CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Andy Dalton isn't shying away from the comparisons any longer.
Until now, the Bengals' fourth-year quarterback has avoided linking his name with some of the NFL's best, even as he accomplished things that few others could claim. That's changed with his ongoing negotiations over a contract extension.
It's time to accentuate the positives from his first three seasons.
"Well, I'm very confident in what I've done," he said. "The people who are the critics, they look at all of the negatives. They don't look at all of the stuff that I've accomplished. They don't look at that I'm one of three quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to do certain things. They don't look at that kind of stuff.
"They want to find ways to tear me down, but I'm not worried about that. They can say whatever they want. All that matters is what everyone believes in this organization and what I believe in myself."
There are a lot of rarified numbers he can cite:
-- Dalton, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning are the only ones to throw 20 or more touchdown passes in each of their first two seasons.
-- Dalton is one of only five starting quarterbacks to lead their teams to the playoffs in each of their first three seasons, along with the Rams' Pat Haden, the Dolphins' Marino, the Browns' Bernie Kosar and the Ravens' Joe Flacco.
-- If the Bengals reach the playoffs again this season, he'll join Flacco as the only starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to reach the playoffs in each of their first four seasons.
-- Dalton has already set numerous franchise records for passing. He threw for a club-record 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns last season.
The big blemish: 0-3 in the post-season. Dalton has given some of his worst performances in the playoffs, setting up three straight opening-round exits.
Dalton is entering the final year on his contract. He's emphasizing those regular-season accomplishments while making his case for a new deal.
"We are obviously comparing guys in their first three years -- what they have done, what they are doing now, and presenting them with stuff," Dalton said. "That is how we have come up with what we are wanting."
Who's the best comparison?
"Let's see here: Flacco, (Aaron) Rodgers, (Drew) Brees. Who else? Matt Ryan. All those top guys," he said.
His biggest shortcoming also leaves him in some pretty good company. He's one of seven NFL quarterbacks who who have lost an opening playoff game three seasons in a row, according to STATS. The others: Warren Moon (4), Otto Graham (3), Y.A. Tittle (3), Bert Jones (3), Joe Montana (3) and Randall Cunningham (3).
"This is a big year," Dalton said. "Just from the standpoint of OK, now I've been through it three times now. I've played well. I've been to the playoffs. Obviously the playoffs haven't gone well for us, but it's not just me."
Dalton turned the ball over three times in the second half of a 27-10 loss to San Diego at Paul Brown Stadium that extended Cincinnati's playoff misery. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game in 23 years. Their three straight opening-game losses tie the league record.
Dalton has studied video of the playoff loss during the off-season.
"We had chances in the game. Obviously the turnovers killed us," he said. "I wish I would have done some things differently in the game. It didn't turn out that way. You've got to take the good things that happened last season and improve on them."
Coach Marvin Lewis fell to 0-5 in the playoffs but got a year added to his contract, which now runs through 2015. He has reassured Dalton privately and insisted publicly that the quarterback can take the franchise deep into the playoffs and end all those streaks of futility and doubts about his ability.
"It means a lot," Dalton said. "I feel like I've done a lot since being here to earn that trust, to earn that support."