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 at all.
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 grew up in suburban Katy, Texas, and had never lost a game at Reliant Stadium, where he played twice in high school and once at TCU. He's excited to be going back for what amounts to a second chance to look good in the playoffs.
It'll be fun, Dalton said. There's a lot of family and (friends) around the Houston area and in Texas in general. 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.
Dalton made the Pro Bowl last season after leading the Bengals to a 9-7 record and a wild card berth. The Bengals went 10-6 in his second season and snagged another wild card spot, with Dalton improving in every statistical category.
He completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 3,669 yards, 27 touchdowns and an 87.4 passer rating, all improvements from his rookie season. The only negative: Dalton threw 16 interceptions this season, 13 as a rookie.
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 mediocre 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. Instead of trying to blend in, Dalton led the way.
Lewis was so pleased with how Dalton and Maualuga responded to his challenge that he designated them team captains for the rest of the season, putting a small C on the front of their game jerseys.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
4:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC