AJ to A.J. to AFC North title?

Posted at 10:36 PM, Dec 19, 2015

CINCINNATI (AP) — The AJ-to-A.J. connection already has one touchdown, but no keepsake.

AJ McCarron threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green during a 33-20 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, only to have the receiver punt the ball into the crowd in celebration. The second-year quarterback wished he could have kept the ball as a remembrance of his first NFL touchdown pass.

"We got to the sideline and I was like, 'Hey, you got that ball?'" McCarron said. "He said, I'm so sorry.' I asked what happened. He was like: 'I punted it.'"


The Bengals have tried to identify the fan that got the ball and work out a deal so that McCarron could have it. For now, the quarterback from Alabama will have to settle for trying to get a keepsake from his first NFL start.

No surprise if Green is somehow involved in that one, too.

Andy Dalton is out indefinitely with a broken right thumb, suffered during the first quarter against Pittsburgh. McCarron came on for his first significant playing time in the NFL and went 22 of 32 for 280 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

Eight of McCarron's passes went toward Green, who caught five of them for 115 yards. They hooked up on completions of 6, 66, 4, 18, 21 yards. McCarron's first throw was the 6-yard sideline completion to Green, his next throw an incompletion on a long sideline pass to Green.

McCarron's actual name is Raymond Anthony — AJ is a nickname. Green's name is Adriel Jeremiah. Together, they're simply AJ-to-A.J.

And they're trending.

"I think it's just him knowing where he needs to be and me knowing where he's going to be," McCarron said. "I don't see any problems. I feel like all year long, we've had good chemistry when I've been thrown in, whether it's in practice or in the games. I'm excited about the challenge."

McCarron has a couple of noteworthy things ahead when the Bengals (10-3) play at San Francisco (4-9) on Sunday. Cincinnati can clinch its second AFC North title in three years with a victory or a Pittsburgh loss to Denver. Even if they lose, the Bengals can secure a playoff berth if the Jets or Chiefs also lose.

And then there's the longstanding streak of no Alabama quarterback winning an NFL start. The last one to do it was Jeff Rutledge in 1987, according to STATS. Alabama quarterbacks are 0-13 combined in the NFL since then.

McCarron won two national championships at Alabama and isn't concerned about making his alma mater look good with a win. Leading the Bengals into the playoffs would be his memory from this one.

And it wouldn't hurt if his receivers held onto the ball after a touchdown so he could get a keepsake. Green's punt was partially McCarron's fault — he and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson had been urging the low-key receiver to celebrate a little more after scoring.

"Show a little excitement, do a little crazy dance, do something," McCarron said. "So I kind of told A.J. that, and then he punts the ball! I wish I had taken that back."

Notes: The Bengals promoted first-year QB Keith Wenning from Ball State off the practice squad to be the backup. ... TE Tyler Eifert and OL Jake Fisher weren't cleared from the concussion protocol and are out. S George Iloka (groin)  is out.