A.J. Green is dealing with his big toe problems again.
A.J. Green's Pro Bowl toe is now in the hands of a blue-ribbon panel of doctors and while Bengaldom holds its collective breath, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson holds his cards in Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Paul Brown Stadium against the Panthers.
Jackson marched out to the week's first practice Wednesday with his game plan tucked into his belt and before the first snap the team's best player was being driven off the Paul Brown Stadium field with his re-aggravated big toe that could potentially take him out of multiple games.
It would be a jarring loss. Green is averaging 18.5 yards per his team-leading 17 catches, best among the NFL's top 40 receivers.
That left Jackson with his starting wide receivers on the shelf in Green and Marvin Jones, as well as receiving tight end Tyler Eifert. Andrew Hawkins is in Cleveland, Ryan Whalen is on the street, and Cobi Hamilton just got released by the Eagles practice squad. Brandon Tate and Dane Sanzenbacher won their jobs and now they have to win the day.
"I let you guys worry about that," Jackson said after practice. "I'm not worried about that. I can't. At the end of the day I can just coach the players I can coach."
That may not be Green for a while after he re-aggravated his big toe in warmups and left the field in the passenger seat of a golf cart visibly frustrated
Wednesday's MRI is going to send him to another consultation with one of the nation's leading foot specialists when he meets with Cincinnati doctor James Amis on Thursday. Since a visit with another foot specialist is also planned, it's hard to see him being ready for Sunday, but he did play seven days after leaving the Atlanta game early.
It's believed the MRI again showed no tears or breaks, but he's obviously still having discomfort in the ligament under the sesamoid bone in the ball of the foot underneath the big or great toe.
At this point it's all speculation because his foot is in the hands of doctors. So anything is on the table pending what they prescribe for treatment, ranging to more treatments while playing, to shutting him down for a few weeks, or maybe longer. Green was already examined by Amis last month. Amis is one of the few guys who has as many skins on the wall as Green. He's the magician/surgeon who operated on Leon Hall's two torn Achilles to jump start two miracle rehabs. The Bengals' deep array of weapons is fast disappearing. Jones (ankle) wasn't even on the side rehabbing Wednesday and has practiced once during the regular season and Eifert (elbow) is on injured reserve-recall and won't be eligible until the 10thgame.
The Bengals have been here before and survived to win a 24-10 home game against the Falcons on Sept. 14 when Green's streak of 48 straight games with a catch was broken. Running back Giovani Bernard was their leading receiver with five catches for 79 yards and starting wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and tight end Jermaine Gresham each had three for 84 and 25 yards, respectively. The next two wide receivers behind Sanu, Tate and Sanzenbacher, have combined for eight catches for 116 yards in the first four games.
If Green can't play, you figure it's going to be another heavy duty day for the tandem of Bernard and rookie running back Jeremy Hill. Against Atlanta they split 42 carries for 164 yards and they're going against a Carolina team that is 23rd against the rush.
"Never out of weapons,' said Jackson, when asked if he was running out. "We'll put somebody else up in there and let's go."
One of those is rookie wide receiver James Wright, the special teams ace taken in the seventh round out of LSU. He got his first significant action Sunday night with 20 snaps and his quarterback still has one more catch than he does. Quarterback Andy Dalton targeted him once, but he was covered on the sideline route.
Yet the Bengals have a lot of confidence in his quick development.
"He's showed that it's not too big for him," Jackson said. "We'll keep moving him forward and see if he can help us."
The Panthers are ranked 20th against the pass and their two starting cornerbacks, Antoine Cason and Melvin White, are ranked 97th and 79th, respectively, by profootballfocus.com ranking of 102 NFL corners in pass coverage.
But the Bengals are coming off a performance in New England where they moved the ball well until third down, when they were 0-for-7. Dalton and Green couldn't hook up a couple of times early as Green finished the first half with two catches for 19 yards and a fumble that led to a field goal working against Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis.
"I think Coach Jackson took him out of his deal," said Jackson, when asked if Revis took Green out of his deal. "Anything with the offense is my responsibility. At the end of day I'm not going to ever single out a player. I have to fix it whatever it is."
For the most part, Jackson liked the way Dalton played. He missed some throws early, but he also threw for two touchdowns and no picks while averaging 8.5 yards per throw when they knew he was throwing. And Gresham dropped a perfectly thrown touchdown pass.
"(Dalton) didn't blink an eye," Jackson said. "We had some unfortunate drops, some unfortunate turnovers. That's not who we are…we're still the same team that won three games in a row playing pretty decently on offense and still looking to get better. I never said we're a finished product, but we're working at it and I think we'll be fine.
"Andy's playing good. Obviously there are some balls he wishes he could have back," Jackson said. "For the (third game) we didn't turn the ball over at that position. That's huge. There are some things that he can do better…and we all have to play better around him. It's an offensive unit issue. It's not just one person."
But they're waiting to get the word on one very big person.