Usually when the football hits A.J. Green’s hands, the next place it goes is to a referee.
But Sunday afternoon at rainy Paul Brown Stadium, Green had an uncharacteristically sloppy performance, losing a fumble and had two passes bounce off his hands for interceptions.
And then, redemption.
Green’s 47-yard reception on the final play of the third quarter set up Joe Mixon’s 5-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth to give the Bengals the lead for good as they held on for a 20-16 victory.
The win is the second row after and 0-3 start, and it moves the Bengals (2-3) to within one game of first place in the AFC North after Pittsburgh lost at home to Jacksonville.
“That was a good win for the football team,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “Great grind third and and fourth quarter. That’s what it’s all about. They kept coming back, and our good players showed up today. They overcame bad plays and made better plays.”
Green’s huge/horrible day began with a 77-yard touchdown reception on the team’s fifth snap of the game. Green ran right past Buffalo rookie corner Tre’Davious White and made an easy target for quarterback Andy Dalton on the bomb.
Green also beat White on the 47-yard catch that swung the game after his role in the three turnovers. Green finished with seven catches for 189 yards.
Dalton was 22 of 36 for 328 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
It was Dallton’s first 300-yard game of the season and 22nd of his career, leaving him one shy of Boomer Esiason’s franchise record.
Buffalo (3-2) converted Dalton’s first interception – a high pass that went off Green’s hands and right to Bills safety Micah Hyde for his NFL-leading fourth pick of the season – into a 12-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor to former Bengals receiver Brandon Tate to tie the game at 10-10 just before halftime.
But the Bengals defense came up big after Green’s next two turnovers, forcing a punt after Green’s drop early in the third quarter and limited the Bills to a field goal after Green fumbled at the Buffalo 19.
Then in the fourth quarter, with the Bengals clinging to a 17-13 lead, Tate returned a punt 41 yards to the Cincinnati 12. And the defense limited the damage to another field goal with 8:59 remaining to maintain a 17-16 lead.
Dalton drove the Bengals 59 yards in 11 plays to get the three points back on a Randy Bullock 29-yard field goal with 3:33 remaining.
The Bengals defense, which came into the game ranked third in total defense, third in scoring defense and third in sacks, limited the Bills to 221 yards – 36 in the second half – and sacked Taylor six times.
George Iloka sealed the win with an interception with 2:14 left in the game.
The Bengals head into their bye week looking at the possibility of playing for at least a share of first place coming out of it with a game at Pittsburgh. The Steelers are at Kansas City next week.