NEW ORLEANS, La. — New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton did enough in the first half of the season to earn the starting job ahead of Jameis Winston.
But he’ll have to face his prime-time woes to keep it going forward.
Dalton was named the starter over a healthy Winston last week and responded with an efficient win against the Las Vegas Raiders, finishing with two touchdowns and a 117.2 quarterback rating in the 24-0 win.
According to Saints coach Dennis Allen, the job is Dalton’s as long as the offense keeps clicking.
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“Andy’s starting, and if we continue to play like we have on offense — which is what our expectation is — like I said last week, Andy will be the starter moving forward, and I don’t think we should get into any hypotheticals or things like that,” Allen said. “It’s his show to run right now, and we’ll see how that goes.”
That means that Dalton can’t take a step backward with the Baltimore Ravens (5-3) coming to town for “Monday Night Football” (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Caesars Superdome.
While the Saints (3-5) have lost their past three prime-time games at home, for a long time it was a place they thrived. They went 6-1 in those games between 2017 and 2020, and Allen believes in that success again.
“I think the atmosphere in the dome in a night game is probably as good as I’ve ever been around, and I don’t expect anything to be different this Monday night,” Allen said.
Saints rookie wide receiver Chris Olave is excited to get his first taste of the action.
“I heard it’s going to be crazy,” Olave said. “Primetime in the dome? The regular games be loud, so I can’t wait to finally have a prime-time game in New Orleans.”
Dalton has yet to find that same success when the lights are brightest. He is looking for his first prime-time win since Sept. 13, 2018, a four-touchdown performance during “Sunday Night Football” against the very same Ravens when Dalton was the starter for the Cincinnati Bengals.
His last Monday night win as a starter was against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 22, 2014.
Dalton has had some rough outings in the spotlight, with one of his worst coming in a 24-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 6, 2014. Dalton threw three interceptions, no touchdowns and finished the game with a passer rating of 2.0.
Dalton said that never got into his head — then or now.
“Obviously, early on [with the Bengals], we had some prime-time games against some really good teams and weren’t able to come with victories in those games,” Dalton said, “but it’s not something I’m concerned about.”
Dalton, who was signed in the offseason, got the job when Winston was sidelined with a back injury after Week 3. Winston got hurt in New Orleans’ win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 and played through the injury for two games before the Saints sat him to recover.
Dalton has gone 2-3 as the starter and is averaging 235 passing yards per game. He has thrown nine touchdowns and four interceptions this season, in comparison to Winston’s four touchdowns and five interceptions.
While last week’s win — where Dalton didn’t turn the ball over — certainly helped back up Allen’s decision to name Dalton as the starter, getting a win in primetime would be the next step for Dalton.
While Dalton threw four touchdowns in the Week 7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, he also threw three first-half interceptions — two of which were returned for touchdowns. But his production was enough to earn him the starting nod.
“I think that was just a decision that we made, and we played well last week,” Allen said. “I think we had a ton of confidence in Andy and what the offense has been able to do since he’s been in there. I think that confidence has been there.”
The Saints have had their issues on offense, but they’ve also started to click in the past few weeks, quietly creeping up the rankings, where they currently sit at No. 4 in total offense (394.4 yards per game) and No. 8 in scoring offense (24.9 points per game).
They also are No. 8 in rushing yards (141.3 per game) and passing yards (253.1) despite losing wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Michael Thomas for the past month, with Thomas going on what is likely season-ending injured reserve Thursday.
“I think the bright spot has been some guys have kind of stepped up and made some plays for us,” Allen said. “Obviously, Rashid Shaheed has stepped up and made some plays, [Marquez] Callaway made a nice catch on the slant route to convert a first down the other day, Kevin White caught a [64-yard] shallow cross against Arizona. So I think all those guys have kind of stepped up and made some plays when their number has been called.”
Dalton will certainly have to overcome some historically bad statistics as he prepares to face the Ravens. If the Saints lose to Baltimore, Dalton’s prime-time record will fall to 6-20 (.231), falling behind Kerry Collins for the worst of any quarterback with at least 15 prime-time starts since 2000.
Dalton lost five straight of those games by at least 17 points between 2018 and 2021, a streak that was broken with the 42-34 loss to the Cardinals on Oct. 20.
Allen said none of that matters though.
“There’s certainly been no discussion of anything like that in our building,” Allen said. “This is another game for us — whether we’re playing at 9:30 in the morning or 7:15 at night — I don’t think it really matters. I’m confident that Andy can go there and play well.”