Andy Dalton was never going to make Sunday about himself. That's just not his personality.
But beating his old Bengals team, in his old Cincinnati stadium, held personal significance. His new teammates and coaches knew it, too.
"I got water thrown on me and everything (in the locker room). Everybody was excited," Dalton said after the Cowboys' 30-7 victory to improve to 4-9 and stay in the NFC East playoff race.
"(Head coach) Mike (McCarthy) and a lot of the guys made it a big deal.
"It feels good to come back to a place that I was for a long time and to win."
Dalton played his first nine NFL seasons with the Bengals, made five playoff trips and three Pro Bowls, and left Cincinnati as their all-time leading touchdown passer (204). In late April, the Bengals began a new era by drafting former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick. In early May, Dalton signed a one-year deal with Dallas.
Burrow did not play Sunday due to a season-ending knee injury. Dalton, named the Cowboys' offensive captain, had plenty of help in beating the 2-10-1 Bengals.
The defense had three fumble recoveries on Cincinnati's first three drives, the first time that's happened before halftime since 2007. One was returned by defensive end Aldon Smith 78 yards for a touchdown, their first defensive score this year.
The offense found themselves in unfamiliar territory with a comfortable lead. They jumped ahead 17-0 in the second quarter, their largest lead of the season, and Cincinnati never got closer than 10 points.
Dalton was able to manage the game efficiently, completing 16 of 23 passes for 185 yards. He had two touchdown passes: an 11-yarder to Amari Cooper in the second quarter to cap a 15-play, 88-yard drive, and the game-sealing 7-yarder to Tony Pollard with 1:55 remaining.
Afterward, McCarthy and the players presented Dalton with the game ball in the locker room.
"This is definitely special for him. Make no bones about it, he wanted to win this game. More importantly, everybody in this locker room wanted to win it for him," McCarthy said. "If you can have seen the reaction when he came into the locker room after the game, I think it speaks volumes about the men in the locker room and with this win, it means for us for as a team because of where we are in our season but how important it was to get that win for Andy."
Said running back Ezekiel Elliott: "All Andy said to us was, this isn't about him. This isn't about him getting a win here. This is about this team getting a win. And I think we played great complementary football, did what we had to do to get the job done."
After the late touchdown, Dalton gave a thumbs-up to his wife Jordan, who was sitting in a suite. The city of Cincinnati wasn't just the Daltons' football home. They had made themselves part of the community, giving back through their foundation.
Sunday was an emotional day, for sure.
"One of the coolest things was the sign that was up there (in the stadium) that said, 'Thank you Andy and JJ for changing lives,' Dalton said. "That's what we tried to do while we were here and use our platform for good and show God's love to a lot of people. I felt like that was a great reception to come back and feel that today.
"This one was special. Obviously, it's a team that I played at for a long time. You want to do everything you can to win, and I thought our team played really well."