It's up to A.J. Green to spark Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals' spectacular rookie wide receiver A.J. Green (18) catches a 36-yard touchdown...

Cincinnati Bengals' spectacular rookie wide receiver A.J. Green (18) catches a 36-yard touchdown pass under pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu (43) and Ryan Clark (25) during a game earlier this month. (REUTERS)

Mike Rutsey, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:59 PM ET

Here it is already, another measuring stick type of game for the wannabe Cincinnati Bengals.

Three weeks back the Bengals were 6-2, had won five consecutive games and had the Pittsburgh Steelers at home.

It was time, the thinking went, for this Cincinnati team to take that next bold step and beat one of the big boys in their division.

They didn’t, dropping a 24-17 decision, a game in which they trailed 14-0, tied it at 17 and then after giving up the go-ahead touchdown, watched rookie quarterback Andy Dalton throw two fourth-quarter interceptions.

The next week they had a second, are-we-ready game, this one in Baltimore against the Ravens and they lost that one by a TD as well, 31-24.

Last week the Bengals staged a rally against the offensively challenged Cleveland Browns to win 23-20 to put them at 7-4 and against the Steelers again, this time on the road at Heinz Field.

You figure that one of these days this Bengals team will break through and on Sunday it may well be a big game from rookie wide receiver A.J. Green that provides the spark they are looking for.

In the first game against Pittsburgh, Green injured his right knee making a leaping TD grab between two Steelers defenders and didn’t play in the second half or the following game against Baltimore.

He came back to help the comeback against Cleveland and the hope for Cincinnati fans is that he will provide the big game-changing plays on Sunday.

Green already has proved that the Bengals found a sure thing by plucking him in the first round and fourth overall.

“He is the best first-round draft pick that I’ve ever been around,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said of Green. “He continues to amaze me every day.”

In the Bengals’ wins this season, Green has 29 catches for 556 yards and four touchdowns. In their losses, he has 15 receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns.

“Whenever my number’s called, I’m going to try and make the play,” Green said. “When that ball is in the air, I feel it’s mine.”

He has made enough plays to gain the confidence of Dalton. He can throw a jump ball and have the faith that Green will come down with it like he did in the end zone in the first meeting.

“You can take chances with him,” Dalton said. “If I put the ball around him, he will go and make a play on it. A.J. is a special player.”

He has shown enough to impress Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

“He plays big, particularly down the field,” Tomlin said. “He has great top-end speed, which also creates problems down the field. He has unique short area quickness for a guy of his stature. He has a lot of special talents that warrant special consideration.”

On Sunday, Green could be the difference.

TOUGH IN TEXAS

You have to wonder if the football gods just love messing with the Houston Texans.

After apparently giving the Texans the keys to the kingdom by having Texans-killer Peyton Manning out for the season, the football gods are now reeling in their playoff hopes by knocking out starting quarterback Matt Schaub two weeks ago and last week, kicking backup Matt Leinart to the sidelines for the rest of the season with a broken collarbone.

So now it’s up to rookie quarterback T.J Yates to lead the Texans to their first playoff game in the 10-year history of the franchise.

Last week against Jacksonville, Yates took over in the second half after Leinart went down and in nine series, produced just one first down. On the plus side, he completed 8 of 15 passes for 70 yards and did not commit a turnover.

The Texans boast a stiff defence and a tremendous running game but in the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan they couldn’t have picked a tougher opponent for Yates to make his first start against — this side of the Green Bay Packers anyway.

The Texans will be looking to keep it on the ground, grind it out and keep Ryan and company on the sidelines.

Their worst nightmare is for the Falcons to build a lead and force Yates to win the game through the air.

Due to their 8-3 record, the Texans can afford a stumble or two as they are two games up on the 6-5 Titans.

They don’t, however, want their season to come down to the final week of the regular season, a home match against the Titans.

 


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