Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals came into their game today against the Pittsburgh Steelers with the prospect of sweeping the Steelers for the first time during Dalton's tenure and locking up the AFC North title.
Fortunately, none of that ever happened. Dalton threw a shovel pass that was picked off by Stephon Tuitt on the first drive in the 33-20 beatdown by the Steelers. The Bengals' QB had to run back to the locker room after injuring the thumb on his throwing hand when making the tackle on Tuitt. Dalton would not return to the field but remained on the sideline with his hand in a cast for the rest of the game.
Originally it was rumored that he might possibly return as soon as next week, but further reports suggest otherwise.
Here's what I'm told about Andy Dalton's fractured thumb: likely season-ending, best case scenario is playoffs, per multiple team sources.— bob holtzman (@BobHoltzmanESPN) December 13, 2015
The possibility that Dalton could be gone for the rest of the regular season puts more pressure on the Bengals in their home stretch against the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens. Fortunately for them, neither the 49ers nor the Ravens can seem to get out of their own way at the moment, and they might win those games with solid play from their defense. But it casts a lot more doubt as to where their path ultimately will lead for the rest of this season.
Meanwhile, the Steelers sit two games behind the Bengals with three games to go and Pittsburgh is on a streak of five games in which they've scored 30 points or more. The Steelers could still mathematically win the division, should they win their final three games while the Bengals lose their remaining games. Though the combination of those two outcomes is highly unlikely, Dalton's injury makes this narrative at least plausible.
For the second straight year, Pittsburgh lost their All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell for the season in the first matchup this season versus the Bengals. This time around, the injury was celebrated by Burfict and joked about by the Bengals afterwards, sparking the Steelers to bring their A-game when the two met again today in Cincinnati.
Keep an eye out for any further reports on Dalton's status, as well as how McCarron does for the next few games.
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