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Fumbles Foil Comeback Game For A.J. Green And  Bengals Offense

A.J. Green greeted after his 65th career TD catch.
A.J. Green greeted after his 65th career TD catch.

It was fitting, of course, that on Sunday A.J. Green would stick his foot in the ground and vow that he's far from done in a career that began in concert with Andy Dalton.

As his wife sat in a Paul Brown Stadium suite with Dalton's wife, Green and his rookie hunger gave the Bengals' desperate pass game a much needed lift against Dalton's Cowboys with some vintage contested and clutch catches. But three consecutive fumbles in the run game to open the afternoon doomed the Bengals in a confounding 30-7 loss.

"I'm still a great receiver. My role is not going to change no matter where I'm at," said Green reminding everyone he can still carry his team with six catches for 62 that were more like double after 10 wrenching quarters without Joe Burrow.

"Whatever happens here, I still can play at a high level. I'm not worried about falling into a role right now. My job is to go out there and win one on ones and make plays whenever it's called."

Green, 32, sent the memo that he isn't ready to be pegged as a part-time possession receiver as he stirred a Bengals offense that rustled with 309 yards for their first 300 game under backup quarterback Brandon Allen.

And if you didn't get that memo, he sent an e-mail blast, now that he's one shy of Chad Johnson's all-time Bengals record of 66 touchdown catches.

"That'd be nice. But you know me, the end numbers is always the goal for me. It would be nice to break Chad's record, but my goal is always to have big numbers and in the Hall of Fame. That's the end numbers," Green said. "I already had the records. I had big years in 2015 when we were winning. It wasn't my best year stats-wise but we were winning. That makes everything much easier when you win. I am at a point in my career where Year 10 is not about the money and all the stats it's about having fun again playing football."

Since Burrow went down three weeks ago, Green had one catch and seven targets as Allen tried to find him. He had seven of those targets Sunday with one of them going for a thoroughly necessary touchdown catch with eight seconds left in the first half and three more converting first downs.

That's more than extra-large for a team that without Burrow was 7-for-27 on third down. But with Allen finding his sea legs and Green, they reeled off nine of 16 against the Cowboys. Looking for Green early and often, Allen completed 75 percent of his passes.

"It just happened today like that. The last couple weeks I felt good and I felt like I was winning on a lot of my routes," Green said. "Sometimes the ball doesn't come my way and there are different looks and different things like that. But this week, Brandon gave me a lot of chances and looked my way quite a bit so I was just trying to make the plays for him."

Green looked over at the other sideline and saw Dalton, a guy that threw him 58 touchdown passes. He's been working with Allen for about half of 58 days.

"It always takes time when you have a guy that you never threw with and you just throw him in the offense. We were used to Joe, but Brandon has done a great job these last couple weeks," Green said. "His grit, his fight and how prepared he is, thinking of the situation in Denver when he had to start, he had a couple starts under his belt. He has done an unbelievable job moving this offense and taking command of this offense."

It's unfathomable to look at Sunday's offensive numbers knowing this team suffered its second worst loss of the year. Not only did the Bengals convert 56 percent of their third downs, they outgained the Cowboys by 37 yards while holding the ball nearly more 10 minutes as Allen posted a 99 passer rating.

Sure, they could have run the ball better against the Cowboys' last ranked run defense. But they ran it enough, 30 rushes for 101 yards, that they kept the ball nearly 35 minutes. It's the first time they hit 30 carries since the Nov. 1 win over the Titans.

And Allen didn't get sacked. The Bengals didn't allow their two sacks until Ryan Finley replaced him with 7:23 left.

Seven points?

"As far as moving the ball — getting first downs — I think we were pretty solid on third downs (and) keeping ourselves on the field," Allen said. "Obviously, you take away those fumbles and it might be a different score for us. I thought, all game long, we did a good job of moving the ball except for the first couple of drives in the second half. I thought we did a great job — we were executing, the offensive line was playing great and giving me time to throw, and guys were making plays.

"We had a good run game going with some really nice runs. We were able to stay pretty balanced, I thought, and that really helped us. You (wish you could) take away some of those fumbles. I thought we were sharp in a lot of areas, but obviously there are things we need to clean up as well."

Three turnovers, that's why. And a touchdown taken off the board when right guard Quinton Spain's holding call wiped out running back Samaje Perine's 13-yard touchdown run in a red-zone drive that resulted in the ball turning over on downs. Make that four turnovers.

And you had a funny feeling when the first fumble belonged to running back Giovani Bernard in the first minute of the game. That's like George Washington telling a lie. It was Bernard's first fumble since his rookie year in 2013 and ended the NFL's longest active streak.

"I don't think I've been a part of three. But I've seen some crazy things happen," said Green of the opening gaffes. "That's the type of year we're having. Like nothing is going our way. Gio doesn't fumble, let alone we have two more guys come behind Gio and cough the ball up. You've been in this league as long as I have, you've seen it all. But we've just got to ride the wave. We've got to continue to get better."

Allen knew he had to get the ball to Green on that last drive of the first half, down 17-0, with little used rookie cornerback Saivion Smith on him. Smith, an undrafted free agent out of Alabama, came into the day with just 14 snaps from scrimmage.

On third-and-five from the Dallas 44, Green reminded people how he went to seven Pro Bowls to start his career.

He split double coverage over the middle to pluck a ball out of the closing vise of Smith and a safety for ten yards. On third-and-four from the Dallas 15, Smith gave enough cushion for ten more. With Smith still on Green, Allen pumped one into the end one on first down from the 5 and when they weren't on the same page, Allen went back to him on third down with eight seconds left for the TD they absolutely needed.

Green slanted inside Smith, who had no shot.

"I knew I was the first read on that one. It's a play that we run a lot," Green said. "I knew when I saw him. I knew I could get inside of him and Brandon gave me a great ball."

Green had just two targets the rest of the way. But one was a huge third down catch and when Allen went out with a knee injury, the offense couldn't respond.

The second half, they know, needs fixing. They haven't scored in the third quarter in the last six games and they've got one second-half touchdown in the last five games. But despite struggling in the offense after missing all last season with an ankle injury, Green has stood by head coach Zac Taylor's regime.

On Sunday, he reiterated he believes the Bengals are headed the right way despite what he hears from beyond PBS.

"A lot of people on the outside, all this losing, I feel like we're doing the right things," Green said. "We're still together, we're not pointing any fingers. My job as a leader is to continue to push these guys, don't show any frustration. If you treat this game like it's a right to play, then that's when it's really going to bite you in the butt. I think we're all honored and blessed to play this game no matter how bad it is.

"Being hurt those last few years really put things in perspective how fast this game can be taken away from you. My approach this season is I'm happy to be out there, and I'm going to keep working, keep fighting and keep bringing my guys along with me."

One of those guys is rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins, and he had an interesting day himself. He had five catches for 49 yards, but he had two drops.

Not only that, as the Bengals were driving to cut the score to 20-14 in the fourth quarter, Allen was scrambling on third down and had the first down until Higgins came off his block early, leaving them two yards shy on fourth down.

As he has all year in spectacular season Higgins responded. On the next snap on fourth-and-two he snatched a quick-hitter over the middle and bolted for 18 yards.

"I have all the confidence in the world in Tee," Allen said. "One of the drops was on me. It was a poor pass. I threw it behind him, so that's not on him. That's on me. But I would never lose confidence in Tee. I know he doesn't lose confidence in himself. You're going to have drops — everyone drops the ball occasionally. But I trust him no matter how's he's playing, and I think he played well and made a big play there."

It was a 2020 kind of game. In the last year of his deal, Green knows everyone wants to know about his 2021. But he wants everyone to know he's just thinking about this one.

"My wife, my family, my boys, we are going to sit down and make the best decision that is going to be best for my career," said Green after a nostalgic day he carried them again. "Right now, we don't know what that looks like right now but we prepare for anything."