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Dalton won't have surgery; return for playoffs hopeful

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The Cincinnati Bengals got a modicum of good news Monday.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told reporters that quarterback Andy Dalton won't need surgery on his fractured right thumb. Dalton will not play in Week 15 against the San Francisco 49ers, per Lewis, and the team will take it week by week to determine his availability.

There is hope Dalton can return for the playoffs, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, but will depend on how quickly he heals. Dalton believes a Week 17 return is possible, but bones are tricky to guesstimate how they will mend.

Dalton was knocked out in the first quarter of Sunday's 33-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers after suffering the injury attempting to make a tackle.

With Dalton's timetable up in the air, second-year pro AJ McCarron will make his first career start. The 25-year-old fifth-round draft pick put up 280 yards with two touchdowns and two costly picks in relief of Dalton on Sunday.

With receiving weapons A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert (concussion) and a backfield of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, the Bengals are well-stocked to insulate the young passer.

The Bengals sit two games up on the Steelers in the AFC North and angling for a possible playoff bye with games against the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens. McCarron could become the first Alabama quarterback to win an NFL start since 1987 on Sunday versus the Niners.

Dalton's injury puts a damper on his best pro season, which had the Bengals believing they could bury their playoff winless streak. The healing process has to go right for Dalton to get a shot at the postseason, but Monday's news offers a flicker of hope he could see the field in January.

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