CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have played side by side long enough to start feeling a little bit like the old men in the room.
Both came in together as rookies in 2011 and are now 30, old enough to get a coveted reserved parking spot at the Bengals facility. In the first two weeks of the season, they couldn't help but reminiscence a bit about past games and big plays they've made.
"To have a guy of his caliber for as long as we’ve been together -- it’s fun because we can talk about stuff that’s happened over the last eight years," Dalton said. "’Oh, hey, remember vs. this team, they played this look, or like that play I was saying last week (against the Colts) when he caught the touchdown, that diving catch, it reminded me a lot of that catch he had against St. Louis our rookie year. We’ve played in so many games together, we’ve worked together for so long, that we can talk through things quickly and easily."
Eight seasons in, and with two wins under their belt this year, their connection is perhaps stronger than it's ever been. And it just might be one of the most underrated connections in the NFL.
Dalton and Green rank fourth in active quarterback-pass catcher combinations with 56 touchdowns together, and second in quarterback-wide receiver combinations.
Green and Dalton moved up that list quickly on Thursday night after Green caught three passes for three touchdowns to give the Bengals a 21-0 lead in the second quarter against the Ravens. Green ultimately finished with five catches for 69 yards, and surprisingly had the first three-touchdown game of his career.
"I was looking at the stat line like ‘A.J. Green -- three catches, three touchdowns,’" said Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah. "I was like, what in the world? Are you serious? We’re just having fun out there. We’re brothers man, we’re grinding and going through camp and it’s 95 degrees, feels like 110. … It’s fun to see all that hard work come together and us moving like a well-oiled machine and scoring in multiple ways."
With stats like that, it's easy to see why there wasn't a single frown to be found around the Bengals' locker room on Thursday night following their 34-23 win against the Ravens. Dre Kirkpatrick ran through the room yelling "2-0!" while Green and Dalton held court with the media for several minutes.
It was a complete 180 from the simmering anger that permeated the locker room one year prior after the Bengals fell to 0-2 and scored only nine points in the process. Even the normally taciturn Green was publicly frustrated with the playcalling. It’s possible that his words after a Week 2 loss to the Texans in some part led to the firing of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese the next morning.
There was nary a harsh ward to be found on Thursday. The Bengals have scored 68 points through two games in 2018, the second most through that period in team history. And a large part of that is due to Green, though even he would admit he didn’t have his best start after fumbling against the Colts and nearly fumbling early against the Ravens.
But as soon as Green got into a rhythm, the Ravens couldn’t figure out how to stop him. Green had three touchdowns to his credit less than 17 minutes into Thursday’s game, despite the Ravens' best efforts.
"Any adjustments when covering A.J. Green? We doubled him some, we rotated coverage to him some -- we did all that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Yeah, we had double coverage on the touchdown pass with No. 55 right underneath him and No. 25 was right on his hip, I think it was. He made so many great plays. He’s a great player."
By the time the Ravens had a handle on the Green situation, they were playing catchup.
"We were clicking on all cylinders," Green said. "Nothing special, we were just in a groove."
Through two games, Green now has 11 catches for 161 yards and four touchdowns. It’s the most touchdowns he’s ever had to start a season.
"A.J., he brings a workload that a lot of people in the locker room ... at least me, I try to base myself and try to compete with A.J. on the things that he do, whether it’s big plays or helping my teammates out there," said Bengals running back Joe Mixon.
Dalton certainly believes their connection is firing on all cylinders right now, as it has been since he lobbed a 38-yard pass into the end zone in the third quarter against the Colts in Week 1. Dalton knew that Green would get there in time to make the play work, just like he knew he could keep going to him on Thursday and Green would find a way to make the play.
Now Dalton just hopes this connection keeps rolling.
"He’s got four (touchdowns) now through two games," Dalton said. "Let’s keep that going."