Bengals' Dalton-to-Green already a big connection
When the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Green in the first round and Dalton in the second last April, they had already hit it off.
''Once training camp started, the way we were able to connect, and bond on the field started to increase,'' Dalton said. ''It was early on.''
In only a few months, they've become one of the NFL's most dangerous pass-and-catch pairings.
Green's 51-yard catch-and-run off a trusting throw from Dalton set up Cincinnati's 23-20 win over Cleveland on Sunday that kept the Bengals (7-4) in the playoff hunt. It also threw another chill into opposing defensive backs, who aren't going to relish facing this duo for years to come.
''They're well beyond their years as far as athletically and their knowledge of football,'' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. ''They're going to get better, but we totally expect them to be at the top of their game, the top of the NFL game right now, and they are now.''
They're just getting started.
Dalton, the 35th overall pick out of TCU, and Green, the fourth pick from Georgia, already are one of the best rookie duos in recent decades.
They've combined for five touchdown passes, the fourth-highest total for a rookie quarterback and receiver since 1950, according to STATS LLC. New England's Jim Plunkett and Randy Vataha had nine in 1971; Cleveland's Tim Couch and Kevin Johnson had eight in 1999; St. Louis' Tony Banks and Eddie Kennison had seven in 1996.
The Bengals duo has accounted for 43 completions, fourth-most since 1991, according to STATS. Couch and Johnson had 57 in 1999, when the Browns returned as an expansion team.
Dalton and Green have accounted for 704 yards together, the third-highest total since 1991. Couch and Johnson had 859 yards.
They have five games left to climb in those categories, using their big-play abilities to pull out games and keep the Bengals one of the NFL's biggest surprises.
''You put somebody one-on-one with A.J., and you (just) throw the ball down the field,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ''You can talk about Xs and Os all you want, but that X is pretty special.''
They started showing it early on.
During the Bengals' second practice of training camp, Dalton severely underthrew a long pass down the right sideline. Green was able to stop, come back toward the ball and jump over safety Chris Crocker's shoulder to make a sensational catch that showed Dalton something.
''I remember we had a double move on, and I underthrew it a little bit and he jumped over a couple guys and made the catch,'' Dalton said.
Dalton never again hesitated just to throw it Green's way. During a game against Pittsburgh on Nov. 13, Dalton eluded the rush and saw Green heading into the end zone with both Steelers safeties around him. He let it fly, and Green jumped above Troy Polamalu for a 36-yard touchdown.
Green hyperextended his right knee when he landed on the play, forcing him to the sideline for most of the 24-17 loss and a 31-24 loss in Baltimore the following week. He was back to making the game-changing play against Cleveland.
''I've always thought he's special,'' Whitworth said. ''You've got a guy that anytime you get one more shot, he's got a shot to go up and get it. Any play can be the next `best' play. That's just how he is.''
His play against the Browns set up the winning field goal and prompted coach Marvin Lewis to gush, something he rarely does.
''He's the best first-round draft pick I've ever been around,'' said Lewis, who was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore when linebacker Ray Lewis was a first-round pick in 199. ''He continues to amaze me.''
Green expects the ball his way even when he's covered.
''It's like a dream when I'm 1-on-1,'' said Green, who leads NFL rookies in yards receiving and touchdowns. ''I'm thinking that anywhere he throws the ball gives me a chance to make the catch.''
Dalton has been nearly as impressive in his own way. The NFL's lockout prevented him from learning a new offense over the summer. He had only two weeks to get ready for the first preseason game once training camp opened.
Dalton already has set a Bengals rookie record with 16 touchdown passes overall. Peyton Manning holds the season record for a rookie with 26 in 1998.
Dalton, too, is doing things rarely accomplished by a rookie.
''He keeps doing it,'' Whitworth said. ''I've said since we showed up in July that I thought there was something special about him.''
Their biggest test comes Sunday in Pittsburgh (8-3), where the Bengals need a win to stay in the AFC North race. It's likely to come down to the two rookies.
''Usually, it's so rare to see rookies come in and do so well,'' Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. ''And then to see the two of them do it like that, that's an awesome chemistry.''