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The Bengals are as good as they've ever been because Andy Dalton is clutch

The same 'ol narratives about Andy Dalton don't apply any more.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Dalton looked like the Andy Dalton we were all familiar with through most of Sunday's game. He had thrown for under 200 yards and had two interceptions with no scores until the Bengals took over possession on the Steelers' 45-yard line with 5:34 remaining. Until Sunday, Dalton had thrown two interceptions all season. The Bengals had also lost their last three meetings against the Steelers. It seemed history was repeating.

But when Dalton could have caved, he didn't. He accounted for 35 of the Bengals' 45 yards on the short go-ahead touchdown drive, ultimately hitting A.J. Green for a 9-yard touchdown to take the lead for good. With a 16-10 win, the Bengals improved to 7-0 for the first time in franchise history.

Dalton's development -- his sudden clutchness -- has been perhaps the biggest difference in the Bengals this season. The team has been forecasted to break out for several seasons, with talented offensive skill players, a talented and well-coached defense and a strong offensive line. The only glaring issue was Dalton, who had a bad habit of appearing great one week and a liability the next. Worse were the late-game mistakes. He has a long history of them.

As we get deeper and deeper into the season, it's getting more difficult to write off the Bengals as a mirage some assumed they were early in the year. Dalton's late go-ahead touchdown against the Steelers was his second of the season against a division rival. In Week 3 he had an even more brilliant game-winning touchdown drive to beat the Baltimore Ravens. He also led Cincinnati to 17 fourth quarter points to beat the Seattle Seahawks in overtime, and kept the team together when Jeremy Hill was trying to fumble the game away in a five-point win over the Chargers.

It's hard for a team, much less a quarterback, to be perfect forever. At some point, the Bengals are likely going to lose, potentially in heartbreaking fashion, and Dalton will have made mistakes that could have altered the outcome. That happens to every player, even the all-time best, at some point every year. In Dalton's case, it will likely earn him additional scrutiny because of his history.

But taken in the vacuum of this season, such scrutiny would be misplaced. Dalton is proving himself more than capable -- he's been great. He and the Bengals are something they have never been -- clutch -- and they may be the best team in the NFL as a result.