CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton completed 16 throws in a row, had a hand in four touchdowns, and finished with the second-highest passer rating of his career.
The Bengals’ decision to change offensive coordinators has made a huge difference in the quarterback.
Dalton is back in form now that Bill Lazor is putting together the game plan and calling the plays. Dalton threw four touchdown passes for only the fourth time in his career during a 31-7 victory in Cleveland on Sunday.
His re-emergence gives the Bengals (1-3) some hope that they could pull out of their dismal start and get back into the AFC North race.
They trail the Steelers (3-1) by two games as they prepare to host Buffalo (3-1), which leads the AFC East.
“We’ve changed,” coach Marvin Lewis said Monday. “That’s what we said we were going to do, and Bill’s done a great job with that.”
The question is whether they waited too long. No 0-3 Bengals team has finished a season with a winning record, so history is against them.
Coordinator Ken Zampese was fired after the Bengals failed to score a touchdown in their first two games.
Dalton had four interceptions and a fumble during the 0-2 start, with the Bengals averaging only 4.3 yards per play. In the past two games, it’s been 5.3 per play.
The biggest change is in Dalton, who was under heavy pressure in the first two games and had a combined passer rating of 47.2, lowest in the NFL.
In the past two games, he’s thrown for six touchdowns without an interception for a rating of 138.2.
Lazor’s priority was getting Dalton back into a comfort zone. Receiver A.J. Green complained that under Zampese, the team’s playmakers weren’t getting involved enough in the passing game. Lazor’s game plans have included a lot of low-risk throws early so Dalton and the entire offense can get into a flow.
In Cleveland, Dalton completed 16 consecutive passes and finished 25 of 30 for 286 yards. The previous time he threw four touchdown passes in a game was 2013 against Minnesota. His only higher rating was 146.8 against the Browns in Cleveland during the 2015 season, when Dalton led the AFC in passer rating.
“I think guys are comfortable with what we’re doing,” Dalton said. “I think that’s what it comes down to and guys are playing with more confidence. We have to keep getting better.”
The problems aren’t all fixed. The line remains an issue — Dalton has been sacked 14 times, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. The running game has been held under 100 yards in three games and ranks 23rd overall.
If Dalton can put together a stretch of good games, there’s a chance to make the season interesting after the 0-3 start.
“The last two weeks, he has had high completions and good yardage,” receiver Brandon LaFell said. “When he is out there going, our offense is flowing.”
KEEP ROTATING: Lewis indicated the Bengals will continue their unusual arrangement of rotating tackles. Andre Smith started at left tackle for Cedric Ogbuehi and was in for 45 of their 64 plays. Jake Fisher started at right tackle and was in for 52 plays. Ogbuehi had 31 plays.
The line’s struggles have contributed significantly to the 1-3 start. Teams prefer to have a set line, but the rotation at tackle is the best they can do for now.
“It’s just what it is,” Lewis said.
BURFICT’S RETURN: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was on the field for 52 of the 65 plays — 80 percent — in his return from a three-game NFL suspension for his latest egregious hit. He had six tackles, second to linebacker Nick Vigil for the team lead. Lewis expects Burfict to be capable of playing a full game against the Bills.
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