Young QBs lead Colts, Bengals today
INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton have similar achievements listed on their resumes — and similar glaring holes.
Each made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Each has three straight seasons with double-digit wins. Neither has missed the playoffs, and both understand their legacies will be determined by postseason successes and failures.
On Sunday, the two young quarterbacks get another chance to fill in some of those gaps when the Colts and Bengals meet in a wild-card round game.
"I don't think just getting to the playoffs has ever been good enough in this building," Luck said this week.
The Colts' franchise quarterback learned his lesson the hard way.
After directing one of the greatest one-season turnarounds in NFL history in 2012, Luck came up short against eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs.
Last year, after engineering the second-biggest comeback in postseason history, Luck spent the offseason pondering how to reduce turnovers. He blamed himself for throwing three interceptions that helped put Indy in a 28-point deficit against Kansas City, and then threw four more picks the next week in a 43-22 loss at New England.
Now Luck is eager to prove two-time AFC South champion Indianapolis (11-5) is ready to take another big step.
Dalton's postseason problems are just as obvious.
In three playoff games, all losses, he's thrown one touchdown pass, six interceptions and accumulated a passer rating of 56.2. Another defeat would put Dalton in a tie with Warren Moon for most consecutive opening-round playoff losses by a quarterback.
History is not on the Bengals' side, either. Cincinnati (10-5-1) is 0-6 in road playoff games, has lost seven straight in Indy and hasn't won in the playoffs since January 1991.
If Dalton ends that misery, he might finally silence the critics.
"Winning in general is how quarterbacks are judged," Dalton said. "If you win a lot in the regular season but you haven't won a lot in the postseason, then they're going to say that you couldn't do something."
Here are some other things to watch Sunday:
LIFE WITHOUT A.J.: The Bengals announced Saturday that receiver A.J. Green won't play because of a concussion. How much of an impact could Green's absence have? When the four-time Pro Bowler missed the first Colts game with an injured right big toe, the offense went nowhere in a 27-0 loss. The Bengals need Plan B to work out better this time.
LINE DANCE: Indy's offensive line isn't even close to full strength. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus went on injured reserve earlier this week with groin, hip and shoulder injuries. Right guard Hugh Thornton (shoulder) has been ruled out. A.Q. Shipley, who started at left guard in Week 17, is doubtful with an ankle injury, too. But after using 10 starting combinations this season, coach Chuck Pagano doesn't expect a drop-off.
GIVE IT TO HILL: One major change in Cincinnati's offense since the last game has been the emergence of rookie running back Jeremy Hill. He had only four carries at Indy. Since then, he's become the starter and produced four games with at least 140 yards. If he has a big game this weekend, it'll take a lot of pressure off Dalton.
"I think we're built for the playoffs," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "I think we have a defense that can play really well against really good quarterbacks, and an offense that can pound the football and kind of march down the field that way."
CLEAN-UP CREW: The Colts' biggest problems over the last six weeks have been turnovers (15) and penalties (41), but they got things cleaned up in the regular-season finale at Tennessee. It was the first time Indy played turnover-free since Nov. 3, and drew only four penalties. Replicating that performance could go a long way in determining whether they advance or are one and done.