ARLINGTON — The last time Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton played at AT&T Stadium he was wearing No. 14 for TCU and leading the Horned Frogs to a season-opening win.Dalton, whose Bengals lost to the Dallas Cowboys 24-18 in a preseason game Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, had better games in his TCU career, but his three-touchdowns performance were key to the Frogs’ 30-21 win over Oregon State in 2010.That victory was the first step on TCU’s magical path to an undefeated Rose Bowl-winning season.Dalton, who lives in Fort Worth, is in his third year as the Bengals’ starter. He’s trying to lead Cincinnati back to the playoffs for the third consecutive season, something the organization has never done.Postseason berths at TCU were never an issue for Dalton, who finished his Frogs career with a 44-8 record. He was 3-1 in bowl games, including a college career-crowning 21-19 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011.He’s played several times in Houston, but Saturday was the first time he’s played an NFL game so close to his TCU roots.“It’s fun,” Dalton said. “I had a lot family and friends here. I got to go home to my house and hang out a little bit.”Despite his success at TCU, NFL scouts weren’t exactly busting down Dalton’s door. He wasn’t flashy, but he won. That’s what attracted the Bengals, who selected him early in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He became the first Bengals quarterback to take his team to the playoffs in his first two seasons.He’s 19-13 as a starter, the best winning percentage for a Bengals quarterback with 10 or more starts. He became the first rookie quarterback to start every game in a 16-game NFL season.Dalton’s professional success is starting to make him a star. His fame has risen thanks to HBO’s Hard Knocks, which followed the Bengals’ training camp. TCU fans recognize Dalton’s soft-spoken, likeable presence on the show, which has shown him checking on the health of his teammates in the training room. Last week’s episode showed him offering a teammate some pregame floss because “You never know when the camera will see your smile.”He pulled a floss stick out of his pocket after Saturday’s game to show it wasn’t a bit. Adjusting to the all-access film crew has been interesting, though, even for the reserved Dalton.“You just never know what’s going to be on there and what they’re getting,” he said. “We could be having a conversation and a boom mic pops in out of nowhere. You have to be conscious with what you’re saying. You have no idea what they’re going to focus on.”A recently released Pepsi commercial with Dalton trying to sell fans on a fictitious Bengal-smelling fragrance shows his comedic side. He even ad-libbed a line — “Oh, do you want me to spray it again?” — that made it into the commercial.“I thought it was fun and turned out well,” he said. “I was a little nervous at first when they said something about a perfume commercial.”On Saturday, Dalton completed 12 of 16 passes for 113 yards and an interception during almost three quarters.It wasn’t his best game, but it’s only preseason. When the real games begin in Chicago against the Bears on Sept. 8, expectations will be high among Bengals fans for another winning year, perhaps with a deep playoff run.As TCU fans can attest, they’ve got the right guy to do it.
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs