- Associated Press - Monday, November 10, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) - A.J. Green hasn’t made much of an impact since he returned from a toe injury, and the Bengals need that to change if they’re going to get their offense turned around.

Green was held to three harmless catches for 23 yards during a 23-3 loss to Cleveland last Thursday night. In his two games back, Green has only six catches for 67 yards and one touchdown. The injury has him on pace for his lowest totals in four seasons with Cincinnati.

The Bengals (5-3-1) have been extremely inconsistent with Green hobbled by an injured right big toe since the season opener. And now they enter the toughest stretch of their schedule with three consecutive road games, starting Sunday at New Orleans (4-5).

It’s the first time they’ve had to play three straight games on the road since 2003. They need to get Green back into form, and fast.

“I know it’s easy to point him out because he’s one of the quote-unquote stars of our football team,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. “But we’ve got to continue to grow back with him, getting him back in sync with us and give him the opportunities to make those plays.”

It’s been a struggle just keeping him on the field.

Green hurt the toe during a season-opening 23-16 victory in Baltimore, where he made a juggling, 77-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to pull it out. He had to leave the following game, a 24-10 win over Atlanta, in the opening series because the toe was bothering him so much.

Eventually, he sat out three in a row, including a 27-0 loss at Indianapolis. He returned and was on the field for a little more than half the plays during a 27-24 win over Jacksonville. He was in for most of the plays in the loss to Cleveland.

Cleveland’s Joe Haden shut down Green again - a common theme in their one-on-one meetings. Plus, Andy Dalton was off-target all night, throwing three interceptions and finishing with a passer rating of 2.0.

“We just didn’t get into a rhythm,” said Dalton, who has nine interceptions and only eight touchdown passes this season. “For me, I missed a couple of throws early and then we couldn’t get anything going.”

Green was a non-factor, as was everyone else on the offense.

“When I look at A.J., obviously it’s his second game back,” Jackson said. “He made a couple plays here and there, but not the noticeable plays that we all know and have come to expect him to make game-in and game-out. And it wasn’t just him.”

Green has only 23 catches for 381 yards with three touchdowns. The toe injury won’t fully heal during the season, so the Bengals are trying to be careful so he doesn’t aggravate it and have to miss several games again.

The offense hasn’t been the only problem. A defense that finished third in the NFL last season is near the bottom this year, getting shredded regularly. The Bengals have a lot of things to get fixed quickly if they want to stay in contention for a fourth straight playoff berth.

“You don’t know the pulse of everybody, but I think they’re irritated and disappointed,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said on Monday. “It’s what do you do with disappointment and what do you do with irritation? Do you quit? Do you put your hands up? Do you say I’ll chalk it up until next year?

“Or do you put your feet in the ground and say I believe in who I am and what we do and I’m going to play my best. That’s going to be the key. The truth is, we’re still only halfway (through the season),” he said. “There’s a lot of football left. If you win seven in a row, you might end up with the best record in the league. You never know.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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