Updated: 2 a.m. 8-26-11
The Paul Brown Stadium footlights officially belong to A.J. Green now and they don't exactly have the same shade that shone on Chad Ochocinco for a decade.
Green grabbed his first NFL touchdown pass in the 24-13 preseason win over the Panthers Thursday night when he ran down Andy Dalton's 40-yard bomb down the right sideline. As Dalton saluted the new era with a wave of a fist in the air, Green showed the ball to the crowd and then dropped it as his teammates mobbed him.
"Yeah, I dropped it," said Green of the non-celebration. "I'm not all that. Hoorah and hoorah and all that stuff. I'm not about all that."
Green, still in his full No. 18, sat at his locker and couldn't stop smiling. Especially after he dropped three balls and had a route miscommunication just four day before against the Jets.
"I had to get that one," said Green, who finished with two catches for 45 yards. "It felt great just to see it in my hands crossing that goal line. It's a dream come true. I was just so surprised. 'Golly, I'm back in here on the highest level of the sport.' "
His diving catch of a five-yard slant was the harder play, but the bomb shows why much of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's approach stems from teams unable to cover Green one-on-one. Veteran Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble had no shot.
"It was an all-out go route. Just run straight and make a play on the ball," Green said. "Step on his toes and then run by him. Get up on him as close as you can."
Green never did get the ball.
"But I will after my first regular-season touchdown," he said.
The 40-yard touchdown strike to Green was as big as Dalton's fist pump and the 107.5 passer rating calmed the nerves of those flashing back to David Klinger and Akili Smith.
But the most impressive part of Dalton's night during Thursday's 24-13 win over the Panthers had to be the drive at the end of the first half that took 43 seconds and produced Mike Nugent's 55-yard field goal for a 24-7 halftime lead.
DALTON 2 MINUTES: Isn't that the kind of stuff that always happens to the Bengals and never by them? But this is Dalton's M.O. He got the ball out quickly and accurately and moved the Bengals from their own 26 to the Panthers 37 with four straight icy completions in 25 seconds. The big one was a 21-yarder to tight end Jermaine Gresham, but the smart one was a five-yard out to wide receiver Jordan Shipley that he checked to in the face of a blitz and Shipley was able to get out of bounds.
"It showed he can manage the game," said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "He does a great job knowing what the situation is and what's at stake and what we need for a first down. He's got a lot of freedom for a young kid and he's handling it well so far. He's off to a great start. Mentally he's seeing and doing what we're asking."
Dalton also checked into a play on the next snap and barely overthrew Green on the same play that produced the touchdown.
"Go—ooo-sh. So close on that one," Dalton said. "I saw they were bringing an all-out blitz ... take a shot. A lot of the two-minute drive is you have what's called and you just try to execute. It makes it easy when you're not thinking about too much stuff. You're just going in and kind of letting it fly."
Those 43 seconds showed just how many light years Dalton is ahead of rookie Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who could run but not hide against a Bengals defense that forced him into a 44.8 rating.
"(Dalton) is doing an outstanding job," Gruden said. "Even in the first two preseason games I thought he bounced back after a couple of rocky starts and managed the game well. He's off to a fine start for a guy with about a month of practice. He's had a lot of concepts thrown at him and he's handled it well so far. He's got a ways to go, but I'm happy with his progress."
NUGENT GOES LONG: If it had been a real game, Nugent's 55-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the first half would have tied Chris Bahr's 32-year-old record and broken Nugent's NFL record.
"North Carolina State my senior year,' said Nugent, the former Buckeye, of his last 55-yarder. "I felt like I could have gotten a little bit more of it, but at that point as long as it goes nice and straight the way it should, it's OK."
Nugent has had a remarkable comeback from the torn ACL injury that cut short his first Bengals season last Nov. 14. He was back kicking in April, he didn't miss a field goal during team drills at training camp, and then he went for 55 on Thursday.
"You have to trust the rehab," he said.
SCOTT RETURNS: Backup running back Bernard Scott wasn't out that long. It just seemed like that when he hurt his hamstring the first day of training camp and didn't start practicing full go until about a week ago.
And after he went off Thursday for 63 yards on six carries, he actually said, "I'm still not 100 percent."
You could have fooled offensive coordinator Jay Gruden after Scott's 12-yard touchdown run gave the Bengals a 21-7 lead late in the first half.
"He ran a power play on his touchdown and there's an unblocked guy standing right in front of him," Gruden said. "He just cut it. The guy wouldn't have even pulled his flag in flag football; that's how quick it was."
The call was power to the right.
"The defense was all offset to the right," Scott said. "I just took it across the grain and I got a great block on the edge from Jerome Simpson."
MORE SIMPSON: Simpson had no catches and just one ball thrown at him, but he had as much to do with this win as Green, Dalton and the running backs because his blocking downfield was ferocious. He helped turn five-yard runs into eight and 10 and Scott's TD run was Exhibit A.
"I'm just doing my job; whatever helps the team win," Simpson said. "It feels good whenever you can help no matter what it is."
How many years has head coach Marvin Lewis been griping about receivers not blocking downfield? With Simpson, Green, Andre Caldwell (a huge block on Cedric Benson's 12-yard run to the right edge) and Shipley, no more.
"I think guys understand that it takes 11 guys in order to win. I know it takes 11 on defense and really does take 11 on offense to be good and efficient," Lewis said. "I think our receiving group has done a great job of blocking downfield, and it's shown up in every game thus far, and I think we'll continue to get better and better at it. If I point out one thing on video every day, it's that. It's the effort downfield and guys staying going downfield in front of people."
Make no mistake. The last couple of years, Scott probably doesn't get into the end zone on that run and is tackled by a corner or a safety. On this run, Simpson got in the way on the left edge.
Wide receivers coach James Urban noticed the block and it will be duly noted in meetings.
"Everybody has to block. It's part of the job and they know it and give good effort," Urban said. "That's how we're going to be a good team; to be able to do those things. If they're going to play for us, they have to block.
"(Simpson) takes pride in it. That play was designed to go away from him, and it came all the way back out. So you know he's working his tail off on the back side. That's a touchdown block. We got a thing where we track touchdown blocks. That's one of them."
2 QBS?: After only Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski played quarterback Thursday night, the question is now out in the open. Clearly the Bengals are thinking about keeping just two quarterbacks on the final 53-man roster. Gruden said it will be discussed Friday and that all four quarterbacks are ready to play in the Sept. 1 preseason finale.
"There's a lot of battles going on offensively and defensively and the third quarterback is one of them," Gruden said. "Next week will probably tell the tale more."
The Bengals could always go get another guy off waivers and put him on the practice squad, but Gruden said, "We like our four guys. We're going to have to make a tough decision."
If they keep three, Jordan Palmer looks to be the odd man out because he hasn't played the last two weeks. Dan LeFevour played against the Jets on Sunday but joined Palmer on the sidelines Thursday.
"No idea," said Palmer, a three-year vet of the QB staff and last year's backup. "We've always kept three since I've been here. Keepig two would indicate a numbers at a position. You want to lay. You want to compete and preseaon is the time fo the non-starters to do that. But because of the situation, a young quarterback and two new guys, those are the cards that are dealt and I'll try to make the best of it."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Veteran safety Gibril Wilson returned after ripping up his ACL in a PBS preseason game a year ago and said he felt no pain, but felt rusty. He had two tackles.
» Tight end Bo Scaife left the game on the fifth play with a shoulder injury and didn't return.
» Newly acquired safety Taylor Mays figured he played about 10 snaps from scrimmage "and I ran down on a kickoff," he said. He did get credit for an assisted tackle from scrimmage: "I had a good time."