Green, a five-time Pro Bowl receiver and the best playmaker the Bengals have, is potentially done for the season with a hamstring injury, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. He’ll have an MRI to determine the severity of the injury, but with only six games remaining, any prolonged absence could end his season.
The Bengals have also reportedly lost running back Giovani Bernard for the season to a torn ACL. Bernard was in the game until the final moments and caught four passes in the final two minutes. When he got hurt is unclear.
Bernard is the Bengals’ change-of-pace back and can catch balls out of the backfield in addition to being used as a traditional rusher. He had 91 carries for 337 yards and two rushing touchdowns this year and 39 catches for 336 yards and a receiving touchdown. He was also second on the team in receptions.
So with the Bengals top two receiving targets down for the count, where do they go from here?
The loss of Green can’t be overstated. The Bengals badly underachieved with him in the lineup this season. A team that entered the season with expectations of making the postseason and finally winning a playoff game is now looking at missing the playoffs entirely.
Green has been the brightest spot on that underachieving offense. In the four games the Bengals did not lose (they tied with the Redskins), Green had 39 catches for 643 yards and three touchdowns. In losses, he had 27 catches for 321 yards and one touchdown.
The Bengals might try to point to a silver lining by noting that they scored two touchdowns after Green left the game. But their success was short-lived as the Bills' defense quickly adjusted to the new look.
The Bengals threw to rookie wideout Tyler Boyd five times for 46 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but Boyd disappeared in the second half. He caught only one pass for eight yards in the final two quarters.
What does a Bengals offense without Green look like? Andy Dalton was 0-of-2 in the third quarter and did not complete back-to-back passes in the second half until there was only 2:30 remaining in the game. The Bengals did not score in the second half, and their Hail Mary pass was essentially a losing effort before it even started without a receiver like Green to win the jump ball against the defense.
“At one point, we had one first down in the second half,” guard Clint Boling said. “That’s just not good enough.”
Of the six games left on the schedule, three opponents (the Ravens, Texans and Eagles) are top-10 passing defenses. The Bengals will either have to get Green-like production out of Boyd or veteran Brandon LaFell, or they’ll have to rely heavily on their run game, which rushed for only 93 yards against the Bills. The Ravens have the best rushing defense in the league.
The Bengals simply don’t have the playmakers to be competitive on offense without a receiver who can produce like Green. They aren’t a team that spreads the ball around much. Only five players have caught a touchdown pass this season. At the same point in the season the Falcons have thrown touchdown passes to 11 different receivers.
Outside of Green, only LaFell has more than one receiving touchdown, and he has had only seven catches for 47 yards and no touchdowns since Tyler Eifert returned to full strength. The Bengals have needed someone other than Green to step up on offense all season. No one has risen to the challenge.
“You never want to lose a guy like that,” Dalton said. “He’s the best receiver in the league, so when you lose him, it hurts you. The next guy has to step up and get the job done.”