You have to start Wednesday with A.J. Green and Andy Dalton because that's where it all began.
Green and Dalton. Together. According to Elias, they are the 12th most prolific scoring duo of all-time with 58 touchdown connections. The most in Bengals history. More than Carson Palmer to Chad Johnson. More than Boomer Esiason to Eddie Brown. More than Ken Anderson to Isaac Curtis. All but five of Green's touchdowns have come from his 2011 draft soulmate.
Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison 112; Philip Rivers-Antonio Gates 89; Steve Young-Jerry Rice 85; Dan Marino-Mark Clayton 79.
"I've been with Andy my whole career and I thank him because he put me in situations I could thrive and put up the numbers I could," Green said. "I couldn't have done it without him. Especially coming out as rookies and what we did those first six years was unbelievable."
"A.J. has been one of my closest friends since we got here," Dalton said. "Obviously we got here together and we've been through this whole thing together and so he understands everything. A.J. has my back. We're going to be friends for the rest of our lives so it's tough not to have a guy like that out there when you are going through all of this. To not have your best player on the field. A.J. has been very supportive of me."
Green thought about that connection after head coach Zac Taylor pulled Green out of a meeting room Tuesday to tell him he had benched Dalton in favor of rookie Ryan Finley.
"He understands the history Andy and I have. All my touchdowns, the numbers, the records are all because of him," Green said. "The connection we have together. You usually don't have rookie receiver and rookie quarterback come in and do what we have for the last nine years. For Zac to get me out of the meetings and tell me face to face meant a lot. He understands the relationship Andy and I have."
Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski 78; Ben Roethlisberger-Antonio Brown 74; Drew Brees-Marques Colston 72; Peyton Manning-Reggie Wayne 67.
Taylor didn't want Tuesday's announcement to sound like a gold-watch ceremony for Dalton, but there's nothing he could do to make it not sound like one. You don't have to be one of those breath-less NFL insiders to know they're giving Finley eight games to see if he can do it and if he can't then they'll have a high enough draft pick to get another one.
Where that leaves Dalton is anyone's guess. But if you're the quarterback of a 0-8 team in the NFL, there's a pretty good shot you're not going to keep your job. Not much was in his favor. A reduced offensive line. No Green or John Ross, two of his starting wide receivers. A No. 32 run game.
Yet, they were in the red zone 24 times and scored just eight touchdowns and, as Taylor said, they're not looking for a spark, but they are, because they need something to get over the top and Finley is the last offensive backup to be given a try. The record clamors for change and this is what change looks like.
"It's a little different," said Green of Wednesday's practice. "I remember when Peyton Manning got cut. That woke me up. Anything can happen. Nothing around this league surprises me anymore."
Dalton was as classy as ever Wednesday. Just what you would expect. He told Taylor he didn't agree with the move but didn't think he could talk him out of it, like Ken Anderson did to Forest Gregg nearly 40 years ago. He also told his teammates that in Wednesday's team meeting when he stood up and told them, don't worry, treat me the same way, I'm going to be the same guy. I'm going to do what I can to help Ryan.
"You're a hell of a player and an even greater man," one assistant coach told Dalton after the meeting.
He had a very tough, but at the same time his most revealing interview during these nine seasons in a session with the media in front of his locker. When it was over, several shook his hand with a word of encouragement that you might see at a wake and Dalton had to remind them he wasn't getting the gold watch yet: "I'll be here all season."
"I've been through a lot in the nine years that I've been here, I've done a lot for the city. My heart has been in for this team and in for this city," Dalton said. "I think a lot of people see that and so just letting everybody know I'm going to be the same guy regardless of the circumstance and regardless of the situation that I'm in. And to just kind of clear the air."
Dalton never would have to do that with Green.
"I talked to him. We both understand this is a business," Green said. "Andy and I have a relationship bigger than football. No matter what happens. If he does go to a different team, we're still family. We have a lot of history together."
There was a bit of business Dalton made clear that he didn't like. If the move had been percolating before Tuesday, he wishes they would have made him available for a longer period before Tuesday's 4 p.m. trading deadline. If you're betting that Dalton's demotion was leaked to the media by his agent before Taylor's announcement in order to get his name out there, you'd probably get good odds.
"I think that's an unfortunate thing. It happened three hours before the trade deadline," Dalton said. "I wish if he was thinking about it at least let me try to see if I could end up somewhere else or at least see if there's interest in possibly getting traded. At that point the way it was handled there wasn't enough time to even have that happen … I haven't had a chance to talk with (the front office), but I know my agent was trying to figure out what we could do in those last remaining couple of hours before the trade deadline."
The Bengals vowed not to trade their good players and they count Dalton one of those. But Dalton says he's going to put next year on the shelf (it's his contract year) and focus on helping the Bengals through this stretch. He wants to go to a team where he can play and if that means Cincinnati, fine. If not, he'll seek a trade. Right now he says he's thinking only about helping Finley and how he can help the team.
"Ryan was one of the first people I reached out to just to let to him know this has nothing to do with Ryan. Ryan and I have been close ever since he's been here," Dalton said. "We've built up a really good friendship. I don't want Ryan to think I have any ill will toward him. He didn't do anything wrong. All he did be here and show up and do things the right way and they want to give him an opportunity. I'm going to help him out. I've seen a lot of football. We have a lot of division games coming up. I understand how all of these defenses have played us and just their scheme and things so I'll help him from that standpoint."
When Boyd was explaining to a reporter about Green's first catch in practice, he was saying how it was an in route with Boyd going in motion, but Dalton corrected him on the formation for Green's first catch from a No. 1 quarterback other than Dalton.
"My guy is always there for me," Boyd said.
There's no question everyone wishes Dalton had a different scenario. Green says he wouldn't have lost his job if he was healthy. Here's a man that was 50-25-1 driving to The Paul on Dec. 13, 2015 to face the Steelers at 10-2. He's 18-32-1 since and much of it has not been his fault. But he's also 0-8 this year, the team has yet to score three TDs in a game and he's got the lowest passer rating of his career.
"We've had a lot of good seasons. You can look back at all the play-off runs (five) that we made. What we had to overcome to get there," Dalton said. "To start a season 8-0, I've been on the other side of it, too. I never envisioned it to happen like this. I never thought I would be in this position and so do I wish it would have been different? Absolutely, because when Zac got hired here we had a plan to get this thing turned around and we were going to get this thing going and obviously that hasn't happened. There have been a lot of other things that have gone on that probably have caused it to not be the way we thought it was going to be and stuff that's been out of my control. That's unfortunate, but it's one of those things if this the end here, I don't know, I don't know what the future holds, but this not how I had envisioned it."
Green preferred to think about visions of the past. And maybe there is more, but think about where they'd be on that list if Green had played even half of the 17 games he missed with Dalton the past four seasons. One of his sweetest memories of them together was the Pro Bowl that rookie season in 2011, when they were in the same locker room with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
Memorable play? The 21-yard out that Dalton threw on a frozen rope with 14 seconds left the play after Reggie Nelson's pick to put the Bengals in position for a winning field goal in Pittsburgh that knocked the Steelers out of the 2012 playoffs and put the Bengals in them.
"Jay just called a 'bench,'" said Green of the route in front of the bench called by offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "They were playing off coverage. Probably playing Cover 2 and I took a seam release.
"It's sad a little bit," Green said Wednesday, " but at the end of the day it's a business and you have to do what's best for the team. It may not be the right decision, it may not be the wrong decision, but you have to roll with it. I feel like Andy is the ultimate pro. He understands what has to be done."
Aaron Rodgers-Jordy Nelson 65; Jim Kelly-Andre Reed 65; Johnny Unitas-Raymond Berry 63; Andy Dalton-A.J. Green 58.