Dalton gets a second chance in playoffs

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton is getting a second chance to shine in a hometown playoff game. The first one didn't turn out very well for him.

The Bengals quarterback had one of the worst games of his rookie season in front of a lot of family and friends in Houston last year. He threw three interceptions, including one that J.J. Watt returned for a touchdown, in the Texans' 31-10 victory in the wild-card round.

Dalton is excited to be going back for what amounts to a second chance to look good in the playoffs.

“It'll be fun,” Dalton said. “It's definitely cool to come back and play where I'm from.”

Those friends and relatives — and those Texans — will see a quarterback who has grown up a lot in the last year. The Bengals went 10-6 in his second season and snagged another wild-card spot, with Dalton improving in every statistical category.

Dalton received an unexpected challenge at midseason.

With the Bengals off to a 3-4 start, coach Marvin Lewis challenged the quarterback and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to assert themselves and lead the team out of its malaise. Neither one is very vocal, preferring to let the coaches take control.

With the pressure on, Dalton and Maualuga improved their performances and led a turnaround. The Bengals won seven of their last eight games to reach the playoffs.

“He's a guy that's grown,” offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said.

“Like Marvin said earlier in the year about him and Rey, where they take us is where we'll go.”

The Bengals are the most northern NFL team without a covered practice facility. They practiced in the cold last year, and Dalton came down with the flu, forcing him to miss a day of practice leading up to the playoff game.

The Bengals learned from their mistake, renting the University of Cincinnati's covered football field this week to escape the cold and get ready for the rematch.

The biggest downside heading into the playoff game is how the offense finished the season. The defense scored two touchdowns in the last two games, and the offense managed only one.

“The big-shot plays,” Whitworth said. “Even more now than ever, it's the huge plays that win the playoffs. You can go back to clips from Super Bowls past and playoffs past. It's time for guys to make huge plays, that's the bottom line.”

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