After the media throng had finished with him Sunday, Andy Dalton stood alone at his locker in the Cincinnati Bengals locker room and – when prodded – agreed to talk about his day of giveaways.
But the veteran quarterback was not detailing his personal record four interceptions — one returned 64 yards for a touchdown by New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore — in what ended up a 34-13 Patriots’ victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
The loss dropped the Bengals to a league-worst 1-13 this season.
The giveaway I coaxed Dalton to talk about happened 10 days earlier in this very same stadium up in the East Club Lounge.
That’s where he and his wife, J.J., surprised 12 kids facing serious illnesses and physical challenge and their families with a Christmas party to remember.
It was the annual “Gift of Christmas with the Daltons” celebration and this year the children and their families were treated to dinner, gifts from their personal wish lists, a scavenger hunt, a Build-a-Bear station and a story hour.
There were visits from a Christmas princess, Santa and his elves and each family was given a $1,500 gift card to a furniture store. And as they went out the door, each family got a Christmas tree,
Sunday nobody talked about any of this in light of the way Dalton was abused in the second half. That’s when he threw all four interceptions, two to Gilmore and two more to Pats’ cornerback J.C. Jackson.
But there were those in the Bengals locker room — from coach Zac Taylor to receiver Alex Erickson — who said that while Dalton would be singled out, much of the blame should go on the Cincinnati receivers who played passively, and, maybe in one case, with disinterest.
Meanwhile, the Pats fought for the balls and made the plays.
“With this game, it’s on us, the receivers corps,” Erickson said. “We didn’t play good enough. We hung Andy out to dry and that’s unacceptable.”
When asked about that, Dalton wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t call out his teammates. He never does.
He’s all about protecting people, helping people and not hurting them.
That’s why Sunday was a true example of how bad things can happen to a good person.
But as Bengals center Trey Hopkins made clear afterward, you can’t always define a guy – especially Andy Dalton on this day – by a sheet of statistics or a film clip:
“I’ve been here six years and when it comes to Andy, he’s someone with unwavering character. You get the same thing from him each and every day.
“That’s especially been the key this year with everything he’s been through. He got benched and all that and he came back and through it all, he’s always stood tall with us.
“He’s just a stand-up guy. He had a rough day today, but I love him. We all love him in here. He’s someone who knows how to treat people no matter what the situation.”
Erickson agreed: “Andy’s as good as it gets. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around. He’s good for everybody.”
That’s never been more evident than with the Andy and JJ Dalton Foundation he founded when he came to the Bengals out of Texas Christian University in 2011.
“We just felt like we had been given a lot and we had a platform where we could help people,” he said.
The foundation is geared to helping seriously ill and physically challenged kids and their families by giving them resources, support, opportunities and life-changing experiences.
Since 2011, the foundation — which has five separate programs and ministers children both in the Cincinnati area and in Fort Worth, where Dalton is from — has assisted 4.9 million people.
Dalton said the Christmas celebration is especially close to his and his wife’s hearts.
“Seeing how happy people are to receive a gift or just get to spend time here and get out of their life situation for a while gives us joy, too,” he said.
“We want people to see they’re loved. That God loves them, that we love them. It’s actually one of the most rewarding things I do.”
He’s had great success with the Bengals. He was their starting quarterback for nine years, and after inheriting a 4-11 team, took them to five straight playoff appearances.
He’s thrown more touchdown passes than anybody in franchise history. And in 2016 the Bengals made him their nomination for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Yet this year everything went topsy-turvy. The team – its receiver corps and offensive line decimated by injuries — started out 0-8 and he was benched on his 32nd birthday.
After his replacement — rookie Ryan Finley floundered for a few games — Dalton was made the starter again and promptly led the team to its lone victory, a 22-6 triumph over the New York Jets two weeks ago.
But losses to Cleveland — where another interception was brought back for a touchdown — and Sunday’s debacle have skewered the perception of Dalton again.
Sunday a big sign hung in the stadium that read: “Eye of the Tiger. Geaux Bengals!” It was a reference to LSU’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow, who could end up the Bengals top draft pick this spring.
With just over four minutes left in the game, the crowd — many of them Patriots fans — began to chant “Brady!…Brady!…Brady!’” a salute to the Pats’ 42-year-old quarterback Tom Brady whose two TD passes has moved him to within one of Peyton Manning’s all-time career record of 539.
“I know this game has left a bitter taste right now for a lot of folks around here,” Erickson said. “But there’s more to it than just this. Andy Dalton is doing what matters most.
“He’s using his platform, his reach, to help people get some personal victories, not only in this city, but all over the country.’ He’s just a good man.”
A good man who on this day endured some bad things.
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