On Jan. 23, 2011, Cincinnati joined a number of other NFL cities in need of a franchise quarterback when Carson Palmer requested a trade following a 4-12 season.

The Bengals had the fourth overall pick and an unorthodox plan to boost its passing attack. They would build in reverse order, taking the receiver, A.J. Green, first and the quarterback, Andy Dalton, second.

“I was a big Andy Dalton fan since the start of our evaluation process,” Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said this week.

Cincinnati, obviously, hit a home run with Green. But the tail end of the plan required waiting through another 31 selections until the Bengals were back on the clock with the third pick of the second round.

Cam Newton already had gone No. 1 overall to Carolina. Jake Locker went next at No. 8 to Tennessee. Jacksonville, knowing the Vikings also needed a quarterback, traded from No. 16 to No. 10 and took Blaine Gabbert. After Houston took defensive end J.J. Watt, the Vikings took Christian Ponder 12th overall.

“I was holding my breath, hoping [Dalton’s] name would be written on our ticket and taken to the podium,” Gruden said. “To me, he was the most accurate and poised quarterback available. Anticipation and accuracy are important in any offense, and particularly in this one.”

Gruden and the Bengals aren’t bragging. And critics would argue they aren’t in position to brag too much since the 49ers took Colin Kaepernick one spot after Dalton.

But for what the Bengals were looking for, they believe they targeted the right quarterback for several years to come. At 6-2, 215 pounds, the so-called “holes” in Dalton’s résumé were a lack of size and questionable arm strength.

Gruden wasn’t among those doing the questioning. Gruden saw a quarterback holding every major passing record at Texas Christian, including 42 victories, one of which was a Rose Bowl.

“I could tell he was a great leader and a winner,” Gruden said. “We studied him [on film], and every time I had a doubt, he erased the doubt. If he threw an interception, the next drive he’d come back and lead them to a touchdown. If he got sacked or made a poor decision, he backed it up with something special.”

For whatever reason, Dalton still hasn’t won over fans in southwest Ohio. Two weeks ago, when the offense was pitiful in a 17-6 loss at Cleveland, critics were calling for the ouster of Dalton and Gruden.

Last week, Dalton completed 74.1 percent of 27 passes in a victory over unbeaten New England. The Bengals are 3-2 and tied atop the AFC North. All is well … for now.

Since being drafted, Dalton is 22-15, which is eight victories better than any of the other top six QBs selected in 2011. The Bengals were 17-20 in their previous 37 games without Dalton.

In 2011, Dalton was the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 3,000 yards, 20 touchdowns and win at least eight games. In 2012, he joined Dan Marino and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to throw for 20 or more touchdowns in their first two seasons.

Yes, he’s 0-2 in two playoff games and didn’t play well. But the Bengals still believe they filled a big hole with a quarterback some considered too small.

“Some of the best current and past quarterbacks aren’t 6-4,” Gruden said. “[Drew] Brees is doing pretty well, [Joe] Montana did pretty well. [Michael] Vick has done pretty well. We thought, and now we know, that Andy is plenty big enough and strong enough.”

Northern Intelligence

Eli Manning’s first-quarter pick-six bailed Bears coach Marc Trestman out of an early gamble that would have been a big deal had the Bears not beaten the Giants 27-21 on Thursday.

After an earlier Manning interception was returned to the Giants 12-yard line, Trestman figured the gift deserved seven points, not three. So he went for it on fourth-and-2 from the 4-yard line but failed to convert. Five plays later, the Bears led 7-0 thanks to Eli’s pick-six. Trestman isn’t afraid to go for it on fourth downs. He’s 4-for-6 in converting them this season.

• • •

The high-powered Lions obviously aren’t so high-powered without Calvin Johnson.

With Johnson out because of injury, quarterback Matthew Stafford had just 262 yards on 40 pass attempts in last week’s 22-9 loss at Green Bay. That’s a 6.6-yard average, down from 8.1 the first four games. Stafford also was sacked five times.

• • •

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers heads into Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium having come a long way since the last time he was there. On Dec. 19, 2005, the Packers were getting beat 34-3 when soon-to-be-fired coach Mike Sherman pulled Brett Favre and gave Rodgers, a rookie, his first extensive NFL playing time. Rodgers responded with an interception and two lost fumbles, one of which was returned for a TD.

Three observations …

• The Falcons should trade Tony Gonzalez to the Chiefs.

The Falcons would get draft picks in a lost season and Gonzalez could finish his career where it started and on a team that’s contending.

• Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is riding a four-game stretch in which he’s had an interception returned for a touchdown, a dubious NFL record.

• Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin showed some class trying to take the heat off Tony Romo, who threw for more than 500 yards but added a fourth-quarter pick that led to a 51-48 loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Said Kiffin: “I wanna say this: People will say, ‘Tony Romo throws the interception and we can’t win the big one.’ He went toe-to-toe with one of the best ever in the game of football and will be in the Hall of Fame. But don’t put that on him; you put that one on me.”

Two predictions …

• Denver, which has a semi-bye against Jacksonville, will be joined by the Chiefs and Saints at 6-0.

• The Jags won’t be the only winless team to lose Sunday. The Steelers and Bucs will join them.