The NFL keeps track of game-winning 4th quarter comebacks by quarterbacks — Andy Dalton has 4 in his first 11 NFL games.
The league also keeps track of game-winning field goals in the last two minutes of regulation or in overtime — Mike Nugent has 5 in his career, including Sunday’s FG with :38 seconds left to beat Cleveland 23-20.
But one number that isn’t kept is “gigantic 4th quarter catches” that help make the other two stats possible.
If they did, A.J. Green would be 2-for-2 against the Cleveland Browns.
In the season opener in Cleveland, Green’s only catch was a game-winning 41-yard TD from Bruce Gradkowski with 4:28 remaining. On Sunday, A.J.’s third and final catch was a Lynn Swann-like balletic leaping grab of a Dalton heave that went for 51 yards with 1:08 on the clock, setting up Nugent’s 26-yard game-winner.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think I hit that game-winning field goal,” Nugent told me. “I mean A.J. Green…what was it, third-and-eight? The fact that he got the ball down the field like that. I had to go up to him and tell him how impressed I was with that. That was, without a doubt, the game-winner right there.”
“We needed a big play and I stood in there as long as I could and got the ball out,” said Dalton. “A.J. made a great catch, although I don’t really know what happened because I was on the ground.”
Dalton couldn’t see it because he got drilled by Cleveland’s Ahtyba Rubin after releasing the ball, but you can watch three replays of the catch by clicking this link.
Green’s extraordinary timing and leaping ability were on full display, but A.J. described the catch as if it were no big deal.
“I was the first option there,” Green told me. “It was a nice little dig route right across the middle and Andy threw a perfect ball and I went up and got it. I knew some people were around me so I went up and got it before anybody else had a chance.”
After missing six quarters with a bone bruise on his knee, Green had three critical catches against Cleveland: A 24-yard grab that led to a Cedric Benson touchdown run on the next play in the first quarter. A 35-yard haul that led to a Jermaine Gresham touchdown catch on the next play in the third quarter. And the 51-yard grab that set up the game-winning field goal.
“It was a great feeling just to get back out there and make some plays,” said Green. “Just to get back in that huddle man — it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
“He’s the Rookie of the Year by far,” said safety Chris Crocker. “He’s just a good guy that’s able to make plays and the kid does it every week in practice. This is not something that he does every couple of Sundays. He does these kinds of things a practice and it translates to the games. That’s what good professional football players do.”
A.J. Green is 23 years old. Andy Dalton is 24. They are two of 23 players on the Bengals roster that are 25-or-younger.
“They’re the spirit of this team,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “Our young guys are very, very talented and when they get in position, they make plays.”
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