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Andy Dalton holding Cincinnati Bengals offense back

The Cincinnati Bengals had the better team Sunday. They didn't have the better quarterback.

The Bengals entered the game undefeated at home and 4-0 against teams that made the playoffs. They exited the game with a third consecutive wild-card round loss in which the offense imploded, failing to top 13 points.

With two head-scratching interceptions and a back-breaking fumble in Sunday's 27-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers, Andy Dalton now has one touchdown versus seven turnovers in a trio of January face-plants.

Dalton entered the league with a reputation as a poor man's Matt Ryan, underwhelming as a thrower but NFL-ready with plus intangibles and fundamentals.

Three years later, there has been no growth. The only difference is that it's Dalton's decision-making rather than his arm strength that is preventing the Bengals' offense from reaching its potential.

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Although Dalton has broken numerous franchise records in an inflated era for passing stats, he has been maddeningly inconsistent in terms of ball placement, pocket presence and field vision.

Thanks to the Carson Palmer windfall, a series of astute draft picks and a healthy salary-cap situation, the Bengals have built a deep roster ready to contend.

They continue to harbor the league's longest postseason losing streak in large part because their quarterback has demonstrated traits that cricket fans refer to as those of a "flat-track bully." He feasts on inferior competition while failing to elevate his game or the play of his teammates on the big stage.

Quarterback purgatory is a tricky proposition for NFL organizations.

Dubious of their ability to find an upgrade, the Bills set the franchise back a few years by committing to a known mediocrity in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Armed with a quarterback propped up by his defense and ground attack, the Jets went down the rabbit hole with Mark Sanchez.

Finding himself faced with a similar conundrum, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has doubled down on Dalton.

"I don't have any questions about Andy's role," Lewis said after the game.

It takes a confident, creative plan to pull an organization out of quarterback limbo.

Those bold strokes are lost on Lewis, as evidenced by his game management during his team's five-game postseason losing skid.

Mediocrity is anathema to the NFL's best-run franchises. This one is more likely to hitch itself to Dalton's fallen star, committing to long-term morass rather than turning over every rock for an ascendent talent.

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