A.J. Green wasn’t telling the truth.
“I’m going to rally the guys around me,” the Cincinnati Bengals stellar wide receiver said as he sat at locker – still in full uniform while most of his teammates already had showered, put on their street clothes and headed for the door — following an embarrassing 20-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
“Nothing is going to change in my body language or the way I act, the way I practice,” Green said. “I’m just going to go about my business and bring the guys with me.”
He was trying to put a stoic face on the team’s first season-opening shutout loss in 38 years.
And back in 1979, that 10-0 failure to the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium turned into a six-game losing streak to start the season and a dismal 4-12 record for the season.
Sunday’s game looked like a page torn straight from the script of that forgettable season.
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The Ravens overpowered the Bengals offensive line which lost its two best players — left tackle Andrew Whitworth (now with the Los Angeles Rams) and guard Kevin Zeitler (Cleveland Browns) — in the offseason.
Cincinnati was hampered by several inopportune penalties. It struggled to convert on third down and it failed totally in the red zone.
Most glaring, though, was the game-long failure by Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton.
He threw four interceptions, was sacked five times, fumbled the ball away in the red zone and ended up – after completing 16 of 31 passes for 170 yards – with a quarterback rating of just 28.2.
After Dalton’s final interception — a ball thrown behind Green on the sideline that Ravens’ cornerback Jimmy Smith was able to jump in front of — the Bengals receiver did just what he said he wouldn’t do.
His body language changed.
Usually cool and consistent and seemingly unconquerable – a couple of days ago Ravens coach John Harbaugh again called him “the best receiver in the league,” — Green had a meltdown on the field and again on the sideline.
After Smith’s pick, Green dropped to a crouch and pounded the field in frustration. When he got to the Bengals sideline, he took off his helmet and angrily hurled it through the air.
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On this day he had seen enough bad breaks and ineptitude and finally he let his feelings boil over.
Except for some of the running you saw from elusive rookie tailback Joe Mixon and veteran Gio Bernard – who showed bursts of speed just 10 months after tearing his ACL and having surgery – the Bengals looked abysmal.
Most of the announced crowd of 55,524 left early. Many of those who stayed booed the team in the final minutes.
Afterward coach Marvin Lewis – never one for sharing his feelings – did pull the curtain back a little on his hurt:
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in such a disappointing football game (like) today.”
Dalton’s unexpected failure – his four interceptions were half the total he had all of last season — wasn’t the most troubling aspect in this one. You figure he’ll get better, but the offemsive line is a big question mark.
And it didn’t help that right guard Trey Hopkins was lost to an injury early in the game.
Then there was left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi’s impersonation of General Custer at Little Bighorn.
He spent much of his day trying to fend off Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is in his 15th season terrorizing opposing offenses.
Near the end of the first half, he deflected a Dalton pass that was intercepted by teammate Lardarius Webb and returned 15 yards to the Bengals’ 2-yard line. A play later Baltimore scored.
To start the third quarter, Suggs stripped Dalton of the ball on the Ravens’ 14. It was recovered by teammates Michael Pierce and Baltimore would eventually drive down the field and convert the turnover into a field goal.
Suggs ended the game with six tackles and two quarterback sacks. Much of the rest of the time he was closing in on Dalton, who often had to throw before he was set.
“I thought Terrell Suggs played great,” Harbaugh said afterward. “I think he was in the backfield pretty regularly. They had to hold him, had to grab him, had to tackle him. He was a huge factor in the game.”
Ogbuehi, who was victimized often, saw it differently:
“You can have 30 good plays, but then there’s two bad plays. There were two plays he got me.”
He was asked to clarify: “You think there were just two plays?”
“That’s all I saw,” he said.
Dalton likely saw things a little differently when he got home Sunday night. He said one of the first things he’d do was watch a tape of the game.
Before he left the stadium though, he had an idea what he’d see:
“I have to play better. I didn’t give us a chance to score the points we needed to win. It starts with me.”
But he seemed to think the short week ahead was a silver lining. The Bengals host Houston here Thursday night.
In just a few days he said the Bengals would have the opportunity to erase this blight:
“We have 15 more games. This one is not going to determine what happens this season. We can’t let it. If we get a win on Thursday night, we’re not talking about this anymore.”
Green felt the same way.
“The NFL is a roller coaster and you’ve got to ride it. There are highs and lows.
“Sixteen games is a long, long season. There are a lot of games. You can’t be perfect every (time.) One game doesn’t define us. It’s just week one and a lot of crazy things happen at the start of a season.”
And that helps explain why his most explosive moment Sunday came not with him roaring into the end zone after catching a pass, but after stomping to the sidelines where he hurled his helmet in anger.