A.J. Green has been more than just the best player on the Bengals’ offense for the past eight years. Seven pro bowls and nearly 9,000 receiving yards make him a great player for any team, but he’s ascended beyond that distinction here in Cincinnati.
Green is a representation of everything that Bengals’ football aspires to be — even when things take a turn for the worst. Since the new money of his second contract started coming into effect in 2016, the Bengals have been a losing organization. The culture shift he and Andy Dalton helped create has started to crumble these past few seasons, and with Green nearing the end of his contract, some have speculated the receiver could think about leaving the Bengals.
Fortunately, that is something Green has no intentions of doing at this time.
A.J. Green says he's loyal to Cincinnati: "When I got drafted, (the idea) was always to stay in one place the whole time, no matter what the situation is. I want to win. I want to bring something to this city. I don't want it to be 'Oh, A.J. left because he wasn't winning.'"— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) November 28, 2018
Over the past few seasons there have been real issues in areas beyond Green’s control. Most of which can be traced by to either poor management by Mike Brown, and poor coaching by Marvin Lewis. It all has seemed to hit a breaking point recently as the team fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and they had Lewis take over the defense that has still performed like one of the worst units in football.
Of course the offensive struggles have been overshadowed by the defense, but during a season where offenses are putting up points at an insane pace, the Bengals are struggling to even convert third downs. Still Green hasn’t been sitting at home recovering. He has stayed active with this team, and even on the sidelines during games.
“I just tried to talk to some of the younger guys and the older guys just stay together, stop pointing fingers. Everybody can go down once you have a losing season and a lot of people start to point fingers,” Green told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “When you are having a losing season and lose three games in a row a lot of people stop talking and start pointing fingers when things aren’t going right. For me, we all have to stick together. We are all in this together. We are all losing together. Nobody is winning. End of the day we just have to go back to the drawing board and look ourselves in the mirror and go out there and practice hard. Try to do your job, that’s the biggest thing and everything else will take care of itself.”
These past two weeks the Bengals lost two divisional games that were viewed as must win games considering how the race for the Wild Card is shaking out. The Bengals lost a close game to a first-time starting quarterback in Lamar Jackson, and if it weren’t for some Jeff Driskel magic, the Browns would have run the Bengals off the field this past Sunday.
It is easy to see where some players could start getting more frustrated, so it is good a player like Green was around to try and snuff out any fires before they started. Still it is easy to tell where Green would rather be.
“If I play these last two games we win those games. I hope (we go 3-0),” Green said. “I feel like teams play me differently and it’s a whole different game when I’m out there. I felt like if I was out there we have a better chance. It was tough, because I felt like we really needed that one. Losing division games back-to-back is tough, but you have to look at being in the sixth spot a lot of these teams are 5-6 so we’re right there. If we can stack some wins together starting on Sunday and control what we can control and that’s win these last five games and see where that puts us.”
It is hard to say what exactly would’ve happened in those games, but having Green on the field does make everyone else’s jobs easier. He takes up at least two defenders on every play, which is one less guy who can double cover Tyler Boyd or be run up into the box to help contain Joe Mixon. The fact that he is returning to play is a huge lift to this team, but it is something people speculated wouldn’t happen after Dalton’s season-ending thumb injury.
“Not happening. Not happening. Not happening. Not happening this year. Not happening. Not happening,” Green said. “I’m not going to handle that very well. I’m going to leave that there… There is no chance. I’m here to win. I’m here to play football no matter what the situation is.
“I don’t care what our record was I was coming back and play again. When you sit out everything is not a given and it puts other things in perspective and don’t take anything for granted. I don’t care if we were 0 and 15 and I have to play the last game of the season I would just be happy to be back and do whatever it takes to help this team win.”
Sometimes it is easy for fans and experts to forget just how committed Green is to this team. He is far more soft spoken than your typical star receiver, but you could argue that gives his words more weight. Like when he said things needed to change last season after a Week 2 loss and the offensive coordinator was fired shortly after.
That makes these statements feel all the more genuine as he doesn’t have to say any of these things with the sort of conviction he did. As fans it should be appreciated, but at the end of the day until he is under contract for longer he still has that out, and with the way things have been run recently it is hard to imagine Green not even considering his options.