This isn't how the season was supposed to unfold.
Rocketing toward the playoffs, we were supposed to be writing this week how Andy Dalton was poised to end the playoff nightmares.
Instead, the Bengals have a different postseason conundrum. Can AJ McCarron lead them off the schneid?
"Oh, there's no question in my mind that we can win a playoff game with AJ McCarron," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said, via ESPN.com. "He has enough leadership and character."
The Bengals' last playoff victory came January 6, 1991, with Boomer Esiason under center. McCarron wasn't yet four months old that day.
While Cincinnati still has an outside shot at a playoff bye, the likelihood of them playing Wild Card weekend is high. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Dalton isn't expected to be cleared from his hand injury until at least the Divisional Round.
If McCarron -- who said his wrist injury won't stop him from suiting up -- needs to play a playoff game, his teammates believe he has the moxie to lead them to a win.
"The most important thing for a quarterback is how the guys feel in the huddle with him, and the confidence that they have around him," Whitworth said. "There's not a guy that doesn't doubt that (McCarron's) going to come in and give us the best he's got, and he's going to make good decisions and those kinds of things. That's probably one of the strongest suits is his leadership."
McCarron has been stellar in his two starts. While his stats won't blow you away, he certainly can make all the NFL throws, consistently wins on third downs, understands where to go with the ball and is confident to rip it down field when the opportunity presents itself.
Facing the Baltimore Ravens, who flummoxed Ben Roethlisberger last week, will be McCarron's final tune up before getting a chance to beat Dalton to one career goal: winning a playoff game.