If it wasn’t for A.J. Green and Josh Norman, Londoners could’ve gone three whole NFL games without seeing an elite matchup. But the duel between one of the league’s top receivers and one of its top cornerbacks lived up to the hype, and fueled one of the more exciting and silly games of the year that ended in a 27-27 tie — the second NFL tie in as many weeks.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, and Los Angeles Rams didn’t give London fans the greatest action earlier in the year — or even halfway decent action — and for nearly three quarters, a Week 8 game between Washington and the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t exactly buck the trend.
In front of a non-partisan crowd, there was nothing eye-opening about the game until the fourth quarter. Then Wembley Stadium got two lead changes, a game-tying field goal with less than two minutes remaining, and the first-ever NFL overtime in London.
Dustin Hopkins had a chance to make a game-winning field goal, but missed. Andy Dalton had a chance to lead the Bengals on a game-winning drive, but fumbled. Kirk Cousins had a chance, too, but couldn’t get it done.
Washington entered 4-3, Cincinnati entered 3-4, and each actually got closer to .500. And ultimately that’s what it was, a pair of .500 football teams that both played like .500 football teams.
What wasn’t mediocre was the battle of Green and Norman. And when Washington dug its way out of a 20-10 hole with back-to-back touchdowns, the matchup was cast into the spotlight.
It was Green who came away victorious in the fourth quarter.
The 40-yard reception for Green down the left sideline set up a 1-yard rushing touchdown for Jeremy Hill that gave the Bengals a 27-24 lead with just under seven minutes remaining. It came despite obvious pass interference — which drew a flag against Norman but was declined.
Norman finished the day with three penalties on five flags thrown on him, and spent most of the day staying physical with Green. The Bengals receiver, who entered the week with 777 receiving yards and an NFL-leading 50 receptions, added nine receptions and 121 yards to his season totals.
But the value of Norman, who followed Green to both sides of the field Sunday, was especially apparent when he briefly exited the game with an apparent calf injury. Norman was replaced by Quinton Dunbar, whom Andy Dalton attacked with back-to-back throws to Green for receptions of 9 and 15 yards.
Realistically, Norman had a solid day against Green, who also added to his total from the slot on a few plays when he wasn’t lined up against Washington’s $75 million cornerback. Green was targeted 19 times by Dalton and caught less than half of those passes.
Norman got lucky that several of those passes from Dalton were poorly thrown, and Dalton was lucky that Norman dropped three interceptions.
The cornerback didn’t allow one of the NFL’s best receivers to take over the game like Green did in Cincinnati’s three wins against the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and Cleveland Browns. And that was good enough to keep the Bengals from getting the win.