Not only did A.J. Green and Tee Higgins barely miss becoming the Bengals first veteran and rookie wide receiver tandem to grab 100 yards in the same game since Green was the rookie, but on Sunday in Indianapolis Higgins did what not even Green did as a rookie with his 125 yards on six catches.
Thanks to the deadly combo block punch of Bengals manager of media relations Pete Schramm and the Elias Sports Bureau, we now know that Higgins' outing is the first 125-yard effort by a Bengals rookie receiver since Jordan Shipley had 131 on six catches during a 2010 loss in Atlanta. That was in a game Shipley teamed with veteran Chad Johnson's 10-catch day for 108 yards.
Green, who had 96 yards on Sunday, had his rookie high of 124 yards in his second game as a pro when he and Jerome Simpson (136 yards) nearly pulled out a 24-22 loss in Denver in 2011.
Green had a touchdown in that game on the first of his many unbelievable toe-tappers in the corner of the end zone. Higgins nearly had his third touchdown of the season but got dragged down at the end of Sunday's 67-yarder inside the 5 and he says he should have made it.
Higgins has the third-most yards among rookie receivers (a former Joe Burrow target at LSU, Justin Jefferson, leads with 537). With a 904-yard pace he's trending to have a better rookie year than Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh combined (557 in 2001) and Carl Pickens (266 in 1992), and has guys like Green (1,057 in 2011) and Eddie Brown (942 in 1985) in his sights.
Green's effort on Sunday had a lot of people happy because so many were pulling for him to break out of that slump that was the worst five games of his career.
"I think that's just an example of this team. We know of the things we are capable of," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "Like I said last week, you can't panic. We see that things are able to happen and the situation with A.J. is one of them. I would've thought that coming out of the Baltimore game, it just didn't play out in any way shape or form as I thought. But I thought he would've had 10 catches for 100 yards with the way the plan was shaping up (and) the red zone plan that we had for him. We just never got into it or found our rhythm. So, this week it wasn't surprising to see what happened happen. That's really been the message to the players. Just remain patient, keep going about your work the right way and A.J. has done that."
By the way, Speedy Thomas had 177 yards back in 1969, still the top rookie receiving game in Bengals history, tossed to him by rookie quarterback Greg Cook.
PRESSURE POINTS: The Bengals couldn't put any pressure on Colts quarterback Philip Rivers last Sunday despite a 21-0 lead and on Monday defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo talked about the fine line. He's not a big blitz guy (according to pro football reference the Bengals are 18th when it comes to blitz percentage at about 27 percent) and he stayed pretty true to form. According to pro football focus, the Bengals blitzed Rivers ten times on 46 drop backs, about 22 percent, and it didn't seem to bother him because he was six out of 10 for 75 yards.
"Especially against a potential Hall of Fame type quarterback, you want to try to change it up on him," Anarumo said. "On the best of days you want to give him different looks and try to keep him off balance. But any NFL quarterback, especially a veteran guy like this gets in a rhythm and you don't throw him off a rhythm whether it be by different coverages or again pressures or different fronts you can provide him.
"He gets in a rhythm it's tough. That's kind of what happened (Sunday). You'd like to have a good balance between pressure and coverage but yesterday obviously didn't go the way you want it to."
SNAP DECISIONS: With the return of slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander, Darius Phillips got his fewest snaps of the season (30) and basically split time with LeShaun Sims on the outside. According to PFF, Phillips went from being their highest graded defensive player in Baltimore to being their lowest Sunday in Indy.
"I think overall, it wasn't the best performance from our corners yesterday," Taylor said. "I think there's been some games when they've played well and they've done some good things for us. It's things that I know they're accountable for, we'll get corrected.
"When a guy's as accurate as Philip Rivers, that magnifies things. It's all tied together as well. We've got to do a better job getting a rush on the quarterback on first, second and third down to put pressure on them so that guys don't have to hold up as long in the back. It all ties together."
BYNES COUNSEL: Middle linebacker Josh Bynes is as frustrated as anyone after stuffing the Colts on 59 rushing yards against a good offensive line that was committed to doing it before the thing got out of hand in the second quarter. To have Rivers convert five third downs of at least seven yards was galling.
"We perform really well. Philip Rivers, Hall of Fame quarterback, he found some pockets. He was hot," Bynes said. "At the end of the day if we would've made that one pass break up or that one first down on offense or maybe one big play on special teams, then this conversation we're having would be totally different. Even with the guys we have now, even defensively, guys, we're banged up up front and still those guys are playing their butts off. … And unfortunately we come up short with as great as we played yesterday—especially stopping the run. We just couldn't get Rivers off the spot enough and he found holes and he made some plays and that's what a Hall of Fame quarterback does."
Bynes is in his 10th season and is rankled by questions about defensive unity, leadership and guys chirping about playing time. He's just looking for results and he's pointing his teammates to the 2015 Lions team he was on that started 1-7, finished 6-2 and would have made the playoffs if they went 7-1.
"I just think we have to take accountability for ourselves as what we're doing making mistakes. I don't think that has anything to do with who are the leaders, per se, because obviously we've got great leadership on this team," Bynes said. "I just feel like the guys, we have to take more accountability for our actions as well. Especially on defense in the back end or how technique could play those things better. But I don't know how that would translate to the vocal leaders to that point.
"I don't feel like it's about identity. It's about us just executing, us being where we're supposed to be at the right moment with the right technique at the right time to make the plays we're supposed to make. That's what it comes down to. I can name you eight (leaders). I can name the whole defense if you want, but at the end of the day we still have to make plays and right now we're not making enough plays on important downs. Like third down."
CULTURE TALK: While Green took out his frustration on the Colts after as tough week, it sounds like left end Carlos Dunlap wants to do the same this week. He went on social media Monday night to say he's unhappy playing only on third down, but that he's not going to question Taylor's vision as "Employee No. 96.
"Sometimes guys get frustrated and say things. Ultimately, we end up talking through it with everybody on the team. So, it happens sometimes. We wish it didn't, but it does, and that's just the reality that we live in," Taylor said. "I think there are a lot of great examples of (leadership). I have a lot of trust in our guys in the locker room. I think we're in good shape there."