(SportsNetwork.com) - Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has always gotten a lot of criticism in Cincinnati for what he isn't, an elite signal caller in the mold of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.
Conversely, the third-year pro has rarely gotten enough credit for what he is, a quarterback who has led the Bengals to a franchise-record three consecutive postseason appearances, something well-liked former Bengals stalwarts like Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason could never do.
Dalton is an impressive 30-18 over his three regular seasons as the starter in Cincinnati and upped his production in 2013, setting a pair of single-season franchise marks with 4,296 passing yards and 33 touchdown passes.
The postseason has been a different story, however, ending with back-to-back losses in Houston before Sunday's stunning 27-10 collapse at the hands of the San Diego Chargers.
"People can keep saying whatever they want because we haven't won a playoff game," Dalton said before losing to the Chargers. "You've got to win. That's what it comes down to. And for us to get where we want to go, we need to win. That's the way it works. For me, we need to get a win in this one."
That is the way it works and people will now continue to point fingers at Dalton, who finished 29-of-51 for 334 yards with a poor passer rating of 67.0 against the underdog Chargers.
"It's disappointing. All the good stuff we did this year, to come out and not win this game it hurts," said Dalton. "We didn't do enough to win."
The frustrating part for Cincinnati is when Dalton is on, the Bengals can look like a true Super Bowl contender as evidenced by their 15-1 record when the TCU product has a 100-plus passer rating. On the other hand, Cincy is under water when he doesn't reach that figure, at 15-20 when you include the postseason.
At home in 2013, the Bengals were not only 8-0 coming into Sunday's game, they were also 8-0 against the number and improving, averaging nearly 42 points per game over their previous five contests at Paul Brown Stadium. Dalton, meanwhile, had totaled 20 TD passes versus nine interceptions -- four of them in Week 17 -- with a 98.4 passer rating in Cincy.
The Chargers, on the other hand, snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season with, in an ironic twist, a little help from the Bengals, and their defense did not exactly enter the contest with the reputation of the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Of all the Wild Card Weekend games, this one shaped up as the one no-brainer but Philip Rivers played mistake-free football and the plucky Chargers took advantage of the three second-half Dalton miscues to earn a a trip to Denver last Week.
Dalton, on the other hand, got more and more sloppy as the rain began to fall as Cincinnati's 23-year playoff drought, the sixth longest in NFL history, continued,
"We asked a lot of our defense today and they came up with three big turnovers," said Rivers. "We didn't turn it over, which is always big in the playoffs."
You know what they say. Once may be chance, twice could be coincidence but three times? Well, that's a trend and Dalton remains winless in the postseason, playing poorly in each outing. He now has just one TD pass versus six interceptions is his trio of postseason setbacks.
"I don't have any questions about Andy's role," a distraught Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis, who is now 0-5 himself in the playoffs, said. "A tough day."
Plenty of others do have questions, though, and that's understanding the embattled quarterback didn't get a lot of help against San Diego. The game changed in the second quarter when Chargers linebacker Donald Butler forced big-play, rookie running back Giovani Bernard to cough up the football en route to the goal line.
Later with the Bengals in full desperation mode, star receiver A.J. Green let a possible six points slip through his fingers as Dalton placed a deep pass down the right sideline in the bucket.
Make no mistake, though, both Bernard and Green will still be looked at as part of the answer come Monday in the Queen City, while Dalton will be called the problem and face the wrath of many.
Dalton certainly deserves some of that criticism. Two of his three turnovers were as egregious as it gets, fumbling while diving to the ground at the end of the scramble. and badly telegraphing a pass to rookie tight end Tyler Eifert which Chargers LB Melvin Ingram easily undercut.
Perhaps it's as simple as saying when the stage gets bigger, Dalton and the Bengals shrink.