CINCINNATI — When the game’s on the line, Bengals and Steelers fans know where the ball’s most likely going.
Both teams have dynamic duos with years of experience making the game-turning, highlight-reel plays.
For the Bengals, it’s Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. For the Steelers, it’s Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. In their season openers, the duos were at their dynamic best.
Green had 12 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown during Cincinnati’s 23-22 win at the Jets. Brown had eight catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s 38-16 win at Washington.
They’ll share the stage on Sunday in Pittsburgh, where both defenses know what it’s all about: Stopping those two.
“First off, Ben and I both have really talented receivers,” said Dalton, who came into the NFL along with Green in 2011.
“And then it just comes with time. I’ve been with A.J. my whole career, he’s been with Antonio for seven years now. So it’s just part of the chemistry and building it.
“When you’ve got talented players, you get that chemistry. When you’re both trying to be good at what you do, you’re going to have big plays.”
Each does it their own way.
Brown has a sense of what Roethlisberger is going to do when the elusive quarterback escapes the rush. That’s when the two get creative and use an instinctiveness developed during many hours of practice.
“You put in a lot of time and a lot of hard work, a lot of film, a lot of communication,” Brown said. “We’re always looking to get better. We never dwell on what we did in the past.”
Brown has caught 375 passes in the past three seasons, an NFL record for a three-year span.
“He’s just got a motor,” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “You rarely see him tired. I’ve played him for five years, and I’ve never seen him bent over or nothing like that. That shows you what type of shape he’s in and what condition he has. I just feel like the guy is a great player, man.”
Brown was in the middle of the ugly ending to the teams’ playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium last season. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict hit him in the head after an incompletion, leaving Brown with a concussion.
The personal foul helped move the Steelers in range for a last-minute field goal and an 18-16 victory. Brown had to miss the Steelers’ next playoff game, a loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Denver.
He looked as good as ever in the opener.
“After the play breaks down, he breaks off on the other side of the field and Ben sees him,” Kirkpatrick said. “Now, that’s a 20-yard gain, where you had him stopped if it was a normal play.”
The Bengals’ duo gets it done a different way. Dalton gets rid of the ball quickly and looks to Green in the biggest moments, knowing that as long as he gets the ball near him he’s likely to come down with it.
“My nickname for A.J. Green is Inspector Gadget,” Brown said, referring to his ability to make acrobatic catches.
“He’s got those long arms, almost to his knees. There’s no catch he can’t make. He always can change the outcome of a game with his big-play ability.”
Dalton and Green form the most productive quarterback/receiver duo in NFL history for the first five seasons of a career. They had 395 completions for 5,789 yards, the most for any tandem in the first five seasons together. Their 40 touchdown connections are tied with Miami’s Dan Marino and Mark Clayton for the most to start a career.
“From day one, it starts with me and Andy,” Green said.
Notes: Steelers LB Ryan Shazier (knee) was limited in practice Thursday, but defensive coordinator Keith Butler was optimistic that Shazier will play. WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder) practiced for the second straight day and should make his season debut after sitting out the opener.
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