CINCINNATI - ESPN analyst Tom Jackson says it’s time for the Bengals to end the Andy Dalton era and find a new quarterback.
Like many Bengals fans, Jackson, a former Denver Broncos linebacker who lives in Cincinnati, has seen enough after Dalton’s three-turnover performance in the Bengals’ 27-10 playoff loss to the Chargers Sunday.
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Dalton has been awful in three straight first-round playoff defeats: one touchdown pass, six interceptions, one fumble, nine sacks and a way-below-average 56.2 passer rating.
Do the Bengals start to question Dalton's role long-term?
Yes, say the fans. No, says coach Marvin Lewis.
"I don't have any questions about Andy's role in this thing," Lewis said. "We just have to keep working it. We've got to make sure we're doing everything to help Andy all the time. He's going to be very disappointed in himself, obviously."
Lewis is on the hot seat again, too. He slipped to 0-5 in the playoffs during his 11 seasons with Cincinnati.
Nevertheless, Lewis is expected to keep his job and get another chance under owner Mike Brown.
The Bengals tried to move on Monday from one of the most painful moments in franchise history.
"We'll be fine," Lewis said. "Today sucks. We'll be better. We'll be all right."
The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the longest current streak of futility in the NFL and tied for sixth-longest in NFL history. They've lost their opening playoff game three straight seasons, tying the NFL record.
Lewis is fast rising up the charts for postseason coaching defeats. Only Jim Mora started his career with more consecutive playoff losses (six).
Lewis has a year left on his contract and bristled on Monday when asked if he's in a unique situation with an owner who won't fire him.
"I don't think the situation is unique at all," Lewis said. "I think if the other places were in the situation — they lost a playoff game after winning the division — their head coach would be in place. Don't you?"
The big offseason question is whether they're still fully committed to Dalton.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said on Monday that Dalton shouldn't be singled out for blame, noting the entire offense struggled. He acknowledged that Dalton played poorly in the second half, when Cincinnati was outscored 20-0.
"If there is one negative, I think that Andy probably pressed a little too much and tried to do too many things out of pocket which is not what his strength is," Gruden said.
Dalton is entering the final year on his deal, so the Bengals have to decide whether to offer a long-term extension or consider other options. Lewis reassured him on Monday that his confidence in him hasn't wavered.
"I think everybody knows what I've been able to do here, what we've been able to do since I've been here as a team," Dalton said. "And so I think I've got a lot of confidence in the stuff Marvin has been telling me. I expect to be here for a long time. I'm hoping that is the case."
Players tossed their gear in bags and put their old cleats in donation boxes in the locker room on Monday, knowing they're in for another year of shouldering the label of the team that can't win the big one.
When asked whether he'll look back on the 11-win, AFC North championship season as a partial success or as a total disappointment, linebacker Vontaze Burfict winced.
"It's a disappointment," he said.
"The last two years we were hoping to win. This year, we went in knowing we could win," wide receiver A.J. Green said. "That's the most hurtful."
"This one's the most disappointing in the whole time I've been here," center Kyle Cook said. "Obviously with this group, we thought we'd go really far."
"The truth is we deserve the criticism," offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. "It falls on everybody. Everyone got frustrated. Coming in we expected to play well. We're going to get criticized and we deserve it."
"We felt like this was the year — and now next year's going to be the year," said wide receiver Marvin Jones, who had 12 catches for 130 yards. "We'll hear it for another year. And deservedly so."
NOTES: The Bengals signed WR Cobi Hamilton, C T.J. Johnson, DE David King, CB Onterio McCalebb, LB Bruce Taylor and C Scott Wedige to futures contracts. All were on the practice squad and will count on the active list following the Super Bowl.