Dalton was selected by the Bengals in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and signed a four-year, $5.2 million contract. Under a West Coast-style offensive scheme, Dalton and All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green have become a prolific quarterback/receiver combination. Dalton and Green broke NFL records for completions and yards for a rookie quarterback/receiver combination, even without the benefit of an offseason.
Dalton is one of six quarterbacks in NFL history to have thrown for over 3,000 yards in each of his first three seasons, alongside Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, and Russell Wilson. He is also one of only five quarterbacks to have passed for at least 20 touchdowns in each of his first three seasons, joining Manning, Luck, Wilson, and Dan Marino. Dalton is the only quarterback to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to four consecutive playoff berths, and one of five quarterbacks to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons. He is also the Bengals franchise record holder for passing yards and touchdowns in a season. Dalton has had a number of nicknames during his tenure in the NFL, including the Red Rifle. Most notably he's referred to as either Andy 'Downtown' Daytona or Poopyman 5000.
Dalton attended Katy High School in Katy, Texas. He split time as a junior in 2004 and then started only one full season at quarterback for Katy High School as a senior in 2005. That year, he led the Tigers to the state finals, where they lost to Southlake Carroll, 34–20. As a senior, he threw for 2,877 yards with 42 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. That year, he was named the Greater Houston Area offensive player of the year by the Houston Chronicle.
Dalton committed to Texas Christian University. He was redshirted his freshman year, but he traveled with the team to every road game and was listed as the Horned Frogs' third-string quarterback behind senior Jeff Ballard and redshirt freshman Marcus Jackson.
Entering the 2007 season, Dalton was in competition with Jackson to be the starting quarterback. Two weeks before the season opener against Baylor, TCU head coach Gary Patterson named Dalton the starter. He was named the 2007 Texas Bowl MVP in TCU's 20–13 victory over Houston. After going 8–5 as a freshman, he accumulated a record of 34–3 as a starter for the rest of his career at TCU.
In the 2008 season, Dalton led TCU to an 11–2 record, finishing in second place in the Mountain West Conference and seventh in the national AP Poll. He was named the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl MVP in the Horned Frogs' 17–16 win over Boise State.
In the 2009 season, Dalton led the Horned Frogs to a perfect 12–0 regular season, a Mountain West Conference Championship, a #6 ranking in the AP Poll, and a BCS berth. The Horned Frogs lost 17–10 in the Fiesta Bowl to Boise State.
On September 4, 2010, Dalton recorded his thirtieth victory as the Horned Frogs starting quarterback, passing Sammy Baugh as TCU's all-time wins leader. Against Baylor, Dalton completed 21 of 23 pass attempts (a career-best and single game record 91.3%) for 267 yards and two touchdowns. His team won a second consecutive Mountain West Conference Championship. On January 1, 2011, Dalton, who completed 194 of 293 passes for 2638 yards for 26 touchdowns during his senior season, led his team to a 21–19 victory over #4 ranked Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. His TCU football team finished the season with a perfect 13–0 record and #2 ranking in the AP Poll. Auburn, the only other team with a perfect record, won the BCS National Championship that year.
Dalton held school career records for wins (42), passing yards (10,314), pass attempts (1,317), completions (812), and completion percentage (61.6) at the time he graduated, but a few years later, Trevone Boykin surpassed most of Dalton's records. Dalton also held the MWC career leader in total offense (11,925 yards) and plays from scrimmage (1,730).
On April 29, 2011, the Bengals selected Dalton with their second round pick, 35th overall, in the 2011 NFL Draft. Out of the twelve quarterbacks that were chosen in the 2011 NFL Draft, he was the fifth selected.
After Dalton was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, there was much speculation over whether Dalton or veteran Bruce Gradkowski would start at quarterback. Carson Palmer, the first overall draft pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, demanded to be traded or released, and was traded later in the season to the Oakland Raiders. On June 29, 2011, the Bengals signed Dalton to a four-year, $5.21 million rookie contract with a $2.29 million signing bonus and $4.02 million guaranteed.
On August 8, 2011, before their first pre-season game versus the Detroit Lions, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis released his first depth chart per NFL rules, but noted that it meant little. The depth chart had Dalton listed as the first-string quarterback, followed by Gradkowski.
Dalton's first NFL regular season start came on September 11, 2011, on the road against the Cleveland Browns. Dalton, in one half of play before leaving the game due to injury, completed 10 of his 15 pass attempts for 81 yards and 1 touchdown, posting a passer rating of 102.4. The Bengals won the game, 27–17, Dalton's first divisional AFC North victory as well as first win against the divisional rival Browns. Dalton's second game on was also on the road, against the Denver Broncos. Despite a 24–22 loss, Dalton led a comeback, completing 19 of 29 pass attempts for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns in the second half alone, and achieving a passer rating of 107.0 for the game. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis later noted that it was during the Denver game when he realized that the Bengals had their quarterback of the future. In a 27–17 victory against the Indianapolis Colts on October 16, 2011, Dalton completed 25 of 32 passes for 264 yards and 1 touchdown. In that game, Dalton had a season-high 78.1 completion percentage and 111.5 passer rating.
On November 3, 2011, Dalton was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for October. Dalton led the Bengals to a 4–0 record with 909 yards passing and 6 touchdowns in the month. Dalton then threw for 217 yards and a season-high 3 touchdowns with no interceptions against the Tennessee Titans in a comeback 24–17 victory on November 6, earning him Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week honors. On November 27, Dalton passed for 270 yards and a touchdown for a 105.6 passer rating in a comeback 23–20 victory over the Cleveland Browns, again winning Rookie of the Week. This game featured a 51-yard strike from Dalton to A.J. Green with only 1:08 remaining in the fourth quarter, setting up the Bengals' game-winning field goal. By the end of the season, Dalton had led the Bengals to a 9–7 record and a berth in the NFL playoffs.
On January 7, 2012, the Bengals faced the T. J. Yates-led Houston Texans in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs. This game marked the first time in NFL playoff history that two rookie quarterbacks started in the same game against each other. Dalton completed over 64 percent of his passes but also had three turnovers as the Texans won the game, 31–10.
During his rookie season, Dalton had four wins featuring fourth-quarter comebacks (vs. Buffalo, at Jacksonville, at Tennessee, and vs. Cleveland). He became the first quarterback in NFL history not drafted in the first round to start all 16 games of his rookie season. Dalton became just one of five rookie quarterbacks with over 3,000 passing yards and at least 20 touchdown passes, joining fellow rookie Cam Newton and also Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, and Charlie Conerly.
At the conclusion of the season, Dalton received the Emerging Player Award from the NFL Players Association during the NFLPA PULSE Awards. The other nominees for the award were Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Dalton was named initially as a Pro Bowl Alternate in his first year, and was added to the AFC Pro Bowl roster after the New England Patriots won the AFC Championship, forcing Tom Brady to withdraw. Dalton and Newton became the first pair of rookie quarterbacks to make the Pro Bowl in the same season. During the 2012 Pro Bowl, Dalton threw for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns for a passer rating of 152.1.
In the second game of the season on September 16, 2012, Dalton guided the Bengals to a 34–27 victory at home over the Cleveland Browns. He completed 24 of 31 passes for 318 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception, for a 128.2 passer rating. In the following game at the Washington Redskins, Dalton completed 19 of 27 passes for 328 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception, for a season-high 132.9 passer rating, in leading the Bengals to a 38–31 win. Furthermore, Dalton lined up as a wide receiver on the first play from scrimmage of the game, acting as a decoy while wildcat quarterback Mohamed Sanu threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green, then again flanked as a receiver while BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for a touchdown via a direct snap. The following week at the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dalton threw for 244 yards and had three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in leading the Bengals to a 27–10 victory.
On October 14, 2012, Dalton threw for a career-high 381 yards to go with three touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns, but also threw three interceptions as the Bengals fell to the Browns 34–24. This was the second game in what would become a four-game losing streak. Dalton and the Bengals rebounded by defeating the New York Giants in a 31–13 game, in which Dalton completed 21 of 30 passes for 199 yards and a season-high four touchdowns, attaining a 127.6 passer rating and a season-high 94.5 QBR. For his efforts against the Giants, Dalton was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. The following week, the Bengals beat the Kansas City Chiefs 28-6 as Dalton completed 18 of 29 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns thrown (a 109.8 passer rating) while adding a rushing touchdown.
On November 25, 2012, in a much-hyped game with the Oakland Raiders due to the return of former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer to Cincinnati, Dalton outperformed Palmer by throwing for 210 yards and three touchdowns, achieving a 109.0 passer rating, and leading the Bengals to a 34–10 victory. In the fourth quarter, an unnecessary roughness penalty by Lamarr Houston on Dalton was one part of a sequence of events leading to the ejections of Andrew Whitworth, Tommy Kelly, and Houston from the game. With his performance, Dalton became one of three players in NFL history with at least 20 touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons, joining Peyton Manning and Dan Marino.
In two of the next three following weeks, Dalton's mobility proved to be valuable as he scrambled for the go-ahead touchdown runs in victories over the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles. On December 23, 2012 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, his 21-yard throw to A.J. Green with fourteen seconds remaining set up the game-winning field goal, propelling the Bengals to a 13-10 victory and a second consecutive berth in the NFL playoffs. This game marked the first time Dalton was able to defeat the divisional rival Steelers, and the first time the Bengals made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1981-1982. The following week, Dalton threw for a touchdown and a 101.5 quarterback rating in one half of play in a 23-17 Bengals win over the Baltimore Ravens. This marked Dalton's first victory over the divisional rival Ravens and capped a 10-6 regular season record.
On January 5, 2013, Dalton and the Bengals faced the Houston Texans in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs. In a defensive struggle with neither Dalton nor Texans quarterback Matt Schaub able to pass for a touchdown, the Bengals lost 19–13, the second consecutive year the Bengals fell to the Texans in the opening round of the playoffs. With 2:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, Dalton overthrew an open A.J. Green for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown.
On September 8, 2013, Dalton completed 26 of 33 passes for a career-high 78.8 completion percentage, 282 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions (arguably neither interception his fault), and a 91.8 QBR as the Bengals fell to the Chicago Bears, 24–21. The following week, Dalton threw for 280 yards and a touchdown as the Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 20–10. Then, Dalton completed 20 of 28 passes for 235 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception for a 105.5 passer rating in leading the Bengals to a 34–30 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
On October 13, 2013, after two games without a touchdown pass (in a loss at the Cleveland Browns and a victory over the New England Patriots), Dalton rebounded by completing 26 of 40 passes for 337 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception for a 105.9 passer rating in a 27–24 overtime victory at the Buffalo Bills. For his efforts in that game, Dalton was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Then, he completed 24 of 34 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns for a 92.8 QBR and a 135.9 passer rating in leading the Bengals to victory at the Detroit Lions, 27–24. The following week, Dalton completed 19 of 30 passes for 325 yards, a career-high five touchdowns, and an interception in merely three quarters of play for a 125.7 passer rating and a career-high 98.9 QBR in a 49–9 win over the New York Jets. At the end of October, Dalton was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month.
On October 31, 2013, Dalton began another difficult two-game stretch. He passed for 338 yards at the Miami Dolphins but also had three interceptions, most critically one that bounced off the hands of Mohamed Sanu that if caught by Sanu likely would have sealed a victory for the Bengals, who ended up losing 22-20 in overtime; Dalton was sacked by Cameron Wake in the end zone in overtime for a safety to end the game. The following week, Dalton passed for 274 yards at the Baltimore Ravens with two touchdowns, most notably a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass against the wind to A.J. Green as time expired in regulation, but also had three interceptions as the Bengals lost 20–17 in overtime. Dalton continued his struggles against the Cleveland Browns, as he threw two interceptions in the first quarter. However, he rebounded to throw three consecutive touchdowns as well, as the Bengals won the game 41–20. After an early interception at the San Diego Chargers, Dalton again rebounded by passing for 149 yards and a touchdown in the second half as the Bengals won 17-10.
On December 8, 2013, Dalton continued his upswing. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 275 yards and four total touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts, attaining an 89.2 QBR and 120.5 passer rating in a 42–28 victory. Although the Bengals lost at the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week, Dalton was able to pass for 230 yards and two touchdowns while overcoming six dropped passes by his receivers. Dalton continued his December success the following week by completing 27 of 38 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns for a 92.0 QBR and a career-high 136.5 passer rating in defeating the Minnesota Vikings 42–14. With this game, Dalton and the Bengals became the 2013 AFC North Division Champions and Dalton had earned his third consecutive berth to the NFL playoffs, becoming just one of five NFL quarterbacks to make the playoffs in each of his first three seasons. While the Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens 34-17 the following week, Dalton struggled, scoring three total touchdowns and passing for 281 yards but also four interceptions.
Dalton finished the regular season with 4,293 passing yards for 34 passing touchdowns, 20 interceptions, and an 88.8 passer rating. His passing yards and touchdowns were both career highs and Bengals single season franchise records. In the Bengals wildcard playoff game against the San Diego Chargers, Dalton threw his first career postseason touchdown pass. However, he also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, on three consecutive possessions in the second half, as the Bengals lost the game by a score of 27–10. After the game Dalton was heavily criticized for his poor play and consistent failure to advance in the playoffs. In his eight 2013 primetime (SNF, MNF, TNF, playoffs), and/or AFC North intradivisional games, Dalton completed 192 of 349 passes (55.0 completion percentage) for 2,036 passing yards, 5.83 yards per attempt, 11 passing touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and a 63.6 passer rating. In his other nine games of 2013, Dalton completed 200 of 288 passes (69.4 completion percentage) for 2,594 passing yards, 9.01 yards per attempt, 23 passing touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and a 114 passer rating. Such performances have raised doubt about whether Dalton is a "big-game" quarterback.
On August 4, 2014, Dalton received a six-year extension that could be worth as much as $115 million, with team performance-based incentives. He started the season with three wins. In Week 1, Dalton threw the game-winning 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green to beat the Baltimore Ravens 23–16, Dalton's first win on the road against the Ravens. In Week 3, he caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Mohamed Sanu against the Tennessee Titans in a 33–7 victory. It was the first time a quarterback had caught a touchdown pass since former Chiefs quarterback Tyler Thigpen caught a 37-yard pass from wide receiver Mark Bradley in 2008. Dalton was the first quarterback ever to catch a touchdown pass for the Bengals.
Following the Bengals' first loss of the 2014 season against the New England Patriots, the Bengals were involved in a tie for the second time in the past seven seasons. With the score tied at 37 in overtime against the Carolina Panthers, Dalton completed 5 of 7 passes for 49 yards, but kicker Mike Nugent pushed the field goal wide right. Dalton threw for a season-high 323 yards, along with two touchdowns and two interceptions. This was followed by a meager 126 yards in a shutout loss to the Colts. In the second match-up against Baltimore in Game 7, Dalton led an 80-yard drive in the games' final four minutes and ran in a quarterback sneak from one yard out to give the Bengals a 27–24 win, his second game-winning drive of the season, both against Baltimore. Following a win over Jacksonville, the Bengals reached the season midpoint at 5-2-1.
Dalton had a historically terrible performance against the Cleveland Browns in Game 9, where he completed 10 of 33 passes for 86 total yards with three interceptions to earn a 2.0 passer rating; the lowest by an NFL quarterback with 25 pass attempts since 2004 and the 11th lowest in history. He responded with 220 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions for a season-best rating of 143.9 in a 27-10 win over the New Orleans Saints, and his first career win in four attempts against the Texans in Game 11. In Game 12 (11/30), Dalton rebounded from three first half interceptions to run for a touchdown and throw for another in a 14-13 Bengals' win over the Buccaneers on the road. It marked the fourth consecutive year that Dalton had won three games against the NFC, extending his record to 12–3–1 against the opposite conference. The Bengals lost Game 13 against Pittsburgh despite Dalton's solid 128.8 rating and 20-yard touchdown run (the longest ever by a Bengals quarterback), then shutout Cleveland despite his 53.6 rating. In Game 15, Dalton threw two touchdowns and an interception in a 37-28 win over the Broncos to help the Bengals clinch a playoff berth for a franchise-record fourth straight year. In the season's final game, Dalton threw two first-half interceptions at Pittsburgh, but led an 89-yard fourth quarter drive capped by a five-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham, to cut the deficit to 20–17, but despite a streak of 11 of 12 passes for 101 yards, A.J. Green fumbled inside Steelers' territory to seal the 27–17 loss and a #5 wild card seed in the playoffs.
Playing without many of his offensive weapons against the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round, Dalton led the Bengals to their fourth straight playoff loss by a score of 26-10, with a 155 yard, no touchdown, no interception effort.
On January 20, 2015, it was announced that Dalton was selected to the 2015 Pro Bowl, his second Pro Bowl appearance, replacing Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers (calf injury). Dalton completed 9 of his 20 passes for 69 yards.
The Bengals began the 2015 season on a historic winning streak. In the first game, Dalton threw his 100th career touchdown pass, which was to tight end Tyler Eifert, in the second quarter. Cincinnati won the game, 33–13, with Dalton throwing for 269 yards and two touchdowns. In the Bengals' Week 2 home opener, Dalton threw three touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 24–19 defeat of the San Diego Chargers. It marked the fourth straight home-opening win for the Bengals and the 15th three-touchdown performance for Dalton. He threw for a career-high 383 yards and three touchdowns in Week 3 against the Ravens, 321 yards in Week 4 against Kansas City, and 331 yards in a Week 5 game where Dalton also threw two touchdowns and ran for one as he led the Bengals back from a fourth quarter 24–7 deficit to a 27–24 overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks. This was the second biggest comeback in franchise history. In a 34–21 win over the Buffalo Bills; in week 6, Dalton completed 22 of 33 passes for 243 yards, with three TDs and no interceptions. Dalton was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October. Following a bye week, Dalton led the Bengals to another 4th quarter comeback against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road. The 16-10 win gave the Bengals their first 7–0 start in franchise history. They extended this to 8-0 with Dalton's 139.8 passer rating in a victory over Cleveland.
Dalton failed to reach 200 yards passing for the first time in Game 9, a 6-10 loss to Houston. Despite 315 passing yards and two scoring drives in less than four minutes in the late fourth quarter to tie the game, the Bengals lost Game 10 to the Arizona Cardinals. Dalton bounced back with 3 touchdowns and a 121.4 rating in a Game 11 win over St. Louis, and a career-high passer rating of 146.8 in a Game 12 victory over Cleveland. Early in Game 13 on December 13, Dalton fractured the thumb on his throwing hand while tackling Stephon Tuitt after an intercepted shovel pass, missing the season's final three games (replacement AJ McCarron was 2-1 with a 97.1 passer rating). Dalton finished the year with 3,250 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He was the first Bengal ever to throw for more than 20 touchdown passes with fewer than 10 interceptions in franchise history. Dalton's 106.2 passer rating ranked No. 2 and his 8.4 yards per attempt ranked No. 3 among NFL quarterbacks in 2015. He was ranked 35th on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016.
The Bengals' season ended when they lost to the Steelers 18–16 on January 9, 2016 in the AFC Wild Card Round. Dalton had the cast for his broken thumb removed five days before the game, but did not play.
Dalton began the 2016 season with back-to-back 366 yard games, overcoming seven sacks for a 55-yard game-winning drive against the New York Jets in Week 1, but losing in Week 2 to Pittsburgh. After an off-night of 206 yards, zero touchdowns, and an interception in a loss to Denver, Dalton completed 69.5% of his passes for 1,127 yards, 6 touchdowns, and zero interceptions in four straight 100+ passer rating games. In Game 8, Dalton had 284 yards passing in a 27-27 tie against Washington, followed by 204 yards, 207 yards, and 283 yards in three straight losses to the Giants, Bills, and Ravens. Despite a middle-of-the-pack 89.7 rating through 13 games, Dalton had been sacked a league-leading 32 times and the Bengals were 3-7-1 and out of the playoffs. Dalton had 332 yards and a 130.0 passer rating in a Game 12 win over Philadelphia, but averaged just 208 yards over the season's last four games. Dalton ended the season with a 6-9-1 record, a career-low 18 touchdowns, and second in the league with 41 sacks. However, he also went over 4,000 passing yards for the second time in his career, had just 8 interceptions on 563 attempts, and contributed four rushing touchdowns. Marvin Lewis praised it as "the best campaign of [Dalton's] career", and he earned his third pro-bowl recognition, replacing Super Bowl-bound Tom Brady.
Dalton threw three interceptions in the first quarter during the home opener against the Ravens in Week 1. Overall, he finished the game with 170 passing yards and four interceptions as the Bengals were shut out and lost 20–0.
As of 2017's NFL off-season, Dalton held at least 18 Bengals franchise records, including:Completions: playoff game (29 on 2014-01-05 SDG), rookie season (300 in 2011)
Pass Attempts: season (586 in 2013), playoff game (51 on 2014-01-05 SDG), rookie season (516 in 2011)
Passing Yards: season (4,293 in 2013), rookie season (3,398 in 2011)
Passing TDs: season (33 in 2013), rookie season (20 in 2011)
Intercepted: playoffs (6), playoff season (3 in 2011), playoff game (3 on 2012-01-07 @HOU)
Passer Rating: career (89.1)
Sacked: season (46 in 2012)
Pass Yds/Game: career (238.9)
300+ yard passing games: season (6 in 2013), rookie season (2; with Carson Palmer)
4,000+ passing yard seasons: career (2; with Carson Palmer)
Dalton is a Christian. Dalton has spoken about his faith, saying, "Not very many people get a chance to play in the NFL. To start—and start as a rookie—I feel so blessed. So many things had to fall right to be where I am. I thank God every day." Dalton says one of his favorite Bible verses is 1 Peter 5:6.