Andy Dalton won’t deny that playing his former team is special. But he’s been through it already. After being cut by the Bengals in April 2020, Dalton started for the Cowboys and beat the Bengals by 23 on Dec. 13 in Cincinnati.
“Luckily, I kind of got that out of the way last year,” the Bears quarterback said. “And now I’m just focused on doing what we can to win the game.”
Asked whether he had no extra motivation to play his old team again Sunday, the Bears quarterback smiled Wednesday.
“Well,” he said, “I wouldn’t say that.”
The Bears won’t dink-and-dunk as much Sunday against the Bengals, who play press coverage with one high safety and figure to dare them to go deep, as they did in the season opener against the Rams.
They’ll look different in Week 2 than they did in Week 1. The question is: will Dalton?
The Bears have more confidence in the veteran Dalton to pivot to the next opponent-specific game plan than they did in Mitch Trubisky. But they need Dalton to be perfect for their offense to hum along at a high level. And he wasn’t Sunday, particularly on fourth downs.
“I thought we moved the ball really well,” Dalton said. “When you look at what we were able to do, we had longer drives. Going back to that defense, that’s what they make you do. … We went for it on fourth down, Weren’t able to get it.
“We make one or two of those, and maybe that game is a little bit different.”
The Bears moved the ball — albeit terribly slowly — Sunday. That was part of the game plan against the blitz-happy Rams — to try to gain yards after the catch, not air yards. By that very narrow definition, they succeeded: the Bears held the ball for 11 minutes longer than the Rams did and punted only once. They didn’t go three-and-out a single time. Every drive but their last one ended up in Rams territory.
The Bears converted on 5-of-11 third downs, which receiver Allen Robinson called “the No. 1 encouraging thing.” David Montgomery ran for 108 yards, the second-most of any running back in Week 1.
In the broader sense, though, it doesn’t matter one whit. The Bears scored only 14 points. They averaged 4.71 yards per play, which would have been the fifth-worst performance of their 2020 season.
“It only counts if you score enough points,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “And we didn’t. We obviously break down every area, and there were some positives that came out of it. But big picture, that’s not enough to win an NFL game.”
Dalton pointed to fourth downs.
Halfway through the first quarter, he took the shotgun snap on fourth-and-4 in and looked right. With Rams linebacker Troy Reeder blitzing over left guard, tight end Cole Kmet was open, crossing right to left. Dalton, though, threw to Allen Robinson on a hot route. The pass was slightly behind him, hit Robinson in both hands and fell incomplete.
On the next fourth-and-4 of the quarter, running back David Montgomery motioned to Dalton’s right as the ball was snapped. Dalton made his first read — to a covered Robinson on a slant — and then looked right. When he decided to check it down to Montgomery, he was hit as he threw, fumbling the ball.
“I had a contested play on the first one and we weren’t able to convert,” Dalton said. “The second one, if I woulda had just a half-second longer and I don’t get hit from behind, David Montgomery is wide open. There’s another conversion.
“There’s like little things we can go back and look at and say, ‘Hey, if we can do this just a little bit better, these conversions,’ then … it can change the course and the outcome of the game.”