CINCINNATI — One pass slipped off A.J. Green’s wet hands, and another deflected off his chest. Then he got stripped of the ball after a catch. The usually sure-handed receiver was having such a tough time that his head coach wondered if he was hurt.
“I asked him if he was OK,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He said yes. I said, well, go win the game.”
Green overcame his bad moments with several game-changing ones Sunday, scoring on a 77-yard catch and setting up the go-ahead touchdown with another big play as the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Buffalo Bills 20-16 in a steady rain.
Green’s big game gave Cincinnati (2-3) a second chance. After losing their first three games, the Bengals were in danger of having their season scuttled early. Instead, back-to-back wins moved them only a game out of first place in the AFC North.
“Obviously, 2-3 is way better than 1-4,” Andy Dalton said. “If you look at the way this division is, it’s still wide open.”
For the Bills (3-2), it was another graphic example of how much their depleted offense must improve. They had only four healthy receivers and lost tight end Charles Clay to an injured left knee. Even though the defense provided three turnovers — Green had a hand in each — Buffalo couldn’t take advantage.
“When we create three turnovers, we have to find a way to get the ball into the end zone,” said safety Jordan Poyer, who had one of the interceptions. “Somehow, some way, we need to figure out how to get the ball into the end zone. It’s a tough loss.”
Green had one pass slip off his hands for an interception. Another deflected off his chest and was picked off. He also fumbled after a reception. When it mattered, he made the difference. His 47-yard catch set up Joe Mixon’s 5-yard run for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I understand the ups and downs,” said Green, who had seven catches for 189 yards, the third-highest total of his career. “You know me, I’m pretty level all the time. The drops hurt, but you just have to erase everything.”
Some takeaways from Paul Brown Stadium:
DALTON EXCELLING: Dalton hurt his left ankle in the second quarter, got it taped and stayed in the game despite a limp. He was 22 of 36 for a season-high 328 yards. In his last two games, Dalton has completed 47 of 66 passes for 614 yards with five touchdowns. Since the Bengals changed coordinators, his passer rating is 116.2.
SEASON SALVAGED: The Bengals go into their bye week with a realistic chance of reaching the playoffs. Detroit and Miami made the playoffs last season after starting 2-3. They still have two games left with Pittsburgh and one with Baltimore, which won the season opener 20-0 at Paul Brown Stadium.
BILLS’ BALKY OFFENSE: Buffalo managed 221 yards, the fourth straight game failing to total 300. Tyrod Taylor was 20 of 37 for 166 yards with a touchdown, an interception and six sacks. LeSean McCoy had 63 yards on 19 carries, and the Bills managed 82 yards rushing for a 3.4-yard average. McCoy has yet to score a touchdown this season by either run or pass.
“It’s tough, you know?” McCoy said. “No one judges a game like myself, so I’m angry about it.”
TIME TO REST: Both teams have their bye coming up, and they could use it to get some of their many injured players healthy. It’s unclear how long the Bills will miss Clay because of the knee injury. The Bengals lost both starting cornerbacks in the first half — Dre Kirkpatrick hurt his right shoulder and Adam “Pacman” Jones hurt his lower back. Receiver Tyler Boyd hurt his right knee in the first quarter and didn’t return.
ANTHEM EXPRESSIONS: It was the first game at Paul Brown Stadium since President Trump tweeted that players should be fired if they protest during the anthem, prompting a pushback from players and some owners. A fan banner in the upper deck said: “Just Play Football.” A pro-Trump banner was displayed briefly criticizing players and owners, signed with #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. During the anthem, a fan held a cardboard sign that said “Cincy Stands For The Anthem.” Bills and Bengals players all stood.