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NFL morning after: Andy Dalton, MVP candidate

Andy Dalton


In a big game on Sunday, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton came through in the clutch.

I know, I know, Dalton has had some high-profile playoff failures, and therefore we’re supposed to laugh at the notion that he’s a guy who can put a team on his back and win. But that’s exactly what Dalton did yesterday against the Seahawks, throwing for 331 yards and two touchdowns and leading the game-winning drive for a field goal in overtime as the Bengals beat the Seahawks 27-24.

The Bengals are 5-0, and Dalton is an MVP candidate.

Dalton now has a league-leading 1,518 passing yards, along with 11 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He’s first in the NFL with 9.5 yards per pass and third with a passer rating of 115.6. If you think he’s not one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, you haven’t been paying attention. Dalton is on pace to finish this season with a career-high 35 touchdown passes, a career-high 4,858 yards, a career-high 67.5 percent completion rate and a career-low six interceptions. Even if you weren’t a fan of Dalton’s before, you can’t deny that he’s off to an unbelievable start this year.

And yet . . . I get it. Dalton has started four playoff games in his career, the Bengals have lost all four of them, and Dalton has thrown just one touchdown pass to six interceptions in those four games. As long as Dalton has that playoff record, he’s going to have the “choker” label attached to his name.

But I have a feeling this is the year Dalton will change those perceptions. No player in football is playing any better than Andy Dalton right now.

Here are my other thoughts on this week’s games:

I’m skeptical of the Seahawks. Maybe it sounds strange to laud praise on Andy Dalton for leading the Bengals to a win over the Seahawks and then say I’m skeptical of the Seahawks, but let me be clear: I think the Seahawks’ defense is good, and I’m impressed with the way Dalton played against that defense. But the Seahawks’ offense, and particularly the offensive line, is a huge question mark. The line wasn’t great last year, either, but it got worse this offseason when they lost guard James Carpenter in free agency, traded away center Max Unger, moved Justin Britt from right tackle to left guard, made Garry Gilliam the starting right tackle and made Drew Nowak the starting center. Russell Wilson was sacked four times yesterday and is often running for his life. The Seahawks are 2-3, and they’re one bad call against the Lions from being 1-4. If they don’t get that offensive line straightened out, they’re not going to the playoffs.

NFL’s awful catch rule strikes again. On Sunday in Atlanta, Falcons running back Devonta Freeman caught a pass, had both feet on the ground and lunged the ball forward across the end zone. The official who had a perfect view of the play signaled touchdown. But this is the NFL, where what looks like a touchdown is often an incomplete pass. The referee reviewed the replay and ruled that because Freeman dropped the ball after he put it across the goal line, the pass was incomplete. By the letter of the law, it was the right call. But as noted NFL fan Charles Dickens once said, the law is an ass. The NFL needs to change the rules, because any play on which a receiver can catch a pass, get his feet down and lunge the ball across the goal line should be a touchdown.

This just in: Jim Harbaugh can coach. As you watch Harbaugh turn Michigan back into a college football powerhouse, remember that 49ers owner Jed York and General Manager Trent Baalke decided to replace him with Jim Tomsula at the end of last season. Whether coaching in college or the pros, Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in all of football. Tomsula is not. York and Baalke set their franchise back immeasurably because they couldn’t get along with a great coach.

No quarterback controversy in Cleveland. No, Johnny Manziel will not be starting for the Browns any time soon. Josh McCown was outstanding yesterday in a 33-30 overtime win over the Ravens: McCown passed for 457 yards, with two touchdowns and no turnovers. McCown 356 yards and 341 yards in his two previous games, making him the first quarterback in the history of the Cleveland Browns franchise to have three-straight 300-yard games.

The Lions are terrible. After a beatdown from the Cardinals yesterday, the Lions are 0-5 and the NFL’s only winless team. I don’t think they’re going to match the disaster of 2008, when the Lions were the only 0-16 team in NFL history, but they might just be looking at the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Whether they have the first pick or not, they’re going to have to answer a hard question about Matthew Stafford, the quarterback they’ve paid a fortune. If Stafford can’t play a lot better over the next 11 games than he’s played over the first five, the Lions will need to bite the bullet, cut their losses and release him after the season.

An interception for the ages. Charles Woodson intercepted Peyton Manning twice yesterday, and that was really something: Woodson, who turned 39 last week, is the NFL’s oldest defensive player. Manning, who turned 39 in March, is the NFL’s oldest regular starter. Woodson beat out Manning for the 1997 Heisman Trophy, and they’ve been two of the best NFL players in the 18 years since then. Now both of their careers are winding down, and Woodson finally gets to check “Pick off Peyton” off his bucket list. This was the first time in NFL history that a 39-year-old intercepted another 39-year-old, and Woodson is the first 39-year-old ever to have a two-interception game. The only other players in NFL history to intercept a pass after turning 39 are Darrell Green and Clay Matthews Jr., the father of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III.

The best Sunday of football yet. Wasn’t the end of the early kickoff window fun? Overtime in Baltimore. Overtime in Cincinnati. Overtime in Atlanta. A one-point game in Tennessee. A one-point game in Kansas City. All in all, yesterday was the best Sunday of football yet. And Andy Dalton may have been the best player on the field in any of those games.