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The Bengals aren't buying the hype either

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Andy Dalton and the Bengals have heard all the names, they know their reputation. They share something with the skeptics when it comes to their 5-0 record and postseason expectations.

CINCINNATI -- They call Andy Dalton "The Red Rifle." He has the apt, bright-colored locks and potent arm to earn it. They also call him "fraud," which, for certain, is harsh. But it is unrelenting.

Dalton, the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, arrived here from TCU in 2011 and promptly helped turn the previous 4-12 Bengals into a 9-7 playoff team. And in each of his three seasons since, he led the Bengals to at least 10 victories and to the playoffs. But each playoff game ended in losses by 21, 6, 17 and 16 points, respectively, with Dalton throwing a total of one touchdown pass and six interceptions. Compare that with his 110 touchdowns and 68 interceptions in the regular season.

So, there is this pervasive, revolting reputation for Dalton that he is all hot in the regular season and all cold in the postseason. That he fires up a big balloon in every regular season only to gash it annually in January. That he is the hare and the tortoise wrapped into one.

Andy Dalton sat at his locker Monday afternoon after his team's dynamic overtime victory over the Seattle Seahawks the day before and listened to all of this.

Same sting. Nothing new. Nothing personal.

Just real talk.

"If we had won just one playoff game during this time, you wouldn't hear that," Dalton said. "Just one. But we haven't won one. We've had a lot of success, won a lot of games, made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history four years in a row, but not won one playoff game. That's kind of crazy that just one win along the way would change that conversation so much.

"But our goals have never been to win one playoff game. We are about winning the Super Bowl. I understand you have to win in the playoffs to do that. But we are going to keep the goal much bigger and larger. And keep working on becoming champions."

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The Bengals (5-0) play at the Buffalo Bills (3-2) Sunday. Dalton has thrown for 1,518 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has led the Bengals to the NFL's No. 1 total offense. Cincinnati ranks No. 4 in points scored (148) behind Arizona (190), Atlanta (162) and New England (149).

Dalton is hot. He is playing sharply on the move and in the pocket. His accuracy on deep throws is impressive. He is using an array of varied and impactful offensive weapons. He is leading more, challenging more. He is showing courage and resiliency.

Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson describes Dalton now as full of confidence, swagger, "a different cat."

But Dalton could throw for a million regular season yards and a million regular season touchdown passes and not sway a multitude of doubters.

Until the playoffs in January, until the Bengals are in it and do something that matters, until Dalton simply wins, others will just stick with "fraud."

Jackson does not like that for his quarterback.

But Jackson is a man of real talk.

"I understand. When you have been four times and not much good comes up for you ... You have to deal with that head on," Jackson said. "Not run from reality. You have to get to that door and knock it down. And the only way you can do that is take the season one game and one week at a time and just eventually get to that door. As coaches and players, that is the only way you can see what is on the other side of that door."

Andy Dalton

Photo via Getty Images

Hue Jackson is good for Andy Dalton.

Sometimes a football player gets just what he needs. And in Jackson, Dalton has a coordinator who does not dress it up, who drives him, who has built a bond while still coaching his quarterback hard.

Jackson does it from an inside-outside view. He was a defensive coach with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in Washington in 2002, when Lewis was defensive coordinator there. After being the Oakland Raiders head coach in 2011, Jackson was the Bengals' secondary coach in 2012 and the running backs' coach in 2013. He became offensive coordinator last year.

So, Jackson in previous years of practices had coached against Dalton, and had also coached him. He has watched and studied Dalton from a variety of angles.

Jackson is known as an NFL coach who "handles his people," Lewis said. Jackson is known for finding what makes a player "tick."

For Dalton's first three seasons, Washington head coach Jay Gruden was his coordinator.

"Jay wanted me here, I saw the same things he saw at quarterback and liked the things he liked," Dalton said. "He helped me. Hue is pushing me to the next level. Same expectations as Jay but in a different way. Hue pushes people. He pushes all of us. He is a vocal guy and he is not going to let things slide. He will be in your face about things. But he does a great job of keeping a personal connection."

Jackson preaches courage and toughness for his quarterback. He wants him to understand and appreciate the grind of winning. Jackson focuses on creating a role for his players that the players can see. For Dalton, that means leading more, playing with even more confidence and toughness. Leading in the huddle, in the locker room and away from it, too.

Spending more time with his teammates away from the facility and building bonds and trust.

"What does leadership look like?" Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth asked. "Part of it as a quarterback is understanding he's got the ball in his hands and it's got to go through him. We're only going where he takes us. You could see from day one with Andy he was cerebral and could identify everything in football. But leadership is not just being able to call a play but telling a receiver this is where I expect you to be. He is spending more time with the guys. He wants to be closer. That's a big difference."

Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon had this observation on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium after Dalton led the Bengals in wiping out a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit: "I see a guy willing to grow up. It used to be with him that it would go from bad to really bad to much worse in a game. But he showed some maturity in the way he handled the bad things that happened and reversed it all. He's much more in control. Hey, you've to have a short memory in this game, babe."

Playoff losses and all.

"People want to rip him sometimes, but, hey, he is our quarterback," Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson said. "He is the man we have entrusted the important quarterback position to. We stand by him no matter what is said on the outside. We understand each other."

This is the kind of support Dalton has with the Bengals. Jackson calls it "supreme support, not just phony support." Jackson added: "Your quarterback, you have to be all-in with them."

From star receiver A.J. Green to rising tight end Tyler Eifert to big-play receiver Marvin Jones and several others, Dalton is surrounded by a vigorous cast, a group from which every week a different star can emerge.

Dalton knows he has to keep putting himself out there.

Step out of old shadows. Step boldly.

"You get better as you go," Dalton said. "It's my fifth year. Sometimes it takes time. Not everybody gets all of this at quarterback right away. I've had a ton of things happen in only five years. Look at the best quarterbacks in the league right now, how old are they? That tells you something. But also, just know this about our team -- there is no flinching here in anybody."

That's good. Because Dalton and the Bengals are on an elongated prove-it course.

Jackson said of Dalton: "Andy's got to do more. I know there is more in there."

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