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CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green would prefer to leave 2017 behind.

The statistics of his season won’t ever quite tell the story: 16 starts, 75 receptions, 1,078 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. Many wide receivers might consider that a solid year, but Green thought it stunk.

“My stats were crummy,” he said. “I’m never one to put my personal stats up front, I just go out there and play.”

Green said he knows he can’t let the frustration overcome him as it did at times last year. For a man who prefers actions over words, he probably talked more last year than he ever wished.
A.J. Green had 75 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns last season but called his stats “crummy.” Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire
There was the time he told reporters the team was “playing like s—” after a Thursday night loss in Week 2. He clearly wasn’t the only one who thought so, as the tension simmering in the locker room that night after a 13-9 loss to the Texans was palpable. Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was fired the next morning.

Green also had to issue an embarrassed apology after he was ejected for fighting with Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey later in the season.

“There will be years like that,” Green said. “Just got to, don’t get as frustrated, stay true to who I am, and continue to play. … It was a frustrating year for me personally, just not playing the way I need to play, or whatever it was. I wasn’t focused last year like I was [in] previous years.”

Green is normally the most reliable player the Bengals have on offense, but for whatever reason, things weren’t clicking with him — or anyone else — last season. Passes he normally would have caught bounced off his fingers and into defenders’ arms. Deep passes from quarterback Andy Dalton just didn’t connect.

“The deep ball definitely is one of the things we need to focus on,” Green said. “We left a lot of plays out there. … It [was] a combination of everything. We just have to put everything together.”

Along with a new system from offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Green will also have a new wide receivers coach for the first time in his NFL career, something he thinks will give energy to the offense.

“I was blessed to have [James Urban] for my first seven years and really have no change to the offense,” Green said. “This is going to be a challenge. I’m ready for that.”

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Marco Estrada faded a bit before finishing another strong showing against the Texas Rangers.

The Toronto Blue Jays gave their right-hander plenty of wiggle room.

Russell Martin homered and hit a pair of RBI singles to back six solid innings from Estrada, and the Blue Jays beat the Rangers 8-5 on Friday night.

Martin’s drive to left field for an 8-0 lead in the sixth came right after Yangervis Solarte connected on a solo shot . It was the second homer of the season for both in a game delayed 36 minutes at the start by rain.

Estrada (1-0) took a two-hit shutout into the sixth before Shin-Soo Choo homered for the third straight game. After two singles and a walk with two outs, Estrada got Robinson Chirinos on a flyout on his 105th and final pitch.

“It just was kind of getting away from me late in the last inning, but I felt good overall,” Estrada said. “My legs still felt like they were under me. I wish I would have had a quicker inning, maybe give the guys another inning.”

Twice a dominant winner in Arlington when Toronto beat Texas in back-to-back AL Division Series in 2015-16, Estrada allowed five hits and a run with a walk and seven strikeouts.

“He had everything working,” manager John Gibbons said. “I’ve seen that so many times, but he was in complete control. They put a little pressure on him there, and he got the big out with the bases loaded.”

After the Toronto bullpen gave up four runs in the seventh, closer Roberto Osuna allowed two singles but got Choo to ground into a double play in a scoreless ninth for his third save.

Matt Moore (0-2) had his second straight rough start for the Rangers after leading the NL with 15 losses last season in San Francisco. The left-hander allowed five hits, four walks and six runs — five earned — in 3 1/3 innings.

Moore, who didn’t have a walk in his first Texas start, also hit Martin with a pitch.

“I felt like I had better control today, which is weird I know, just with my off-speed stuff in general,” Moore said. “The walks, those are going to wind up being the Achilles heel.”

Josh Donaldson drove in a run among two singles and scored twice, and Solarte walked his first three times up.

A day after becoming the Latin American leader in hits, Adrian Beltre had three more to break a tie with Rickey Henderson for 24th on the career list and is now at 3,058. He and Choo each doubled in a run in the seventh. Elvis Andrus added an RBI single, his third hit.


The Texas-Toronto rivalry had already cooled a bit with both teams missing the playoffs last year. And now Jose Bautista, who remains unsigned, is gone a little less than two years after a brawl that had its roots in his epic bat flip after the go-ahead homer in the 2015 playoffs.

The Rangers hit Bautista with a pitch in the last regular-season game between the teams in Arlington in 2016, the year after the bat flip. When he slid hard into second base on a force play, Rougned Odor punched him to start a wild bench-clearing melee.

“He wasn’t well-liked here, no doubt about that,” Gibbons said. “I know Jose will miss (the boos). I’m sure he’d rather be there and getting them. He’s always viewed as the bad guy anyway. I do think he liked that, or didn’t mind it anyway.”


The Rangers traded C Brett Nicholas to San Diego for a player to be named or cash. Nicholas, who had been at extended spring training with the Rangers, was assigned to the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in El Paso.

Blue Jays: RHP Marcus Stroman (0-0, 7.20 ERA) gave up seven runs in four innings in his first regular-season appearance at the home of the Rangers last season, an 11-4 loss. He also lost Game 2 of the AL Division Series in Arlington in 2015.

Rangers: LHP Mike Minor (0-1, 3.86) gave up three hits and two runs in 4 2/3 innings in his Texas debut and first major league start since 2014, an 8-2 loss to Houston. He was a starter in Atlanta before shoulder surgery sidelined him for two years. Minor returned as a reliever in Kansas City last season.

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Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff knows critics will dissect every part of his free-agency approach, particularly when no big names are added to the roster while other teams make big splashes.

But Dimitroff continued to emphasize how the Falcons have moved forward with their plan of concentrating on a Matt Ryan extension — first and foremost — and then figuring out how to plug other holes with lower-cost players. The quarterback’s extension remains in the works, and his $20.75 million cap figure for 2018 no doubt limited the Falcons’ aggressiveness at the start of free agency. However, Dimitroff indicated the Falcons had no intentions of going on a wild shopping spree from the outset.

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“We knew what we were getting into,” Dimitroff said. “And again, I want to stress that our focus was on signing back the players that we want to sign back. The fact that we were able to sign Devonta Freeman early. The fact that we were where we were with our corners and [Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant]. Those, in essence, were part of our free-agency plan.

“Going into this year … bringing back Matt Bryant was huge. He’s a clutch player and one of our most valuable players on our team. … We are focusing on the players that we know are pillar-type players on our football team. We’ll continue to do that, again, while we’re looking in free agency. But we’re not just going to spin off in free agency just to get some shiny new cat in here and all of sudden it’s not the fit all-around.”

Dimitroff is mindful of the future and has already talked about new deals for left tackle Jake Matthews, nose tackle Grady Jarrett and free safety Ricardo Allen to go along with the Ryan extension. The team plans to exercise the fifth-year option on pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. through 2019, but Beasley will also be in line for a lucrative extension. Not to mention Dimitroff mentioned the possibility of keeping the running back combo of Freeman and Tevin Coleman together, with Freeman signed through 2022 at $8.25 million per year and Coleman set to make $791,268 in the final year of his rookie deal.
Regarding the immediate future, skeptics would say the window for a return to the Super Bowl is slim and that the Falcons have done little this offseason to enhance their chances. But Dimitroff said the team will continue to search for lowest-cost players for need areas prior to the draft. They’ve found two thus far in guard Brandon Fusco, who signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract ($5.5 million guaranteed), and tight end Logan Paulsen, who signed a one-year, $1.005 million deal ($200,000 guaranteed). They brought in outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and cornerback/special-teamer Justin Bethel for visits this week but neither was signed immediately. The Falcons had just $5,633,482 in cap space before the Paulsen deal.

The Falcons indeed had a strong interest in trading for defensive lineman Michael Bennett but the hang-up apparently came from the Seahawks’ side. Bennett, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, would have filled the need for a pass-rusher capable of pressuring from the interior along with just all-around versatile defensive lineman.

McPhee could help fill a void on the defensive line but has health concerns (knee, shoulders).

“As far as other players we’re looking at right now in free agency, I want to make sure that we get guys in here that are all about competitive toughness and all about urgency and, of course, athleticism,” Dimitroff said. “We have a really zoomed focus on the type of player we want in here. … That said, we have a number of players that we’re trying to re-sign from our own team here, and that’s where our focus is going to be.”