2015 season was drastically derailed, or at least rerouted. In fact, you should recall quite easily if you are a regular reader of this site, since it occurred during a key moment of the Bengals’ second matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
During a very promising opening drive during which Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton quickly led his offense into the red zone, the Steelers were able to apply quick pressure on the Pro Bowler on a designed screen pass intended for a quick release to the running back. Sensing the call, defensive end Stephon Tuitt undercut the pass and intercepted it. Dalton injured his throwing thumb attempting to tackle Tuitt.
The thumb injury proved significant enough to wipe out the rest of Dalton’s season, thrusting inexperienced A.J. McCarron into the starting lineup, and while he was generally able to hold his own surrounded by a talented roster, for the most part, one wonders if the Bengals would have finally gotten over the playoff hump had they had their starting quarterback in place.
The good news for the Bengals, and bad news for the rest of the division, and the NFL, is that Dalton is now on the mend, and, as of yesterday, “is back to throwing every pass without a problem”, according to an article from the Associated Press.
At approximately four months after the injury occurred in mid-December, he and the Bengals have begun the opening phase of their workout program. During the interim, Dalton had not had the opportunity to work on his craft—at least not in an organized fashion that would really test whether or not he was on his way back.
Receiving full clearance to work out again just last month, the duration of his being sidelined caught him off-guard, as he believed in, and was hopeful for, his ability to return to the field at some point during the postseason, a point rendered moot after yet another one-and-done playoff run, the fifth consecutive for Cincinnati.
One has to think that a healthy Dalton with the Bengals this year stands a great chance of changing that, given that the sixth-year quarterback was making major strides last season. in 12 games and change, he threw for 3250 yards, completing 66.1 percent of his passes while averaging a very impressive 8.4 yards per pass attempt.
His 25-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio was stellar, as was his 106.2 quarterback rating, and the fact that he had only taken 20 sacks through the first three quarters of the regular season. He also fumbled just five times, losing two, while adding three rushing touchdowns to the mix.
While a properly healthy return for Dalton would be a good thing for the state of football more broadly speaking, it will make the Steelers’ task that much more difficult in trying to reclaim the division. Of course, it was never expected that he would struggle to return this season, but yesterday was the first significant test on his way back, and his early results have been very positive.