The Cincinnati Bengals just got A.J. Green back last week, and now he’s done for the year.
In his return to action Sunday, Green re-aggravated the toe injury that sidelined him for three games, and the Bengals placed him on injured reserve Wednesday .
In a corresponding move, Cincinnati activated cornerback Davontae Harris from the reserve/injured list, where he began the season because of a knee injury until he was designated for return Nov. 14.
“That’s huge,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “Losing A.J. is a big deal, but at the end of the day, we have other good players out there, and the coaches are going to do a good job of getting those guys in position to make plays, and we have full confidence that whoever is out there playing receiver is going to make those plays. It’s definitely different (preparing without him). You have to draw some things up a little differently, move some people around, but we’re going to have to overcome and make some plays in his absence.”
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Green originally injured the toe making a catch against Tampa Bay to set up the game-winning field goal. During the bye week after that, he met with a foot specialist in Green Bay to determine whether he needed surgery and came back with the understanding he could return to play within a couple of weeks.
Two weeks turned into three, despite some hope with a “questionable” designation two days before the Cleveland game Nov. 25, but Green finally returned to practice last Wednesday and had no restrictions by Friday. In the second quarter against Denver on Sunday, he crumpled to the ground two steps into his route and couldn’t put pressure on his right foot.
Green was in tears going to the locker room on a cart.
“When you lose anybody, especially a guy like him who can take over a game, it makes it tough,” Driskel said. “I’m just hoping for the best for him and his health. Any time you lose an A.J. Green, it takes its toll on the football team.”
As much as he tried to adjust, losing Green mid-game made things a little more difficult on Driskel, who made his first NFL start last week after Andy Dalton went on injured reserve with a thumb injury suffered against Cleveland.
Now, Driskel is preparing a little differently without Green.
“We planned as if A.J. was back,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “We assumed not playing for a while, he might need a break during the game at times but we were going to call it like he was in there. When he wasn’t in there it was the next guy to go in and take his spot, which was pretty much what we did. We tried not to move too many pieces around after he left the game. It’s a big strategic piece to miss because he’s a great player as well emotionally I think the team was fired up for him to be back. We’ve gotten used to that.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said the injury is one Green should be able to make a full recovery from without lingering issues. The team will know more about his timeline for a return once he is done meeting with his specialist, but the hope is he can be ready for organized team activities (OTAs) in the spring.
It was unclear Wednesday afternoon whether Green needs surgery. Green was not in the locker room during the period it was open to the media Wednesday.
“It’s a matter of A.J. making a decision what’s the best course of action,” Lewis said.
“I think they feel very confident that with his injury, albeit the same injury he had a month ago, whatever they decide is the best course of action, he would be healed 100 percent,” he added.
The Bengals’ 2011 first-round draft pick finished his eighth NFL season with 694 yards and six touchdowns on 46 receptions. He has one more year left on his four-year, $60 million contract and said last week he remains committed to the organization.
During an interview last week, Green said when he and Dalton arrived together in Cincinnati, they were able to “turn a lot of things around,” and they still have the opportunity to do that with some “more pieces around” them in the future.
“My goal when I got drafted was to always stay in one place the whole time,” Green said last week. “No matter what the situation was. I want to win, I want to bring something to this city. I don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, A.J. left because he wasn’t winning.’ It’s not about football, that’s just who I am to stay loyal to whoever gave me an opportunity. It’s been fun. I wouldn’t rather be nowhere else. In tough times that’s why I’m here, try to lead these guys and get this thing back on the road and for the future. I have one more year on my contract and then we’ll see what happens.”