CINCINNATI (AP) Nearly half of Andy Dalton's passes went to A.J. Green, even when the receiver was tightly covered. He caught nearly every one.
Felt like old times for the Bengals.
Green is playing at a Pro Bowl level again, one of the biggest reasons that the Bengals are holding onto first place in the tightly bunched AFC North. He had a career-high 12 catches during a 22-13 win at Houston on Sunday that was encouraging for a previously struggling offense.
The Bengals (7-3-1) again have a receiver who can change everything.
''It's been big,'' said Dalton, who was 24 of 35 for 233 yards with a touchdown and an interception. ''For him to have a performance like he did - at least that's what we expect from him. He's so talented we feel like he matches up with almost anybody.''
Cincinnati's most valuable player hurt his right big toe in a season-opening win at Baltimore, which featured his 77-yard touchdown catch in the closing minutes. He missed three games and most of another one because of the injury.
When he returned, he wasn't even close to the same receiver. He caught only six passes in his first two games back.
Challenged by coordinator Hue Jackson and receivers coach James Urban to ramp up his game, Green had six catches for 127 yards and a touchdown during a win at New Orleans. He followed that with his dozen catches for 121 yards at Houston, where Dalton threw his way 16 times.
The Texans (5-6) played off Green, trying to take away the long pass. He responded by repeatedly catching the ball in front of defenders.
''I just went out there and tried to win every play,'' Green said. ''Coach Urban has challenged me to be great every game, so that is what I am trying to do.''
The low point of Cincinnati's season was a 24-3 loss at home to Cleveland in a Thursday night game. Green was a nonfactor, catching only three passes for 23 yards. Dalton played one of his worst games, completing only 10 passes and finishing with a passer rating of 2.0.
It prompted the Bengals to rethink how they were doing things on offense. Since then, they've made an effort to run the ball more consistently and get the ball to Green whenever possible.
''We're starting to find a groove and I think that's very important,'' said running back Jeremy Hill, who carried 18 times for 87 yards and a touchdown. ''It's very important for us especially. We're finding our spots at the right time in the season. We're finally getting our groove back.''
The Bengals opened the season 3-0 and were the NFL's last unbeaten team before heading into a six-game stretch where they lost three and tied one. The offense was inconsistent during that span, getting pushed around in a loss at New England and blanked in Indianapolis.
With Green back in form, Dalton has played much better the past two games. The Bengals are trying to win their third in a row - all on the road - this Sunday when they play at Tampa Bay (2-9).
Coach Marvin Lewis credits Dalton for making good decisions, which includes throwing to Green whenever he's the open receiver.
''He's got to read coverage,'' Lewis said. ''He's got to deliver the football based on the progression and the coverage, which is not necessarily exploiting anybody. He's got to do his job based on the plan all the time.''
Notes: Lewis said RT Andre Smith hurt his left triceps on Sunday, not his biceps as the team originally reported. He declined to say how long he might be sidelined. Smith had missed the two previous games with a sprained left ankle. ... The Bengals finish a stretch of three consecutive games on the road, hoping for a franchise first. They've never gone undefeated in such a stretch. It's the ninth time in their history that they've played three in a row on the road. They played four straight on the road in 1969 (0-4) and five in a row in 1990 (2-3).
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