Rookie Cobi Hamilton dives to the pylon on his four-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
ARLINGTON, Texas — He's back.
The silver lining in Cincinnati's 24-18 loss to Dallas on Saturday was actually Green. Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green walked out of the cobwebs to make his 2013 debut and led the Bengals with three catches for 42 yards.
Head coach Marvin Lewis played him in spurts and put him out there for the start of the second half. Green responded with a 26-yard play off a slant as quarterback Andy Dalton worked out of the no-huddle to generate a field goal in the first-team's last series of the night.
"It was good to get back with the boys. I got my feet wet. I got my wind back," said Green, who bruised his knee the first day of camp July 25. "It was good we had that long drive at the beginning. I was able to get my wind back in the second half."
Green and Dalton were downright seamless for a first outing. Dalton appeared to hit Green with one of those perfect touchdown fades on that first series of the second half. Green launched himself above safety Micah Pellerin for the catch in the corner of the end zone from the 10, but he couldn't get his second heel down.
"I thought I did but it was toe-heel. It can't be in one motion. They don't count that. I need to work on just getting the toe down and just falling out of bounds," he said.
Lewis wanted his first-teamers to get 30 snaps, but thanks to Brandon Tate's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo converting five of nine third downs, the Bengals ran only 21 plays in the first half and Lewis brought them out for the second half and got a Quinn Sharp 28-yard field goal out of the no-huddle.
Dalton finished 12-of-16 for 113 yards and a 68 passer rating after he threw his first interception of the preseason early in the second quarter. On third-and-15 (after a false start on wide receiver Marvin Jones on the previous snap), Dalton tried to hit wide receiver Mohamed Sanu down the seam and underthrew him so that rookie cornerback R.W. Webb intercepted.
"They were in a two-man look. We tried to get a shot down the middle. The guy made a good play on it. I could have been a little bit late; I need to watch it again on tape. But the guy made a good play," Dalton said. "We moved the ball right down the field. We got all the looks that we wanted. We came so close. We picked up a big third down and ended up fumbling. We can't do that if we're going to win games. You can look at all the bad, but there is still some good stuff mixed in there. We did move the ball well, but didn't get any points to show from it. That's what we have to figure out. We have to find ways to get points and score touchdowns. We got close down there, but didn't get it done."
Overall, it was a sloppy effort. The Bengals were set to score on their first possession when Dalton hit Jones on a square out on third-and-11, but safety Barry Church wrestled the ball from Jones at the Dallas 4-yard line to force the first of four turnovers.
(The 1s and 2s each had two turnovers. Rookie wide receiver Cobi Hamilton lost a fumble and quarterback Josh Johnson threw his first pick of the preseason at the Cowboys 36 with 38 seconds left when he got hit as he was throwing. Hamilton did atone when he caught a four-yard touchdown pass from Johnson with 5:34 left in the game.)
"I saw the end zone and that's where I wanted to go," Jones said. "I saw the dude coming and I was going to wait for him so I could be pushed into the end zone. The ball just got ripped out from me. It's one of those plays."
The Bengals came in leading the NFL in offense and rushing, but the first team didn't get off the ground in the run game in the first half. They didn't run it as much as in the previous two games, handing it off just eight times compared to throwing it 13 times. And six of their 14 rushing yards came on one run, the first third-and-one of the game that running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis converted running behind fullback John Conner.
"There were some good things and there were some things we didn't do very well. I thought we came out on offense with the first drive, we moved the ball right down the field and had the turnover," Dalton said. "I think turnovers hurt us tonight. That's something we obviously we need to get fixed. We can't turn the ball over. When you lose the turnover battle, you're more than likely going to lose the game. There were some good things wedged in there. But the bad outweighed the good tonight. The fact we hurt ourselves is the biggest thing. In the first half, we never really had the ball. ... We've got to find ways to convert on third down. We have to find ways to pick up those extra yards. It will be a good tape to learn from."