What about Dalton? Do they believe in him enough to give him a lot more years and a lot of money? Or is it time to start hedging their bets and looking at the alternatives?
The Bengals could hold off on an extension, let Dalton play his final season and bring in another quarterback through the draft or free agency to compete for the job. Or they could just keep the status quo and leave it all up to Dalton again.
Lewis is reassuring Dalton that it’s still his team.
“He said I am the guy he believes in, and he believes that I can get us over the next hump,” Dalton said. “It’s great to hear that from your coach, and that’s what I wanted to hear.”
Others aren’t so sure.
“I’m drafting someone regardless because this team has it ... but it seems like this guy just cannot seize the moment,” former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders said on the NFL Network.
Until Sunday, it appeared Dalton was ready to do it. He set club records for touchdown passes and yards passing while leading the Bengals to the AFC North title this season. He joined Pat Haden, Dan Marino, Bernie Kosar and Joe Flacco as the only quarterbacks to reach the playoffs in each of their first three seasons.
The other four won in the playoffs. Not Dalton, who had an impressive first half against the Chargers — 12 of 17 for 164 yards, a touchdown and a 120.7 passer rating — before imploding with a fumble and two interceptions in Cincinnati’s scoreless second half.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden saw Dalton start to press as the halftime lead slipped away.
“Once you’re in the playoffs and you get a lead and then all of a sudden you lose a lead and then all of a sudden you start pressing just a little too much, and you start trying to scramble to try and make things happen that you’re not used to making,” Gruden said. “It becomes difficult.”