December 23, 2014

A.J. Green: Cleveland Killer

A.J. Green has only played the Browns twice, but he's killed them both times

The Bengals won today 23-20 after being down 17-7 at the half.  How?

A.J. Green is a Browns killer.  He did it in week one when his touchdown catch in the last minutes of the fourth quarter proved to be the deciding points in an opening game defeat of Cleveland.  He did it again today, in spectacular fashion.  The Georgia rookie finished with just three catches, but for 110 yards and a dramatic game winning grab when he snatched a high 3rd-and-8 pass from Andy Dalton and raced 51 yards to the Browns 2-yard line with 48 seconds left to give the Bengals the advantage in a deadlocked 20-20 game.

It was the culmination of a survival game for the Bengals, who were precariously close to dropping their third division game in a row for more than 59 minutes.  Indeed, Mike Nugent’s chip shot field goal provided the Bengals with their first lead of the game. 

It was a rough day.

Down by 10 with five minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Bengals were on the ropes.  Defensively, the Bengals were having trouble containing Peyton Hillis and the Browns passing game. They were lucky Greg Little dropped numerous passes, as that seemed to be their best defensive play. On offense, the team that shredded Baltimore last week, could not find nearly as much success against a very game Browns defense.  The Cleveland defensive line, in particular, played well, harassing Dalton for much of the game.

At times, they looked downright bad.  But as we’ve learned so often this year, with Andy Dalton under center, this team can never be counted out. 

Down 17-7 at the half, the Bengals knew they would need another second half comeback from Dalton, and he delivered—once again—after failing the last 2 weeks.  And again this time, it took until the Bengals’ last offensive possession to decide the game.

It started with the score knotted at 20 with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game.  Cleveland had put together a solid drive to get inside the Bengals 35 yard line at the 2:00 warning.  After failing to convert 3rd-and-long, Browns Coach Pat Shurmur sent Kicker Phil Dawson out for a 55-yard field goal attempt into the wind.  Dawson had connected from 52 with the wind in the first half, and it had plenty of distance left.  Luckily for the Bengals, the snap was low, skipping across the turf, which caused a bad hold and a missed kick.

The Bengals took over at midfield with a chance to win with a scoring drive with 1:51 left.  After an incompletion to Jerome Simpson and a 2-yard gain on a delayed hand-off to Brian Leonard, Dalton lined up in a shotgun formation on 3rd-and-8 at their own 47.  Dalton dropped back, and a split second before getting drilled by defensive tackle Ahtaya Rubin, he lofted a pass down the center of the field. Green elevated above DB Joe Haden, pulled in the ball, and then dashed down the right sideline before being knocked out at the 2 with 58 seconds left.

The Bengals proceeded to run 3 times, forcing the Browns to use all of their time-outs before Mike Nugent booted a 23-yard field goal for the lead. With only 38 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, the Browns couldn’t manage any threat, turning the ball over on downs.

Despite playing perhaps their worst team game in weeks, the Bengals pulled out the win, moving to 7-4 on the season, keeping pace in the division and holding onto the final wildcard spot.

The Browns drop to 4-7, now 4 games out of the lead in the AFC North.

Next week, the Bengals travel to Heinz Field for the second match-up with Pittsburgh.  The Steelers play the Chiefs  in Kansas City Sunday night.

Notes:

  • The Bengals had only 143 total yards at halftime and 7 points.  They finished the game with 23 points and 389 total yards.
  • Cedric Benson had his 3rd 100-yard day of the season, and his second this year against Cleveland.  Benson finished with 106 yards on 21 carries.
  • The Bengals special teams were able to contain Joshua Cribbs.  Cribbs averaged just 21 yards on 5 kick-off returns, and 6 yards on 3 punt returns.
  • DT Pat Sims was taken to the locker room in the second half on a cart with an apparent leg or knee injury.