Last week on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL,” host James Brown asked the panel to pick a team – other than obvious favorites like Denver or Seattle – that could make a serious Super Bowl run.
Phil Simms picked the Bengals.
“When you look at them, they have guys that can impact the game,” Simms said. “That’s how I judge teams. How many stars do you have out there that can win the game for you? The Bengals have a lot of them.”
That was before Simms was in the broadcast booth for Sunday’s regular season finale against Baltimore.
Cincinnati won 34-17 despite a career-high four interceptions for Andy Dalton. Did that up-and-down performance cause Simms to reconsider his lofty expectations for the Bengals?
“It brought them up even higher,” Simms told me this week. “Seeing them in person again and watching them all week and really getting a feel for the football team – I get a very good vibe when I’m around the team. The players all get along. They’ve got energy – it’s real. I think Marvin Lewis has a great feel for the football team and I like the coordinators. What I saw on the field on Sunday just convinced me even more that maybe for once I might be pretty smart.”
But what about the four interceptions? Surely that had to concern Simms.
Quite the contrary for the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
“I really do believe this: The fact that Andy Dalton threw four interceptions is a good thing,” said Simms. “I played the position and when I had those games and threw those interceptions, I was mad all week and by gosh, I was going to show ‘em. I’ll never forget what Andy said to me before the Chicago Bears game to open the season. I brought up some of these things about the criticism of the quarterback and he said, ‘I can’t wait for the season to start because I’m going to shut everybody up.’ That was music to my ears. I said, ‘You tell ‘em where to go Andy.’ You want your quarterback to have a little bit of that in him, and I see it in him. After throwing those interceptions, I think he is going to ‘bow up’ this week and I think he is going to play well. We’re going to see a quarterback that is tighter and more efficient and I expect him to play very well.”
Dalton’s interception total has gone up in each of his three seasons and this year, only three NFL quarterbacks had more than Andy’s 20 INTs (Eli Manning 27, Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer 22). But Dalton also posted career highs in every other statistically category and finished third in the league in touchdown passes with 33 (Peyton Manning 55, Drew Brees 39).
“Interceptions will happen if you have an aggressive style of quarterback throwing the ball downfield,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. “We have to maybe pull his reins back a little bit, but the first interception (last Sunday) to Marvin Jones was a great play by the defensive back and that’s a shot we want to take. It was one-on-one with no safety to be found. The last interception was one-on-one coverage on A.J. and Andy just underthrew him. I like where Andy’s at. I like his anticipation and I like his aggressive style right now. Obviously we need to rein back his picks, but to do what he did through 16 games and throw as many touchdowns as he did and throw for as many yards as he did is a huge improvement from last year.”
“Quarterbacks are going to throw bad passes – they’re going to turn the ball over, so I don’t overreact to them,” said Simms. “I hear people say, ‘Just don’t turn the ball over.’ I tell them, ‘Maybe the quarterback should just fall on the ball on every down. That way they would win because there would be no turnovers.’ You want them to be daring and do this and that, but don’t turn it over. It’s going to happen, so the criticism is unjust many times.
“I was watching TV this morning and the things they say about quarterbacks – they think they are going to go out there and play perfect games. It’s ridiculous.”
That’s coming from a quarterback who was nearly perfect in the New York Giants’ 39-20 win over Denver in Super Bowl XXI: 22-for-28 for 268 yards with 3 TD, 0 INT, and the highest passer rating in Super Bowl history at 150.9.
That record-setting performance capped Simms’ third trip to the playoffs. Dalton goes into his third trip still looking for his first postseason win.
“His presence on the field has grown,” said Simms. “I think physically he’s grown too, which I think is a really big deal. He is going to be their franchise quarterback and he’s going to be there for a while. I think the experience and the fact that he’s physically better – and that he has a better team around him – his chances of winning and doing what everybody wants have gone up dramatically since last year.”
“With such great experience under his belt, he’s gotten better every season, he is the leader of this football team now, he knows what’s expected of him, he knows what’s ahead of us, and we really feel good about where he is right now,” said Marvin Lewis.
“It’s hard to develop quarterbacks,” said Simms. “The Bengals had a plan, and I give them a lot of credit. They drafted him, they put him in there, and he’s practiced and played for three years. They’re seeing those benefits, and it’s time now to march on for the next five or six years – whatever it is – and see how many games you can win and if you can get it done in the playoffs.”
Simms can see for himself. He’ll be back in the booth at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
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