Before Mike Nugent kicked the Bengals back into the AFC North race Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium with his last-minute 26-yard field goal in the 23-20 thriller over the Browns, he had to stop being a fan.
"That play was awesome. I know I'm a player and teammate, but that kind of stuff turns you into a fan. That was a great play by those guys," Nugent said of quarterback Andy Dalton's electric 51-yard strike to wide receiver A.J. Green that set it up with 58 seconds left.
"That won the game," Nugent said. "I know all that goes into winning a game and all the people, but that right there was kind of the sealer."
Green did another of his classic Green Hornet jump-and-sting snatches at about the 30-yard line across the middle and kept running until he got pushed out at the 2.
It was another big-play connection by a rookie duo that now has four plays of at least 40 yards, but another play by a duo that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden says plays "beyond their years athletically and knowledge of football."
If anyone is counting, the Bengals have five fourth-quarter comebacks this season, half of what quarterback Carson Palmer had in his 97 starts.
Faced with an ugly third-and-eight from the Bengals 47 with 1:08 left, the Bengals knew the Browns like to play man-to-man with a safety back on third and long. So Gruden dialed up routes to put pressure in the middle with Green, wide receivers Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson, and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
"We wanted to give him some options," Gruden said of Dalton. "We had Jermaine running down the seam, Caldwell down the seam, (Simpson) on a backside route, and A.J. across the middle and if we got (man-to-man) we wanted A.J. to release inside and try to work (cornerback Joe) Haden. Their best against our best and it worked out for us."
Green, the fourth pick in 2011, vs. Haden, the seventh pick in 2010. Haden let him catch only three, but they were all huge.
Green, nonchalant as ever after nabbing 110 yards on just three game-changing catches, figures that's what he's paid to do.
"That's my mentality. I just want to be the best that I can. They didn't draft me No. 4 for no reason," Green said. "I take pride in that every day I go out to practice. And I take that approach to the game."
With Green seeing it was man-to-man, he knew he had to get inside Haden.
"It was an in route. I got the inside leverage with him," Green said. "And Andy just threw a great timing ball. I just went up and got it. (Haden) was undercutting a lot of stuff that was under. I just went right in front of him and got it."
It was Haden that was beaten by Green on Opening Day 77 days ago for the 41-yarder with 4:28 left that caught the napping Browns on a quick snap, erased their 17-13 lead, and sent the Bengals on these merry fourth-quarter runs. They are a match step for step until the 6-4 Green goes up on the 5-11 Haden.
"He ran a dig route and we were all over it," Haden said. "He fluttered it up in the air and we went for the under. He was high and caught the ball. It was everybody there and he just broke out. I want to look at it on film and see what happened.
"I don't know what the hell happened, but he's a really great player who made a really great play."
The Browns were saying they hit Dalton as he threw it and that it was a floater. Tackle Ahtyba Rubin hit Dalton, but it was after he threw it. And it was far from a floater. He jacked it high enough for Green to go get it, and it looked it might be too high.
"Nothing's too high if I'm running that fast. Once I get a running start, I can probably get anything," Green said.
After missing last week's game rehabbing the right knee he hyperextended Nov. 13 against Pittsburgh, Green went full go this past Thursday and Friday and after the game Sunday he said he felt just about 100 percent.
But the knee kept him from doing anything crazy when he saw he was headed out of bounds at the 2.
"I was hesitant to. 'Man, should I jump and risk hurting the knee again, or just play it safe?' But we came out with a field goal and it was good," Green said.
It was all good. Green tied the Bengals rookie record with his third 100-yard game joining two other pretty good first-round picks in Isaac Curtis in 1973 and Eddie Brown in 1985.
Nugent wasn't the only guy awed by the moment. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, a cranky sort with the local media, uncharacteristically let it gush on Green and Dalton.
"He's the best first-round draft pick that I've ever been around. He continues to amaze me every day," Lewis said. "Practice, games, whatever it is. His demeanor. His abilities. Whatever he does. He came out to practice on Wednesday and it was like he had had a month off. The energy in his legs and the spring. He's a phenomenal athlete."
Asked about the flood of praise, Lewis didn't flinch.
"I'm turning a new leaf. They (Dalton and Green) are two special guys," Lewis said. "They really are. I told the team their rookie year is over. I told the team a week ago, they are done (being rookies). We're counting on them like veteran players and that's what we need down the stretch."