Bengals Pro Bowl wide ride receiver A.J. Green took Broncos Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey to old school a few times Sunday in their Generation Next meeting in front of a Paul Brown Stadium sellout, but his University of Georgia ancestor made Denver's 31-23 victory history.
Bailey, the 11-time Pro Bowler, broke out his first interception of the season exactly when his team needed it. With the Bengals on the ropes facing a third-and-25 from their 28 and frustrated with three offensive line penalties on the six previous plays, Bailey was able to get in front of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's underthrown long ball and box-out Green for the interception at the Bengals 46 to preserve Denver's 24-20 lead with 8:38 left.
Bailey had a lot of help from the Denver pass rush. The pocket collapsed enough that Dalton couldn't get his feet through the throw and didn't get enough on it.
"We had a go-route and were trying to get A.J. It's one of those where you can take a shot with A.J. and either he's catching it or nobody is catching it," Dalton said. "I had pressure in my face; I threw it and couldn't get enough on it, and was getting hit. It was unfortunate that it happened at that time."
Five minutes later, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who got hit exactly once all day (which also ended up in a pick), ended the suspense with his third touchdown pass. But Bailey knew he had seen the future. A few plays before he was called for holding Green, and in the third quarter Green got behind him for a 10-yard touchdown pass that marked the first time Bailey had given up a touchdown since the 13th game of last season.
"Absolutely," Bailey said when asked if the pick meant redemption. "Any time someone catches a touchdown on you, you're going to want to get a little redemption. I've seen guys give up 10, five, 15 (touchdowns). I try not to give up any. It happens. It's the nature of my job."
Green is now a game shy of tying T.J Houshmandzadeh's season record of eight straight games with a touchdown catch and three away from Carl Pickens's club record of 10 straight over two seasons.
"He had a tough deal. I said all week A.J. Green is one of the better young receivers—if not the best—in this league," said Broncos coach John Fox. "He's big, he's fast and he's talented. A.J. has great vertical, and we knew this would be a tough matchup for Champ."
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden made good on his vow to get the ball to Green after Green had a career-low eight yards on one catch out of six targets in the last outing. He caught seven out of nine targets (two more targets were wiped out by penalty) for 99 yards, and that included ripping by Bailey for a 37-yard bomb down the left sideline to rustle the Bengals on the first play of their third series after two punts.
The play set up Cincinnati's only points of the half, Mike Nugent's 28-yard field goal.
"We definitely hit some big plays down the field. That's the big game plan coming in, and they say you can't win if you don't have explosive plays, and we had a couple today. We just have to keep shooting," Green said. "I feel like that was our game plan coming in. They play a lot of man; they've got a future Hall of Famer in Champ, but (we) still had to get me the ball. I made some plays, but we've got to keep shooting. One thing about this team; we're not going to give up."
Green also had help from the guy that is supposed to be his No. 2. Tight end Jermaine Gresham had a huge day with 108 yards on six catches, the first 100-yard game by a Bengals tight end in 17 years when Tony McGee had 109 yards. It was so long ago McGee did it against something called the Houston Oilers on Sept. 24, 1995 in a place known as Riverfront Stadium.
"He played well. He had the one drop early, and then he came to play," Dalton said of Gresham. "It's good to see. We need guys to step up like that. He's making some really good catches. He's a good part of this offense. When you see him have a game like this, you expect it out of him every week."