AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI — Only four full seasons into their careers, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green rank among the NFL’s top pass-and-catch duos, right up there with Marino-to-Clayton and some of the other greats.
The only asterisk: They have yet to put their imprint on a playoff game.
The Bengals’ duo could take a big step in that direction on Sunday when Cincinnati (10-2) hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) with a chance to clinch the AFC North title and another playoff opportunity. They’ve had some of their best times together against the Steelers.
Green was a first-round pick in 2011, and Dalton came to Cincinnati in the second round. They both started immediately and have accomplished some nearly unprecedented things in their first five seasons.
“When you think back to when Andy first got here, he had to play,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said.
“When you think back to when A.J. first got here, he had to play. They taught themselves how to play, to be honest with you. And now you’re reaping the benefits of that because they played way early.”
Both of them reached milestones during a 37-3 win in Cleveland last Sunday.
Dalton joined Peyton Manning as the only players to throw for 3,000 yards in each of their first five seasons — Manning did it his first 13 seasons before missing a year because of injury.
Green joined Randy Moss as the only players with 1,000 yards receiving in each of their first five seasons — Moss did it for his first six years.
They’re also trying to extend their standing as the top pass-and-catch duo for the start of an NFL career. They hooked up 324 times for 4,735 yards in their first four seasons, the top marks by any duo. Their 33 touchdown catches match the mark with Miami’s Dan Marino and Mark Clayton.
Green emerged as one of the NFL’s best receivers during his rookie season. Dalton has taken more time to join the elite quarterbacks. He leads the NFL in passer rating this week at 107.4, the second time this season that he’s been atop the list.
One of the biggest changes in Dalton this season is that he’s not trying to force the ball to his best receiver. Dalton threw 20 interceptions in 2013 and 17 last season, often because he tried to get the ball to a covered Green.
This season, he’s thrown only six interceptions along with 25 touchdown passes.
“I’ve been smarter with the ball, not necessarily cautious,” Dalton said. “I’m still taking chances when I know I can, but not doing anything stupid.
“I’ve played for a while now and so I understand and have been in a lot of situations that I can pull from and know when to do it and when not to.”
Notes: CB Adam “Pacman” Jones had his right foot in a cast on Wednesday. Jones missed one game and was bothered in two others by the injury. The Bengals have decided to give it time to heal. It’s unclear how long he’ll be out. “I don’t want him to damage his foot again,” coach Marvin Lewis said on Wednesday. … TE Tyler Eifert returned to practice on a limited basis after missing the game in Cleveland with a pinched nerve in his neck. Eifert moved smoothly during warmups at the start of practice. … CB Leon Hall (back) and S George Iloka (groin) also were held out of practice.