FRISCO, Texas – Texas has always been home for Andy Dalton, and this year the Dallas Cowboys represent home, too.
But for nine years, Dalton made his NFL residence in Cincinnati.
"I basically spent my whole married life there, got married right before my rookie year and we grew a lot as a family in Cincinnati," Dalton said Thursday. "It meant a lot to us. There's a lot of good people we've met, not only within the organization but around the community."
Sunday, Dalton will face the Bengals franchise that drafted him in the second round back in 2011. But he says he's not treating this game any differently despite some admitted "disappointment" in how his time in Cincinnati ended.
Last spring, coming off a 2-14 season, the Bengals began a rebuild around top overall draft pick Joe Burrow. Dalton reportedly was granted his release a few days later and signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys, returning to his home state as a backup for the first time in his career.
Dalton was asked Thursday if any disappointment stemmed from not being able to hit the free agent market sooner to find a starting opportunity elsewhere.
"Like I said, there's some things that happened at the end that I wish would have been a little different. But that led me here to Dallas," he said without elaboration. "I'm thankful to be here."
In Dallas, the chances of a playoff berth are slipping this December. But Dalton has been a bright spot for the Cowboys (3-9) filling in for injured starter Dak Prescott the last few weeks. Dalton had a season-high 285 passing yards in Tuesday's 34-17 loss to the Ravens, along with two touchdown passes.
The offense managed only 17 points and missed three field goals. But the passing game seems to be in better rhythm since Dalton returned from a challenging layoff: first a concussion, then a bout with COVID-19 in mid-November.
"I feel like I did some good things (Tuesday). I was really confident with everything that we were doing. I felt like I gave our guys chances," Dalton said. "But at the end of the day, we're judged on wins and losses and we weren't able to get it done. I've got to find a way to do just a little more to help us win."
From 2011 through 2019, Dalton made three Pro Bowls with the Bengals and led them to five playoff trips. Sunday will be his sixth start of the season for an injured Dak Prescott.
He probably never imagined he'd play this much.
Prescott had never missed a game due to injury in his first four seasons with the Cowboys. But his season-ending ankle injury has put Dalton back in the role he had in Cincinnati all those years: leading an NFL huddle.
Sunday, he'll face the team that gave him his first NFL chance.
"Every game's important. Every time you have the opportunity to compete, you want to win and all of that," he said. "This one happens to be against a former team, a team that I played for for a long time. It's going to be a little different being on the other sideline, being in the other locker room and all that kind of stuff. But preparation is the same and you're going about it the same way, trying to do everything you can to win."