CINCINNATI (AP) — Sitting in the end zone after his game-turning catch, A.J. Green raised the ball in celebration as Bengals teammates streamed toward him. They haven’t had many moments like this one — not in recent years, not in their 51-year history.
The moment captured the difference between this Bengals team and the past few: It’s developed a knack for the big play in the final minutes.
Green’s diving 13-yard touchdown catch with 7 seconds left gave Cincinnati a 37-36 victory Sunday in Atlanta and left the Bengals (3-1) tied with Baltimore atop the AFC North after a challenging opening month.
They played three of their first four on the road, and won two of them with a last-minute play. A fumble return for a touchdown got them a 34-23 win in Indianapolis , the type of play they’ve lacked the past two seasons as they missed out on the playoffs.
On Sunday in Atlanta, they had plenty of big plays under the most intense pressure.
Andy Dalton converted a third down and a pair of fourth-down plays during the winning drive, then finished it off with a perfect throw to a sliding Green in the corner of the end zone. It was only the second time in franchise history that Cincinnati got a winning touchdown pass with less than 10 seconds left.
“I think in the NFL, your great players have got to play great, and right now we’re getting that,” coach Marvin Lewis said Monday.
“Our other guys are growing up around them because they want to be ‘look at me, too.’ So I think we’re gaining some of that.”
Dalton and Green are reviving an offense that finished last in the league last season and was overhauled by coordinator Bill Lazor, putting more of an emphasis on throwing the ball downfield. Green had a career-high three touchdown catches during a 34-23 win over the Ravens in Cincinnati’s only home game.
Dalton was nearly perfect in the first half against the Falcons, going 14 of 16 for 211 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 158.3 — the best possible. He finished 29 of 41 for 337 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
On the last 12 plays of the winning drive, Dalton either scrambled or threw. Players found the 16-play drive significant, given how they’d been unable to do anything like it recently.
“Whether or not it is just a win, it felt different,” running back Giovani Bernard said.
The Bengals will have to replace tight end Tyler Eifert for their home game Sunday against Miami (3-1), which is coming off a 38-7 loss to New England . Eifert dislocated and broke his right ankle while being tackled early in the second half, his latest season-scuttling injury.
“It’s rough, especially over the years how he’s dealt with some things and people try to say he’s not tough and stuff, but it’s real things that are happening to him,” tight end Tyler Kroft said Monday. “It’s not little things keeping him out. That’s what’s a shame.”
Eifert stayed in Cincinnati with an incentive-laden one-year deal, extending a career that’s been sidetracked by major back, shoulder, elbow and ankle injuries. He’s played six games the past two seasons.
“When you lose a great player, a lot is going to change, so we have to figure that out,” Lazor said.
BURFICT BACK: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict can return this week from his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancers. When he returned from injury or suspensions the past three seasons, he played a significant amount in his first game back.
Lewis indicated there’s a chance that running back Joe Mixon, who missed the past two games following knee surgery, could return to practice this week. Mixon had a piece of torn cartilage removed from his right knee.
SECOND TIME: Dalton’s winning touchdown pass was only the second in Bengals history with less than 10 seconds left in a game. The other came from Akili Smith, who threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Carl Pickens in Cleveland for an 18-17 win in 1999. It was Cincinnati’s only win in the first 11 games that season.
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