Sometimes the end comes like a speeding road roller traveling at 120 mph, flattening everything in its path.
Is A.J. Green's career staring directly at this steamroller?
The star receiver struggled mightily in Thursday night's 35-30 loss to the Cleveland Browns. It wasn't for lack of effort from rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, who targeted Green a team-high 13 times.
Green caught three of those 13 targets for a measly 29 yards. Per NFL Research, he became one of three receivers with 13-plus targets and fewer than 30 receiving yards in the last 10 years --- Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne in Week 3, 2011 and Carolina's Rashad Greene in Week 1, 2015.
Burrow shouldered blame for some of those struggled connections.
"They started playing more two-high," Burrow said of the Browns, via The Athletic. "He was playing well at the beginning of the game. I missed some throws to A.J. again. I am just going to have to fix that. I can't keep missing throws to A.J. when he gets open like he does."
The rookie is being kind to the venerable veteran receiver.
The ugly truth is that Green wasn't open much. Burrow kept giving him chances, however. The receiver seemed to be fighting the ball at nearly every point. Green missed several catches he'd have made look routine in the past. He seems to be taking odd routes and getting too close to the sideline at certain times, and his timing with Burrow is clearly off.
Green averaged 2.2 yards per target, with a 23.1 catch percentage. His catch percent above expectation, per NextGen Stats, was -14.8 percent (in this case, we'd call it well below expectation). Burrow earned a 39.6 passer rating targeting Green, and threw into a tight window on 30.8 percent of targets to the wideout. Green averaged 1.6 yards of separation Thursday night. He earned 3-plus yards of separation (what NGS declares as "open" throws) 15.4 percent of the time. He was wide open (5-plus yards of separation) zero times in 42 routes.
The old A.J. Green would have had something like four touchdowns Thursday night -- the uncalled DPI late in the game notwithstanding. Instead, he was a highly targeted afterthought.
The 32-year-old couldn't find an inch of separation all game. Some credit goes to Denzel Ward and the Browns D for clamping down. Green was targeted seven times with Ward in coverage and only caught two balls for 14 yards, per ESPN. Blanketing an older man is usually reserved for retirement homes, not the gridiron.
Green simply looked old.
He looked like a player who missed all of 2019 due to an ankle injury. He looked like a player who played nine games total in two years. He looked like a player who needed the scrapped offseason and got dinged up during training camp.
To make matters worse, Green seemed like he'd break in half with every hit or implode like an old TV.
Is this the end for the wideout who opened his career with seven straight Pro Bowls and 1,000-plus yards in six of seven years? Is the star entering the end of the life cycle before a supernova scatters the end of his playing days?
Perhaps a eulogy is premature. Perhaps, despite getting extra rest the first two weeks, the rust simply needs more knocking off. Perhaps the consternation surrounding the former game-breaking WR will appear silly in six weeks.
Will the old A.J. Green return? Or is A.J. Green merely old?