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Extra Points: Dalton has Bengals in control of AFC North

<p>My quarterback is probably better than yours.</p>

(SportsNetwork.com) - My quarterback is probably better than yours.

Forgive Cincinnati fans if they're playing that childish game but it might be a bit of a defense mechanism for their under-appreciated, third-year signal caller Andy Dalton.

Fewer cliches have ever been rooted in more truth than the thought that the quarterback gets more credit than he deserves when his team wins and is tagged with more fault than he should be hearing after a setback.

In Dalton's case the regular-season success he's had has been drowned out in a pair of back-to-back wild card loses to the Houston Texans, games in which he completed 41-of-72 passes or 384 yards with no touchdowns with four interceptions, numbers that add up to a dismal 48.6 passer rating.

But, where's the context to those numbers?

Remember Cincinnati isn't exactly a franchise steeped in a winning tradition. Before Dalton arrived, the Bengals' last consecutive playoff appearances came way back in 1981 and 1982 when Ken Anderson was at the controls and Dalton, who turns 26 next week, wasn't even a twinkle in his parents' eyes.

In fact the Bengals sneaked above the .500 mark in only two of the 20 seasons before Dalton arrived as a rookie second-round pick out of Texas Christian University in 2011. Since then, Marvin Lewis' club has amassed a 24-15 regular-season record and reached those playoff matchups with J.J. Watt and Co.

A 27-24 victory last second win at Detroit in Week 7 lifted Dalton and the Bengals to 5-2 in 2013 and put them two games clear of their nearest competitors in the AFC's North Division -- the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and the upstart Cleveland Browns, both of whom are under .500 at 3-4.

"These last couple (of games) have come down to the end and we're finding ways to win the game," Dalton said. "It's big. We're 5-2 now and it sets us up nice for where we want to go."

The next chance to improve comes on Sunday when rookie Geno Smith and the New York Jets visit the Queen City as a seven-point underdog.

So, the guy who has already led the Bengals to those two straight postseason appearances is seemingly on his way to a third.

And you know what they say -- the first time could be happenstance, the second might even be coincidence but a third time? Well, that's a trend people.

It's true Dalton is never going to be mistaken for an elite guy like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. In fact, you can probably take him out of the running for the second-tier of signal callers led by Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger but that doesn't mean there wouldn't be a line of quarterback-starved teams that would consider themselves lucky if they had a player like Dalton under center.

Eye what's going on in Minnesota, Cleveland or Tampa Bay right now and you'll understand that pretty quickly.

"It's always going to be a critic," Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said when talking about Dalton. "Tom Brady's getting criticized now because they (the Patriots) lost a game the other day. At that position, you're never going to quiet them totally. You just have to continue to produce, be consistent at the position and ultimately win the final game, and then maybe someday you guys will stop writing that he can't throw far enough."

In other words, instead of considering what Dalton isn't, focus on what he is becoming, a solid game-manager who can go out and win one for you when the fastball is humming and he has his A-level stuff.

Over his past two games Dalton has been firing on all cylinders, connecting on 50-of-74 passes for 709 yards, six touchdowns and a 119.7 passer rating, efforts that have yielded matching 27-24 road wins at Buffalo and Detroit, and perhaps the realization that Cincinnati is watching its best quarterback since Boomer Esiason.

"For a quarterback, there's only a few guys considered the greatest guys to play the game, and it's because they were able to string these good games back to back to back," Dalton said. "That's what everybody is striving for. It's hard to do, but you've got to be able to get your team going and prepare each week and go out and play your best and hopefully it shows in the game."

It's showing now and there's a good chance it will finally show up in January also.

"We believe in him and he believes in us," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We're evolving. And as long as we continue to do that, get better every time we go on the football field and find ways to be better, the sky's the limit."

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