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Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has excelled in the regular season but struggled in the playoffs the past three years.

Al Behrman, Associated Press

Rand: Getting the right QB is tough, as the Dalton example proves

  • January 6, 2014 - 10:37 PM

In Minnesota, we pine — or at least we think we do — for a young quarterback like Andy Dalton (who could have been drafted in 2011 instead of Christian Ponder).

Dalton started all 48 games in his first three seasons with the Bengals, leading them to the playoffs all three times. His yardage and TD totals have increased every year as he gets more comfortable. He is a player around which a team can build … Or is he?

The narrative on Dalton and others like him appears to be changing in the pass-happy NFL. The term “game-manager,” once used at least with acceptance to describe a quarterback who was steady and didn’t make a lot of mistakes, is now used with derision.

And we’re left to wonder: Is it good enough to have a solid-but-not-spectacular quarterback like Dalton?

That’s a big question in Cincinnati, where Dalton has one year left on his rookie contract and a pretty good résumé (yearly averages of nearly 3,800 yards and 27 TD passes) … but three consecutive one-and-done playoff appearances in which he has thrown one TD pass to go with six interceptions and a 56.2 passer rating.

Is it better to have a quarterback who can get you to the playoffs but might not have a higher ceiling than that … or to constantly have to keep starting over in the search for stability, as has been the case with the Vikings for much of their post-Fran Tarkenton history?

Is Dalton akin to the Falcons’ Matt Ryan — steady in the regular season, but questionable when the level of competition is turned up? Does he have a dash of early Peyton Manning — a quarterback who will continue to get better and shake off playoff butterflies on the way to becoming an elite Super Bowl champion? Or is he just an OK quarterback on a talented roster?

Three years should tell us that he’s not Manning and he never will be. But Dalton also seems to be better than average. Perhaps Ryan — who also lost his first three playoff starts and has overseen notable postseason flops — is the best comparison.

So is it good enough to have a quarterback like that?

Someday — maybe soon — that could be a big question in Minnesota. It makes the NFL draft even more of a crap shoot than ever. These days, it might not even be good enough to draft a perfectly good quarterback.

MICHAEL RAND

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