As soon as the dressing room door opened, Dave Lapham, the old Cincinnati Bengals lineman turned radio color commentator for the team, headed straight for A.J. Green, who was sitting at his locker, and quoted some Charles Dickens:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Now I’m not sure if the Bengals All Pro receiver was familiar with the famous opening to “A Tale of Two Cities,” but he had the perfect come back when describing his day:
“This was a first, I hope it’s a last.”
The Bengals edged the Buffalo Bills 20-16 on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium thanks – and no thanks – to Green.
He accounted for two of the most spectacular plays in the game and also three of the most disastrous.
Just three minutes, 31 seconds into the rain-drenched contest, Green roared past Bills rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White and gathered in an Andy Dalton pass that he turned into an electrifying 77-yard touchdown reception.
But then came a pair of passes that went off his fingertips – both leading to interceptions, one of which the Bills quickly converted to TD – and those miscues were followed by a fumble after he’d made a catch and was flattened by a jarring hit.
The Bills managed to get a field goal out of that turnover and took the lead 13-10 with 1:54 left in the third quarter.
It was around then that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis walked past Green on the sidelines.
“I asked him, ‘You okay?’ and he said, “I am coach,’” Lewis recalled. “And I said, ‘Then go win the game.’”
And that’s just what Green did.
On the last play of the third quarter, the Bengals were facing a third-and 10 from their own 48 and this time Dalton made a perfect throw toward the sidelines that Green picked away from White and turned into a 49-yard reception.
He tumbled out of bounds three yards from the end zone, but on the very next play, running back Joe Mixon scored what would be the winning touchdown.
Afterward, Green admitted he’d never had a day quite like this in his football career. He ended the game with seven catches for 189 yards and three very uncharacteristic turnovers.
“Look, I’m pretty even-keeled. I’m the same guy every game,” he said. “I don’t get too high and I don’t get too low. I don’t ever worry about the next play. I trust the process. I know how good I am.
“The great ones always come back and that’s what I want to be. If you want to be mentioned among the greats, you gotta make the plays when they count.”
In the press scrum that followed the game,one wave of reporters after another quizzed him on how he could stay focused when the miscues piled up.
He said time and again that that’s the way he’s always been.
After everyone had left, though, he admitted his mindset went back to his very first time in the spotlight.
When he was a second grader at Beech Hill Elementary School in Summerville, S.C., he showed an extraordinary talent for juggling.
He’d started with scarves and tennis balls and soon was performing with anything he could lay his hands on – oranges, apples, even ink pens.
He soon was on the school juggling team which was filled with older kids and there were times early on when the nerves got to him and he dropped some items. The coach back then, Anne O’Sullivan, gave him advice that paraphrased again Sunday.
“Sure I dropped plenty of stuff back then,” he said. “But I learned you can’t go in the tank when something doesn’t go your way. Every day is not going to be a great day. You hang in there. You focus and remember how good you are.”
And that’s what he drew on against the Bills.
He hung in there and he made no excuses.
“Those three turnovers were all on me,” he said. “My job is to catch the ball and I didn’t. And the fumble was a good play by their guy. I didn’t even see him coming. I was ready to make a break and I got blasted. He hit my shoulder and I lost the ball.”
But when Lewis urged him to step up he said he didn’t hesitate:
“All I thought was, ‘Let me get back on that field so I can do my stuff.’ I had no question I was going to make a play to help us win the game.”
The victory lifted the Bengals to 2-3 rather than them going into the bye week 1-4. He was asked just what that meant to the team.
“For one, Coach challenged us. If we won, we’d have Wednesday off,” Green grinned. “So I’m pretty sure everyone was motivated by that.”
And, to him, that was “the best of times.”