A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson traded compliments before the game…spectacular highlights during it…and jerseys after the Bengals 27-24 win.
“I’ve worked out with this guy for three years and he taught me a lot,” A.J. told me. “I’m glad I came out OK in a comparison of my stats to his. I know our trainer was proud of us today.”
Remarkably, Green and Johnson each finished with 155 receiving yards.
“It was like fantasy football out there,” said Marvin Lewis. “It was a helluva deal.”
“It’s kinda fun to watch those guys,” said Andy Dalton.
But take away Green’s six catches and Dalton still completed 18 of 26 passes for 217 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT. That’s a passer rating of 120.2 to guys not named Adriel Jeremiah Green. Dalton’s overall passer rating of 135.9 was the highest of his NFL career.
“He played really well again,” said Tyler Eifert. “I was looking up at the fantasy stats that they displayed on the scoreboard during the game and he was up there with the leaders and only had half of the attempts of the other guys. He’s an efficient guy and he’s playing really well.”
“A win is a win and that’s all that I care about,” said Dalton.
Last week, Boomer Esiason was in the TV booth when Dalton earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns in Buffalo. In that game, Andy completed passes to a season-high eight receivers, led by Green was six catches for 103 yards.
“You go where the defense takes you,” Boomer told me a few days later. “And believe you me, A.J. Green would much rather be on a team where he catches five balls for 110 yards and a touchdown and wins, than opposed to being targeted 15 times, catching seven balls for 155 yards and losing. It’s a team game for a reason, and the more guys that you can get involved; the more morale is going to be really high. They’re going to want to make plays for you because they know that the ball is going to come.”
Esiason proved that at age 36 in his final NFL season when he replaced Jeff Blake in the starting lineup for the final five games and posted a 100+ passer rating in all five outings.
“One of the things that happened during those last five weeks that I would try to impress upon Andy Dalton now as he moves forward – especially after the success he had last week in Buffalo – is that Jeff Blake and Carl Pickens had something very special together,” said Esiason. “It was ‘Shake and Blake,’ it was big bombs down the sideline, but that morphed into a situation where it was always Carl Pickens and there were guys like David Dunn, Darnay Scott, James Hundon, Tony McGee, Marco Battaglia, Ki-Jana Carter, Eric Bieniemy, and Corey Dillon that all sat around watching those two play football and not really feeling like they were a part of something. When I got in there, I said, ‘Guys, I’m going to where the defense takes me. Plus, I can’t throw it 80 yards down the field so you had all better be ready. You had better have your thinking caps on, your eyes open, and you better be ready for the ball when it comes to you.’ I think the guys really appreciated that they all got to participate in those last five games and I think it’s one of the reasons why we were so successful and I was so successful. That young group of players had a new toy – it was called a football and they could actually go make plays with it.”
In Sunday’s win in Detroit, Dalton threw touchdown passes to Eifert and Marvin Jones, completed a big 30-yard pass to Jermaine Gresham to set up a third quarter field goal, and hit Mohamed Sanu for a 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-9. And with :26 left, needing to gain about 15 yards to give Mike Nugent a shot at a game-winning field goal, Andy hit Dane Sanzenbacher for seven yards and Giovani Bernard for eight. That’s six critical passes that were not to A.J. Green.
“In order to be a great offense, we have to be efficient,” said Marvin Jones. “I think Andy did a good job of that – especially with the play-calling and getting all of us rolling.”
“We’re able to spread the ball around to a bunch of different guys,” said Dalton.
Since a subpar performance in Cleveland where 15 of his 42 passes were thrown to Green (36%), Dalton has been spectacular during the Bengals three-game winning streak, going 70-for-101, for 921 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, and a passer rating of 109.4. Green has been targeted 27 times for 27% of Dalton’s attempts.
By taking what the defense is giving and relying more heavily on the running game, the Bengals have managed to pull out three straight thrillers and take a two-game lead in the AFC North.
“To be in a game like this with your brothers who you’ve went through a lot with for three straight months of grinding and training camp – these are the moments you live for, practice for, and get ready for,” said Green.
“We keep it interesting don’t we?” said Jones. “That just shows the heart of the team. We stick together for four quarters and that’s what we have to do to win games. Every game is going to be tough in this league.”
“It was one of those games where you just keep fighting and scrapping and it was really a dogfight,” said Chris Crocker. “I’ll tell you what – I’m gonna have gray hairs when this year is over.”
It will be well worth it if a certain teammate with red hair continues to shine.
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