The Cincinnati Bengals have had a tremendous dearth of good news lately. Not only had that lost or tied in four consecutive games, they also lost running back Giovani Bernard for the season with a torn ACL, and All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green has been sidelined with an injury as well. They even managed to lose to the Ravens in part due to a dubious holding strategy that the league intends to re-evaluate in the offseason.
But the tide began to turn on Sunday. They had their way with the Eagles for most of the afternoon, winning by a score of 32-14, which was the most they had scored all season, and the second-fewest points they had allowed to date on the season.
And after the game, there seemed to be some optimism about the state of Green. Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis held his press conference yesterday, and he was asked about the wide receiver and whether or not there was any chance of him being able to make a return in advance of Cincinnati’s next game, which will be against Cleveland on Sunday.
While his response was not exactly elaborate, Lewis did seem to leave the door open for him returning. “We’ll see how the week goes”, is what he said, but he added that Green has “done a good job with his rehab”, which might even be interpreted to suggest that he is ahead of schedule, based on the initial diagnosis.
A former fourth-overall draft pick in 2011, the drafting of Green had a direct correlation with the Bengals suddenly becoming a good team, and it would be easy to argue that he is their best player. Over the course of the first nine games, he caught 66 passes for 964 yards and four touchdowns.
But he went down with a hamstring tear on the first play of the game against the Bills two weeks ago, and had to be carted off the field. There were very real initial fears that the injury may end his season, and, in essence, the Bengals’ season as well, since it would be hard to imagine them making the playoffs without him.
But they did manage to win their second full game without him on Sunday over the Eagles, and it was the other wide receivers stepping up to save an ineffective running game. Jeremy Hill gained just 33 yards on 23 carries, but Brandon LaFell caught five passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.
Also contributing were rookies Tyler Boyd and Cody Core, the former with four receptions for 68 yards, and the latter adding 58 yards on two catches, one that went for 50 yards. They got contributions from other wide receivers even further down on the depth chart as well.
While it may be too late for the Bengals to actually fight back into playoff contention—even with games left against the Steelers and Ravens—they are still looking to finish out the season respectably. They would have to win out to avoid a losing season. if Green can return, that would greatly increase the chances of them being able to do that.