A.J. Green’s return couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for the Cincinnati Bengals offense.
With Andy Dalton going on injured reserve Monday, Cincinnati now looks to backup quarterback Jeff Driskel to try to turn things around and he will need all the help he can get.
The Bengals have lost five of their last six games, including three straight while Green has been out with a toe injury, and they now sit three spots out of the playoff picture. Cincinnati (5-6) hosts the Denver Broncos (5-6) on Sunday, which will mark Driskel’s first NFL start.
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Green practiced for the first time in more than a month Wednesday and said he is “definitely back.”
“Any time you get your best offensive weapon back, it’s good for everybody,” Driskel said when asked about Green’s expected return. “It opens up other people in the passing game, and he’s just such a threat, I’m happy to work with him. I’ll definitely be looking his way.”
Cincinnati had two of its lowest offensive outputs of the season while Green was out, and although Driskel has never thrown a pass to Green, he is well aware of how helpful the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver could be to him.
Driskel had never practiced with the first-team offense before Wednesday, and three of his four appearances this season were without Green on the field. He threw four passes at Kansas City, but three were to Cody Core and the other was to C.J. Uzomah.
“I don’t know if it gives me more confidence necessarily, but we have more of our weapons out there healthy, and in order to be effective in this league, you have to have weapons all over the field and he’s just an added dimension,” Driskel said. “He’s someone we’ve missed in the last few weeks and as much as he can get out there this week, we’re looking forward to having him.”
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Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said it’s no question the offense is different with Green available, but with Driskel taking over at quarterback, everybody has to raise their level of play.
Driskel was the team’s third quarterback the previous two years before AJ McCarron left this offseason.
“I think when you go to the next guy, I think everybody else needs to raise their level to have success, and we certainly have to do that right now,” Lewis said. “Everything Jeff has done, he’s got to concentrate on being Jeff and do his thing and the other guys have to raise their level and make sure they are fitting around him correctly.”
Green is just glad to be back. He was visibly frustrated during Sunday’s loss to the Browns but put to bed any concerns that he is ready to move on with another team.
He said he was just anxious for a chance to try to help his struggling team and he remains loyal to Cincinnati.
“Being a competitor and being out and not being able to help your team is just frustrating, because I feel like if I had been out there it would have been a different story,” Green said.
He strongly believes the Bengals could have won the last two games with him and at least had a better chance against New Orleans three weeks ago. Green has 687 yards and six touchdowns on 45 catches in eight games this season, including the game-winning score against Atlanta in Week 4.
Lewis had thought Green was nearing a return the past two weeks, but Green said he just needed a little extra time to recover. He injured the toe on his final catch against Tampa Bay when he helped the Bengals move into position for the game-winning field goal.
“It was tough, just being out there not being able to do anything,” Green said. “An injury like this I just have to let it rest. I couldn’t really rush it or do anything to speed up the process. It was tough, but I’m just glad to being back to playing football again.”
The Bengals still have a chance to get to the playoffs with some success down the stretch, and Green hopes to be a part of achieving that. However, he was going to try to contribute no matter the situation he was walking back into.
Sitting out the rest of the season wasn’t going to be a possibility for him.
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“This is a group for me, I don’t care what our record was I was coming back and play again,” Green said. “When you sit out everything is not a given and it puts other things in perspective and don’t take anything for granted. I don’t care if we were 0 and 15 and I have to play the last game of the season I would just be happy to be back and do whatever it takes to help this team win.”
Green said he has confidence in Driskel, but he hopes to help make the transition easier for the new leader.
“Jeff is the most athletic guy on our team,” Green said. “He’s a guy who can play any position, has a strong arm, very smart. My job is to go out there and make his job easy. He puts the ball somewhere and I go get it. That’s my job.”