A.J. Green and his Cincinnati Bengals suffered professional setbacks in 2016.
One year after being one drive away from their first postseason win since 1991, the Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Green didn’t even make it to the end of year after suffering a season-ending hamstring injury in Week 11.
But following an offseason of rehab and retooling, for Green and the Bengals, respectively, the wide receiver has his eyes back on the ultimate prize and is using his long-time rival as motivation.
“Look at the year Julio Jones had,” Green told Geoff Hobson of the team’s website. “He was coming off an 1,800-yard season and he had what last year? [1,409.] That’s because they put all the weapons around him.
“He still made the same plays he made when he had the 1,800 yards, but when they double-teamed him they had [Mohamed Sanu] and [Taylor] Gabriel. They’ve got to respect those guys. They went to the Super Bowl and Julio had [1,400] yards. It’s all about what you want. That’s the ultimate goal is to win the championship.”
Aside from being two of the top five receivers in the game today, Green and Jones are quite familiar with one another. The two came up through the recruiting trail together and both attended SEC powerhouses (Green to Georgia, Jones to Alabama). In the historic 2011 draft — 12 of the first 16 picks have been named to the Pro Bowl — Green and Jones went fourth and sixth, respectively.
So it’s hard to blame Green for looking over his shoulder, or rather straight ahead, at Jones as the Falcons receiver reached the Super Bowl while Green was rehabbing.
But what Green wishes to emulate about Jones’ 2016 campaign isn’t necessarily statistical in nature. The Bengals wideout would welcome a reduction in targets, as long as Cincinnati’s young toys (John Ross, Joe Mixon) are contributing toward another playoff run.
“That’s not who I am,” Green continued. “I know what I’m capable of doing. Never a doubt in my mind. Last year, I had opportunities and just took advantage of them. In 2015, I felt like I had a good season, but we had all the weapons. I didn’t have that many targets, but I still had good yardage.
“This year it’s just not me and Brandon [LaFell] and four young guys. Everything doesn’t have to be forced to me, which I like.”