CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton is just the fifth quarterback in NFL history to guide his team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, although he is the first among that elite group to lose his first two postseason games.
Pat Haden and Joe Flacco won their playoff debuts, while Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar each were victorious in their second postseason start.
But there are a couple of things different about Dalton and this year's playoff run, which the Cincinnati Bengals hope will produce their first postseason victory in 23 seasons.
The first is that the Bengals are AFC North Division champions after back-to-back wild-card appearances, which means Dalton will get to play his first playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium.
"It's big," Dalton said of the chance to play at home, where the Bengals are 7-0 this season. "It's the next step for us. That was one of our goals going into this season."
The second encouraging sign is what Dalton has been able to do the last four weeks, completing 90 of 140 passes for 1,061 yards with 10 touchdowns, one interception and a 108.1 passer rating since the calendar turned to December.
"He's playing really well right now," Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "I'm proud of everything he's accomplished, but he's still got a long way to go obviously. He's taken a lot of bullets. A lot have been fired at him, and he just keeps coming out and performing."
Dalton's numbers during his first two Decembers were more pedestrian, and his playoff performances mirrored that.
In his final five regular-season games as a rookie, Dalton threw four touchdown passes and one interception while completing 53.6 percent of his passes and averaging 177.8 yards.
Last year he had four TDs and five INTs while completing 59.7 percent of his passes and averaging 180 yards.
"The more you play the game, the more understanding you have, the better you should feel back there," Dalton said. "So I'm pretty comfortable with what we're doing and with the different looks that we get. It comes down to executing and we've done a good job of that."
Dalton's hot December has not only pushed him to career highs in passing yards (4,015) and touchdown passes (31), but it has him on the verge of setting the franchise marks in both of those categories.
He is one touchdown pass shy of Carson Palmer's record of 32 set in 2005, and he's 116 yards shy of Palmer's record of 4,131 yards (2007). He's also a big reason why wide receiver A.J. Green is just 75 yards shy of Chad Johnson's record of 1,440 (2007).
"It shows what we've been able to accomplish this year," Dalton said. "I think that only happens if we've been winning games and doing some good things. Personally it's cool to be close to those records, but wins are what ultimately matters."
Injury update: The team will not release an official injury report until today, but there were eight players who did not practice Tuesday, including all three tight ends -- Jermaine Gresham (abdomen), Tyler Eifert (neck) and Alex Smith (concussion).
Linebackers Vontaze Burfict (concussion) and Vinny Rey (unknown), cornerbacks Terence Newman (knee) and Dre Kirkpatrick (unknown) and offensive lineman Andre Smith (ankle) also weren't working.
PBS production: The Cincinnati Bengals are the third team in NFL history to score at least 40 points in four consecutive home games.
The Bengals beat the Jets 49-9, the Browns 41-20, the Colts 42-28 and the Vikings 42-14.
The other teams were the 1952 Lions (43, 48, 45, 41) and 2000 St. Louis Rams (41, 41, 57, 45).
Red-zone report: In their previous 14 trips into the red zone, the Cincinnati Bengals have scored 13 touchdowns. The only time they didn't get in the end zone was Dec. 1 in San Diego when they elected to take a knee with time running out.
Cincinnati ranks second in the NFL behind Denver in red-zone percentage. The Bengals have scored touchdowns on 32 of 43 chances (74.4 percent), while the Broncos are 48 of 63 (76.2 percent).
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