CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton wasn't even in kindergarten the last time the franchise won a postseason game, but 23 years' worth of futility and frustration will be strapped to his shoulder pads Sunday afternoon when the Bengals face the San Diego Chargers in an AFC Wild-Card game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Dalton is enjoying the best season of his three-year career, having set the franchise record for touchdown passes and passing yards while leading the Bengals (11-5) to the AFC North Division title and a third consecutive postseason berth.
But after subpar playoff performances and first-round exits the last two years, only a victory against San Diego (9-7) will qualify Dalton as a success in the eyes of many.
"People can keep saying whatever they want because we haven't won a playoff game," Dalton said. "You've got to win. That's what it comes down to. And for us to get where we want to go, we need to win.
"For me, we need to get a win in this one," he continued. "I understand what's at stake here and what we're trying to accomplish."
Dalton is hardly the first quarterback to lose his first two playoff games. John Elway, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning each started 0-2 and they rebounded to win a combined five Super Bowls.
Instead it's the matter in which Dalton has lost that has fueled the skeptics.
In his first two playoff appearances -- a 31-10 loss at Houston two years ago and a 19-13 defeat in Houston last season -- Dalton has failed to lead the team on a touchdown drive in 23 possessions, going 41 of 72 for 384 yards with four interceptions and a 48.6 passer rating.
"I don't think anybody on this team is going to go in and say, 'Well, I played great in the playoffs, it's just Andy's fault,'" Gruden said. "It's a total team game. We'll have to play better and I think we're in a state of mind right now that we're pretty confident to do that."
That confidence is well rooted.
Not only is the offense ranked 10th in the NFL as opposed to 22nd in 2011 and 20th in 2012, but the Bengals just beat the Chargers last month in San Diego and today's game is at PBS, where the Bengals are 8-0 this season and 11-1 dating back to last year.
"This is a confident group, not only me, but this team, this offense and everything that we're doing," Dalton said. "We understand what we've done the last couple of years. There's a different mindset now. Guys are ready to take that next step, to get a big playoff win and that's something that this team needs.
"It's going to be great to have a home game. I think that's going to be to our advantage, get the crowd involved, and to not have to deal with the crowd noise and the different things that go with playing on the road."
Everything appears to be aligned for the Bengals to earn their first postseason victory since a 41-14 trouncing of Houston on Jan. 6, 1991.
But Cincinnati fans have seen this before. There were division titles and home playoff games in 2005 and 2009 that were spoiled by first-round losses. And even though the team was on the road the last two seasons, there was no shortage of confidence heading into the game.
Dalton certainly looks like a quarterback poised to take the next step, but he's been in this position before only to regress.
He blistered defenses in October with 11 touchdown passes and only three interceptions while leading the Bengals to four victories and winning the AFC Player of the Month award. Then he threw three interceptions in back-to-back losses.
He started December with 10 touchdown passes and only one interception, then threw a career-high four picks in the season finale against Baltimore, only to be bailed out by AFC's top-ranked defense.
"It comes to knowing when to try to make some plays and when to not force things," Dalton said. "Usually if you win the turnover battle, you've got a better chance of winning the game, so it's even more important once you get to the playoffs.
"There's not any more pressure," he added. "We expect to play well. We expect to play to our potential."
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