The Bengals took A.J. Green at his word. They kept throwing his way, even after the ball repeatedly slipped through his wet hands. The elusive receiver found a way to make the difference, just as promised.
Green contributed to three turnovers that kept it close, but he also had a 77-yard touchdown and another long catch that set up the go-ahead score Sunday, rallying Cincinnati to a 20-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills in a steady rain.
"I understand the ups and downs," Green said. "You know me, I'm pretty level all the time. The drops hurt, but you just have to erase everything."
After losing their first three games, the Bengals (2-3) salvaged their season by getting the ball to their stars at decisive moments. Green's 47-yard catch set up a five-yard touchdown run by Joe Mixon that put Cincinnati ahead to stay in the fourth quarter.
Combined with Pittsburgh's 30-9 loss to Jacksonville on Sunday, the Bengals are a game out of first in the AFC North.
The Bills (3-2) got their season off to an encouraging start by relying heavily on kicker Steven Hauschka and a defence that led the league in stinginess, allowing only 13.5 points a game through the first four. The combination wasn't enough this time as Buffalo's depleted offence failed to take advantage of Cincinnati's three turnovers.
Tyrod Taylor's off-target pass was picked off near midfield with 2 minutes 14 seconds left, clinching it for Cincinnati. Taylor finished 20-of-37 for 166 yards with a touchdown pass to Brandon Tate. He also was sacked six times.
"It wasn't a great offensive performance and I take responsibility for that," Taylor said. "I take the blame. My job is to get the ball out quicker. Sometimes we weren't on the same page."
The Bengals changed offensive co-ordinators after failing to get a touchdown in their first two games. Green complained that they weren't getting the ball to their difference makers in the biggest moments. He caught seven passes for 189 yards Sunday, the third-highest total of his career.
Green ran past rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White and caught Andy Dalton's pass in stride for a 77-yard score on the Bengals' second possession. Green also had a hand in the Bengals' three turnovers that kept the Bills in it. Green had passes go off his hands and his chest for a pair of interceptions. He also fumbled after a catch.
The turnovers are so uncharacteristic that coach Marvin Lewis wondered if he was hurt.
"I asked him if he was okay," Lewis said. "He said yes. I said, 'Well, go win the game.'"
Dalton twisted his left ankle in the first half and finished the game with a limp, getting it heavily taped at halftime. He was 22-of-36 for a season-high 328 yards.
The Bills got little out of an offence down to four healthy receivers because of injuries, managing only 221 yards. They've been held to less than 300 yards in each of their past four games.
In his past two games, Dalton has completed 47 of 66 passes for 614 yards with five touchdowns. Since the Bengals changed co-ordinators, his passer rating is 116.2.