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Ravens 31, Bengals 24
2. Andy Dalton is one of the most fearless, confident rookie quarterbacks to come into the NFL in a number of years. He has the potential to be a nightmare to deal with for a long time.
Even thought the Ravens got the best of Dalton in the end, intercepting him three times and sacking him twice on the Bengals' final possession, he tormented them for most of the day. It's been a long time since I've seen a rookie throw the ball the way he did, with that much accuracy on short passes as well as deep balls. It wasn't like he was playing in a dink and dunk offense to hide his inexperience. The Ravens were throwing a lot of different looks at him, and he just kept making big throws. The throw near the end that he made to Jerome Simpson that put the Bengals in position to tie the game was incredible.
"He was great. Just great," Lardarius Webb said. "He was way better than we thought he was. He had great timing, he extended plays, he made plays when he needed to. He threw perfect balls. We're going to see him for awhile. We've got to be better prepared for him next time."
I thought Dalton made one truly bad throw all game, the ball that Jimmy Smith intercepted. You can make the argument that Smith's interception was the biggest play of the game, since it gave the Ravens momentum and points. Webb made an incredible athletic play on the next drive, intercepting Dalton again, and suddenly the Ravens led 31-14. I figured Dalton was going to curl up in a shell. So did Terrell Suggs.
"At 31-14, I thought [Dalton] was going to tuck it in and throw the ball everywhere, and we were going to get a few picks and a few sacks," Suggs said. "But he kept his composure. I tip my hat off to him."
Rookies are going to make those mistakes. It's how they respond that tells you a lot. Dalton responded to Webb's interception by burning Jimmy Smith for a 49-yard touchdown to Andre Caldwell the very next drive. It came against an all-out blitz, and Dalton made the perfect read and perfect throw. It looked like he led the Bengals to another score, a 9-yard touchdown to Jermaine Gresham, but got a tough break when the call was overturned.
Dalton still has plenty to learn, and I'm reluctant to praise him too much with such a small sample size. But he has very good posture, he sets up tall in the pocket, he appears to have a good feel for where blitzes are coming from. His release is both compact and lightening quick. Other than Cam Newton, I'd be really surprised if any of the quarterbacks drafted ahead of him -- Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder -- ended up having a better career.
"You got to like what you see," Ravens safety Ed Reed said of Dalton. "He showed a lot of poise."
November 20, 2011