CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton won't need surgery on his broken thumb and could play again this season.
Dalton broke the thumb on his passing hand during a 33-20 loss to the Steelers on Sunday that left the AFC North up for grabs. He had an appointment with a specialist on Monday who recommended that the fracture could heal without surgery.
It's still unclear how many games he'll miss. Dalton's hand will remain in a cast for now.
"Basically we'll go week to week with things," coach Marvin Lewis said. "I think that's about as good an outcome right now as we could expect. He won't play this week. As we move forward, we'll see how he is each week and it'll be up to Andy and the doctors."
AJ McCarron will make his first NFL start Sunday in San Francisco, trying to make an Alabama breakthrough. A quarterback from Alabama hasn't won an NFL game as a starter since Jeff Rutledge in 1987, according to STATS.
McCarron won back-to-back national titles at Alabama. The fifth-round pick in 2014 missed his rookie season with a sore passing shoulder, but played well enough during the preseason to win the job as Dalton's backup.
Since Rutledge's win in 1987, Alabama quarterbacks have gone 0-13 in NFL starts.
"That's history," McCarron said on Monday. "I'm not really worried about history. I'm worried about what we have right now."
The Bengals (10-3) haven't clinched their fifth straight playoff spot yet, but they lead the AFC North by two games over Pittsburgh (8-5). New England (11-2) is in line for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, with the Bengals and Broncos tied for the second spot.
After the game at San Francisco (4-9), the Bengals play at Denver in a game that will go a long way in determining the playoff seeding. They close the season at home against the Ravens (4-9).
It'll be the first time in his five-year career that Dalton misses a start. He missed the second half of a game as a rookie. He's being replaced by a quarterback who hasn't run many plays with the starting offense and had thrown only four passes in a mop-up role before Sunday.
McCarron went 22 of 32 for 280 yards with two touchdowns, three sacks and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown that put the Steelers in control. He'll practice with the starters this week, and the game plan will be tailored to what he likes to do.
Coordinator Hue Jackson said the offense won't change all that much with McCarron running it.
"Everybody knows where we're going," Jackson said. "Nothing's changed. We're chasing the same goals, the same dreams. We've just got a little different leader right now and that's OK.
"Hopefully we'll be able to get Andy back at some point and we'll move forward. But right now it's AJ McCarron's show and he'll go lead the parade."
Notes: Rutledge lost two games for the Giants after that win. Since then, the only other quarterbacks from Alabama to start in the NFL were Greg McElroy (0-1) and Brodie Croyle (0-10), according to STATS. ... The Bengals were looking to add a quarterback with Dalton sidelined. Jackson said Jason Campbell has decided his career is finished and won't be a candidate. ... Receiver Mohamed Sanu is the emergency quarterback. Sanu has thrown five passes, completing all of them, with a pair of touchdowns during his four-year career. He hasn't thrown the ball yet this season. ... Lewis spoke with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Monday about the pregame confrontation on the field involving players from both sides. "I think neither side wants that," Lewis said. "That's not the way it should be."