Andy Dalton has had a lot of poor games on national television. But he's never experienced a game quite like Thursday night.
In a historically bad performance that grew uncomfortable to watch, Dalton completed only 10 of 33 passes for 86 yards in a 24-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns. His quarterback rating (2.0) was lower than his number of interceptions (three).
He had a comical toss on third down where he ran well past the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball. Most of his completions were dump offs on third and long that led to punts. The Browns' defense -- especially cornerback Joe Haden -- deserve a ton of credit for doing an outstanding job. But many of Dalton's incompletions were unforced errors.
Dalton has often been a punchline in his career despite a "$100 million" contract and a solid career as a starter. His penchant for playing his worst on the big stage, however, is hard to ignore. Dalton's career numbers in nationally televised games are hard to believe: 54.6 percent completions, 5.6 yards per attempt, eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The Bengals are 2-9 in those games. After a while, those numbers feel less and less random.
We don't mean to pick on Dalton, but this is a conversation that has happened after so many games like this, including a Thursday night loss last season to Miami and his three playoff losses. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after the game that Dalton will be fine, but it's a conversation that will pick up next year when people realize the Bengals can easily get out of Dalton's contract in 2016. The larger question: Will Dalton get a chance to start a playoff game this year?
The Bengals have been blown out twice in four weeks against fellow AFC contenders, also losing 27-0 in Indianapolis. Now 5-3-1, the Bengals only have two more home games the rest of the season. The Bengals' offense has made strides overall this season, but Dalton has looked like the same guy. A stinkbomb performance like this is an outlier to an otherwise steady player, but it's a reminder of how low Dalton's ceiling is.
When Dalton is good, he's still not going to carry a team. When he struggles, he gives his team no chance to win.