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Cardinals’ WR A.J. Green reemerged from the shadows and may need to do it again vs. 49ers

Wouldn’t it be remarkable if in the Arizona Cardinals’ most critical game of the regular season to date, Monday night in Mexico City against the San Francisco 49ers, in a contest that could vault the team squarely back into serious playoff contention, a potential playmaker reemerged from the shadows and into the spotlight?

He’s ready, just so you know. He’s been ready, just to make it clear.

“I think people forget exactly how big the numbers were and the seven straight Pro Bowls to start his career,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said of veteran wide receiver A.J. Green.

Yeah, him. That guy. Remember him?

After only getting one offensive snap in two of the team’s three previous games and having been shuttered from Kingsbury’s game plan overall, the Invisible Man returned this past Sunday in Inglewood, California, against the Rams during a 27-17 victory.

A.J. Green #18 of the Arizona Cardinals scores a touchdown over David Long Jr. #22 of the Los Angeles Rams in the second quarter of the game at SoFi Stadium on November 13, 2022, in Inglewood, California.

Green, the 12-year pro who joined the Cardinals two years ago after 10 mostly illustrious seasons with the Bengals, only caught two passes against the Rams. But each of those receptions was huge. The first was a 4-yard catch on a mammoth fourth-down call that led to a field goal on Arizona’s first possession of the game.

The second was a brilliant snag on a jump ball in the back of the left end zone for a 6-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinals a comfortable 17-3 lead near the end of the first half.

“He’s the first guy to ever do that,” Kingsbury said, referring to Green’s seven Pro Bowl selections in his first seven years before the receiver suddenly went dormant a few weeks ago. “Yeah, it’s not easy. But he’s done a great job of really mentoring these young guys. He’s told us that’s what he wants to do.

“He’s told us, ‘Hey, it’s not always going to go your way, but you keep working hard, you keep doing the right things and good things will happen.’ ”

Fellow wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown returned to practice after missing four games with a fracture in his foot and has a chance to play Monday night. If he does, however, it figures to be in a somewhat limited capacity. Star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, meanwhile, popped up on the injury report on Thursday with a hamstring issue, which is something else to watch.

Mix in the fact that tight end Zach Ertz is now sidelined for the rest of the season due to a knee injury, and Green could be counted upon again in a big way if the Cardinals hope to keep their season alive.

A victory on “Monday Night Football” at Estadio Azteca Stadium could go a long way in helping Arizona stay in the race among a congested NFC West Division and a squirrely NFC Conference overall.

“I’ve been in this league a long time, I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” Green said. “Me, I’ve always tried to stay level. Whatever happens, happens. I know I put the work in each and every day, and I’m always satisfied with the outcome because I know the work I put into this game.”https://www.azcentral.com/tangfrag/sports/gaming/bet-best?prm-embedded&prm-teamid=1047&prm-gnteamid=23&prm-league=NFL#fhp-assetid=10723979002

A.J. Green #18 of the Arizona Cardinals catches a pass against Rock Ya-Sin #26 of the Las Vegas Raiders in the third quarter at Allegiant Stadium on Sept. 18, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

No one has ever questioned Green’s drive or work ethic. At 34, he still has shown plenty of juice and speed and athleticism in practice. He just simply fell off the target list on game days.

In the beginning, it was mostly because quarterback Kyler Murray was focusing a ton on Brown, who responded with 43 catches for 485 yards and three touchdowns until getting hurt in Week 6 at the Seahawks. In Week 7, Hopkins returned from a six-game suspension and has since posted three games with 10 or more receptions in four games for a total of 396 receiving yards.

In between, the Cardinals have relied heavily on Ertz (who had a team-high 47 receptions on a team-high 69 targets) and second-year man Rondale Moore (who ranks third with 41 catches and 56 targets). When Brown went down and the team traded for wideout Robbie Anderson from the Panthers in a move that has yet to pay any dividends, Green got lost in the mix.

It can happen, even for a former star player who’s had six 1,000-yard receiving seasons and came incredibly close twice more, including last year in his debut season with the Cardinals when he finished with 54 catches for 848 yards.

“It’s very difficult,” Green said after the Rams’ game about his lack of playing time. “I’ve been the guy for the last decade. It’s hard to come off the field. But I understand my role. I know what I can still do. I know I can still play at a high level. Sometimes you can’t control it. You just have to be ready.”

Related:Cardinals’ Antonio Hamilton delivered vs. Rams, may need to again

A.J. Green #18 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates with Cody Ford #72 of the Arizona Cardinals after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on November 13, 2022, in Inglewood, California.

Kingsbury has been impressed with Green’s professionalism. In light of the recent news involving running back Eno Benjamin, who was released on the spot last week after a reported confrontation with an assistant coach because of his lack of playing time against the Rams, Green has handled his situation with class.

“He has not blinked through anything, all the adversity, all the things going on,” Kingsbury said. “He just continues to work hard and do his job and treat people the right way. So, I am a huge A.J. fan and hopefully, we can get him more involved as the season goes on.”

Backup quarterback Colt McCoy, who got the start against the Rams and may start again on Monday, praised Green’s work ethic and said he has full trust in the veteran receiver.

“He’s never lost confidence in himself,” Kingsbury said of Green, adding, “For whatever reason, it hadn’t worked in his favor, but he’s one of the best receivers that has played in this league in a long time. He still has a lot of really good football in front of him, so it was good to see him get those plays in. Colt has a ton of confidence in him, knowing what to do, being where he should be, and he’s obviously a big target. He’s a matchup problem for those smaller corners.”

Source : AZCentral