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Bengals' Dalton more confident in leadership role

| Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, 10:45 p.m.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton passes against the Chicago Bears during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in Chicago.

CINCINNATI — The rise and fall of the Cincinnati Bengals will be shaped by a number of factors, but no player faces as much scrutiny as third-year quarterback Andy Dalton.

Dalton, who led the Bengals into the AFC playoffs last season, knows he has little room to err in a season in which Cincinnati is expected to supplant the Steelers and Baltimore as the indisputable divisional power.

Already, Dalton has had to deal with the pressures of meeting such lofty expectations. He threw two interceptions in a season-opening 24-21 loss at Chicago that drew the ire of his critics.

Even though his teammates remain confident that can lead them back into the playoffs, Dalton acknowledged he has to lead by example when the Bengals host the Steelers on “Monday Night Football.”

“Monday night adds more hype to the game,” Dalton said. We felt like we played well last week, but we turned the ball over. We have to fix those things that hurt us. We've gotten better as a team. I've gotten better. There were some good things that happened in the game. We have to do whatever we can to win these games.”

Dalton found a way to beat the Steelers in the teams' rematch last season. He connected 10 times with wide receiver A.J. Green in a 13-10 win that propelled Cincinnati into the playoffs.

“We are confident that Andy is doing everything he can to help us win, especially the big games,” Green said. “But it's never just about Andy because we all have to do our jobs.”

Still, the spotlight is on Dalton.

“I think Andy is the leader of this team,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “(Former Steelers linebacker) James (Harrison) has come here to add a great professional attitude.”

Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said everyone is watching Dalton. The expectations are that he should be ready to take his place alongside two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger and Baltimore's Joe Flacco, who led the Ravens to the NFL title last season.

“Right now, he's the face of the entire team,” Whitworth said. “Wins and losses are on the quarterback. The more talented we become there will be more and more pressure applied on (Dalton).

“Whether or not it's fair, people believe (Dalton) dictates everything. It comes down to making a play, but if A.J. doesn't have a good day with him it's going to be difficult for us. Flacco got a lot of credit last year, but Anquan Boldin had an exceptional postseason.”

Aside from the numbers, the Bengals are more impressed with how Dalton has taken ownership of the team. He called for a team meeting the day after the loss to Chicago.

“He's more talkative this year, which is something he didn't do last year,” linebacker Vontaze Burfict said. “He communicates with everyone and he takes responsibility for everything that goes on out there.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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