If you just look at the stats sheet, A.J. Green had another dominant performance Sunday in helping lead the Cincinnati Bengals to a 20-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills. But sometimes, statistics don’t tell the whole story.
Green finished the day with seven receptions for 189 yards and a touchdown.
Included in that performance was a 77-yard touchdown reception on the Bengals’ second possession of the game where Green got behind rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White. Andy Dalton hit Green in stride and the gifted receiver did the rest as he outran the defenders for an easy score.
But it was the plays Green could have made and, if you ask him, should have made, that very nearly cost the Bengals the game.
Midway through the second quarter, the Bengals had claimed a 10-3 lead on the strength of a Randy Bullock field goal and Buffalo was reeling.
Cincinnati was getting yet another strong performance by quarterback Dalton, his third straight quality outing since Bill Lazor took over as offensive coordinator. Dalton had completed 11 of his first 13 passes for 165 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating that was a nearly-perfect 156.0.
According to Pro Football Focus, after Sunday the Dalton to Green connection has compiled the second most yards in the NFL through five games with 504 (on 48 targets) behind only the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown connection (545 yards on 61 targets).
The Bengals’ defense was flexing its own muscles on Sunday, having forced the Bills to punt on their first two possession on the strength of third-down sacks by Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins. After an exchange of field goals, Cincinnati’s defense stopped Buffalo once more, and took over on its own 25-yard line.
Cincinnati came out on the attack once more, and Dalton fired another pass to his favorite receiver. But the sure-handed Green let the ball slide through his hands and bounce off of his body, resulting in an interception that Buffalo’s Micah Hyde returned to the Bengals’ 23-yard-line. Six plays later, Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor hit former Bengal Brandon Tate for a 12-yard touchdown pass that knotted the score at 10. The pass was high and Green and Dalton could likely share the blame for this one. Green could have caught it, but Dalton also could have thrown a better pass.
But, that was not the end of Green’s difficulties. Early in the third quarter, after the Bengals had forced a three-and-out on the Bills’ opening possession of the second half, Dalton went back to Green again. And, once again, the ball went right through his hands and into the waiting arms of a Buffalo defender. This time it was Jordan Poyer, who returned the interception to the Cincinnati 36.
“It was a wet day out there,” head coach Marvin Lewis said after the win. “The thing when he made that play — whenever it was, at the beginning of the fourth quarter or end of the third — he went right back in that game with that look on his face, and that was great to see. ‘It’s my game, let’s go.’ That was big-time.”
The game was played through a steady rain that certainly made the ball slippery. But Green was not looking for excuses.
“No, I don’t make excuses. They’re just drops,” Green said. “I’m not going to blame the rain. My job is to catch the ball. I have to do better with that and focus more.”
Fortunately for Green, the Bengals’ defense stiffened and a holding penalty pushed Buffalo out of field goal range after the second interception. Unfortunately, things did not get any better (immediately) for Cincinnati’s star receiver.
After a Buffalo punt gave the ball back to the Bengals at their own 12-yard-line, Dalton methodically moved his team down the field, and a Giovani Bernard reception gave Cincinnati a first down at the Bills’ 39 yard line. Dalton found Green open over the middle and he scampered to about the 18 yard line before a hard hit knocked the ball loose. It was Green’s first fumble since 2015.
Poyer recovered for the Bills and returned to his own 29-yard-line. Buffalo then put together a nine-play drive that resulted in a 38-yard field goal by Stephen Hauschka and put the Bills ahead for the first time at 13-10. But, while others were worrying, Green never let his mistakes affect his play.
“I don’t get too high or too low, I try to stay the course and let my preparation take over,” Green said after the game. “I have no doubt I’ll make a play. I almost gave them one today though. It felt great to get a team win. The offensive line played their butt off and Andy played through an injury to play great. The defense was unbelievable. Joe Mixon, when his number was called, was unbelievable too.”
On the Bengals’ very next possession, Cincinnati was facing a third-and-10 at its own 47-yard line when Dalton fired a strike to Green that he turned into a 49-yard reception and gave the Bengals a first down on Buffalo’s 4-yard-line. Mixon punched it in from there for his first career touchdown, and Cincinnati never trailed again.
On this one Sunday, it was feast or famine for Green. Fortunately for him, and for the Bengals, Cincinnati’s defense had Green’s back when mattered most. And Green’s big plays proved the difference in bringing the Bengals their first home win of the season.
After the game, with a win in hand and bye week ahead, Green was happy.
“It’s great,” Green said of winning the last two games. “I wish we could have erased the first two games, because that’s not us. We’re trying to get on the road and get hot at the right time.”
And, his limping quarterback was in a joking mood, not phased by his ankle or anything else after the win.
“It’s one of those things that, regardless of what happened, we were still going to give (Green) the ball,” Dalton said. “I told him the good thing about it is that it doesn’t end up on his stats. It ends up on mine. So I think he’ll be all right.”