Wiedmer: Green, Dalton have Bengals in playoff hunt

Wiedmer: Green, Dalton have Bengals in playoff hunt

November 7th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

NASHVILLE -- The football zipping through the air on a desperation 3rd and 18, Tennessee Titans defensive backs Michael Griffin and Jason McCourty about to break Cincinnati rookie wideout A.J. Green in two, the early moments of Sunday's fourth quarter at LP Field briefly appeared to signal the end for the former Georgia Bulldog.

Rookie receivers as slender as a No. 2 pencil just aren't made to absorb such contact. You half expected a disclaimer to appear on the scoreboard: "Too violent for young children. Cover your eyes!"

But then Green somehow found the ball at pretty much the exact same time the bodies of Griffin and McCourty brutally found one another instead of their intended target.

Now the visiting Bengals owned the football at the Titans 7-yard line with a fresh first down. Now Griffin and McCourty could but woozily watch the rest of this crucial contest from the sideline after lying nearly motionless on the field for more than five minutes.

Three plays later, Cincy would turn a 3-point deficit (17-14) into a 21-17 lead on its way to a 24-17 victory, its fifth straight triumph, the franchise's longest winning streak in 23 years.

"It's just football," said Green as the Bengals improved to 6-2 while the Titans fell to 4-4.

"There's just a little more preparation time than in college, a little more important to be perfect with everything you do."

There was never any doubt in the Bengals' minds that the 6-4, 207-pound Green was the perfect player for them in last April's NFL draft. They picked him fourth overall, then made the steal of the draft a round later when they plucked quarterback Andy Dalton from Texas Christian University.

Said Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis of those decisions: "We felt [AJ] could make a difference as a rookie, that's why we drafted him. [As for Andy] it comes back to him really just being pretty unflappable and very calm. That's what you have got to have."

Not to beat up the Titans on rookie reserve quarterback Jake Locker -- who was chosen four spots behind Green -- but Dalton's now thrown 12 touchdowns to just seven interceptions while completing more than 60 perent of his passes.

Locker's numbers? One completed pass in two attempts for 12 yards.

Even Titans quarterback Matt Hasselback said of Dalton's three touchdown passes and no interceptions against the Titans: "I was impressed, as I have been all year with him. I think he is probably my favorite guy out of this [draft] class to watch."

Yet no one watches Dalton more closely than Green, who has quickly developed such a bond with his QB that they don't even have to speak to know what the other one's planning to do on a particular play if improvisation is needed.

"There's definitely chemistry there," said Green, who has now caught a team-high 40 passes from Dalton totaling 599 yards and five touchdowns, though he had no scores against the Titans. "We have a long way to go, but I feel we are on track to be one of the best."

Added Dalton: "Both of us being rookies, we were kind of automatically grouped together, I guess. We've really clicked on the field, and we've developed a great friendship off the field."

They certainly clicked when it mattered most against the Titans. In addition to the aforementioned 20-yard completion that knocked Griffin and McCourty out of the game, Green snared an earlier 23-yard completion in the same drive on a 1st and 20 following a Bengals holding penalty.

There was also the pass interference penalty the Titans were whistled for in the third period while attempting to defend Green that covered 45 yards and set up Cincy at the Tennessee 20. Three plays later the Bengals scored to slice the Titans' 17-7 halftime lead to 21-14.

"I think that's what happens when you've come from big, successful programs like Andy and I have, me being from Georgia, him from TCU," said Green. "You know how to make a big play at a big moment."

He also still knows when those big moments roll around for his beloved Bulldogs.

"I probably talk to [UGA defender] Bacarri Rambo almost every day," said Green. "And I watched as much of the Arkansas-South Carolina game as I could. It's great to be first in the East. Now we've just got to take care of business and beat Auburn and Kentucky."

Breaking into a smile he said, "It's nice to control our own destiny."

He was talking about the Bulldogs, but if Dalton and Green keep Cincy winning through the last eight games as well as they have the first eight, he could just as easily be remarking on the playoff possibilities for the Bengals.

And if that happens, they just might become everybody's favorite guys to watch from the 2011 draft class.