CINCINNATI – Andy Dalton’s passing hand was finally free on Tuesday, liberated from the black cast that has covered his right forearm and his spirits for the past three weeks.
And his coach held out the possibility he might have a backup role for the Bengals’ playoff game.
Call it one for the thumb.
Dalton ran a couple of plays early in practice on Tuesday and threw a pass — with his left hand — before raising his arm in celebration and heading back to the sideline to continue his conditioning work.
What are the chances he could be on the active roster when the Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night?
“I’d love to be in there playing,” Dalton said.
His right thumb will likely prevent it.
The AFC North champions are getting AJ McCarron ready to play against their division rival. Dalton broke the thumb on his passing hand while making a tackle during the Steelers’ 33-20 win at Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 13. McCarron went 2-1 as a starter in the past three games.
Although Dalton got the cast removed on Monday, he has to rebuild the strength in his hand.
He also hasn’t practiced in three weeks, leaving him rusty — a bad combination for playoff time. So the Bengals are heading into the playoffs with McCarron as the starter.
“This team’s built for this kind of stuff,” Dalton said. “AJ’s going to do a good job when things happen.”
Coach Marvin Lewis indicated on Tuesday that there’s a possibility Dalton could be active as a backup, depending upon how his hand feels. The Bengals don’t have an experienced backup should McCarron get hurt. Receiver Mohamed Sanu has taken snaps in wildcat formations and could be an emergency quarterback.
So McCarron will get a chance to overturn a lot of bad history in his fourth NFL start.
The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in 25 years, the sixth-longest such drought in NFL history. They’re the only team in league history to lose an opening-round game four years in a row. No quarterback with so little starting experience has won a playoff game since 1979, when Gifford Nielsen led the Houston Oilers to a win in San Diego, according to STATS.
McCarron thinks his bowl experience while winning two national titles at Alabama will help him in the playoffs.
“I feel like this is comfortable,” he said. “I get to go home to my house every day and see my wife and the little dog and sit on the couch and watch (game) film and make her watch some.”
And then he gets a chance to show how far he’s grown in the past month.
The second-year quarterback got his first significant playing time when Dalton broke his thumb during the first quarter of the loss to Pittsburgh. McCarron threw a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown that put the Steelers in control.