A. J. Green is not having the season he expected. And he is not having the season the Cincinnati Bengals hoped he would have when they decided to stick with him and his $18 million salary by placing the franchise tag upon him. But there is no quit in the star wideout.
“I’m still a great receiver,” Green said after Sunday’s 30-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. “My role is not gonna change, no matter where I’m at. I still can play at a high level.”
Sunday, Green was the Bengals leading receiver with six receptions on seven targets for 62 yards and Cincinnati’s lone touchdown. Green had four catches for 41 yards in the first half alone.
“We were able to find him early and able to get him going,” Bengals’ quarterback Brandon Allen said after the game. “He’s really a mismatch for any defense. They gave him some one-on-ones and he made some unbelievable plays for us.”
Allen was 27-of-36 for 217 yards and the Green touchdown when he left the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury. Most of his success came in the first half, though, when he completed 15 of 20 passes for 134 yards.
The Bengals’ first three drives ended in fumbles, and gifted the Cowboys 17 points. Two of those fumbles came after Cincinnati had driven deep into Dallas territory, and nullified efforts that almost certainly would have ended in points. Cincinnati ended up with an advantage in total yards (309-272); first downs (18-16) and time of possession (34:41-25:19). But it was all for naught.
“That’s the type of year we’re having,” Green said. “Nothing is going our way. Just got to ride the wave, got to continue to get better.”
For the season, Green now has 41 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns. Prior to Sunday, Green had been held to no catches in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
Green’s touchdown reception Sunday took him to 65 for his career, two behind Chad Johnson’s franchise record of 67. Johnson, the fourth pick in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft, is the Bengals’ all-time leading receiver with 766 receptions over 166 games and 11,059 yards. He was voted to the Pro Bowl on six occasions and was a two-time All-Pro.
Through 123 games, Green, who was the fourth pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, now has 643 receptions for 9,326 yards and was voted to the Pro Bowl after his first seven seasons.
“It would be nice to break Chad’s record,” Green said, “but my goal is always to have big numbers and the Hall of Fame.”
But what is more important to Green? Winning or records?
“Winning,” Green replied. “I already had the records. It makes everything much easier when you win. It’s just about having fun again playing football.”
Unfortunately, winning is one of the many things that is not happening so far in the Zac Taylor era. The Bengals stand at 2-10-1 on the season, and own a record of 4-24-1 during Taylor’s time as head coach.
“I think it’s been frustrating for everyone, not just me,” Green said. “Always going to be bumps in the road along the way. My job as a leader is to keep working. That’s my approach to the game. Just go out there and work on my game, get better. This is not a right to play, it’s a privilege.”
If Green comes back to Cincinnati next year, it now seems all but certain that he will get Johnson’s touchdown record, at the very least. Whether the wins will follow is another question.
Saying this, Green made it clear that the future is very uncertain right now, so it’s untelling if he’ll be back in Cincinnati or somewhere else in 2021.
A.J. Green, when asked if he's excited to play with Joe Burrow when he comes back in 2021: "We'll see what happens. I can't read what's going to happen. I'm living in the moment right now. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen."— Santa Baby (@Ben_Baby) December 13, 2020
It’s getting harder to see Green being back if the Bengals opt to keep Zac Taylor for a third season.