CINCINNATI -- When receiver Marvin Jones set a Cincinnati Bengals franchise record with his four touchdown receptions against the New York Jets five Sundays ago, his name was expected to start coming up more often in the defensive meeting rooms of opposing teams.
After all, prior to that game, he had been a mere piece of the Bengals' offense. Few outside Paul Brown Stadium had reason to believe back then that any Bengals receiver not named A.J. Green could have an impressive single-game performance.
When it came to its receivers, Cincinnati had, for the past two seasons at least, appeared committed to getting the ball first and foremost into the hands of its top playmaker and 2011 first-round draft pick. Any catches by other receivers were just bonuses. That particular Sunday, though, the diversity and versatility of the Bengals' offense showed itself in earnest. Jones was quarterback Andy Dalton's leading target, playing a major role in a big midseason victory.
Since then, he has been comparatively forgotten.
"I did a good job of taking advantage of opportunities [before]," Jones said. "The last two games were what they were."
Following his breakout eight-catch, four-touchdown performance against the Jets four games ago, Jones has just six receptions and hasn't been in the end zone. Against Baltimore and Cleveland, he was held to just two catches for 11 yards despite being targeted seven times total. His performances in those contests are what have him looking to be a bigger piece of the offense again.
"I'm ready to start it off again," Jones said, adding that he's put his past two games well behind him.
Cincinnati travels to San Diego this weekend for a key AFC clash against the 5-6 Chargers. Last Sunday, the Chargers knocked off nine-win Kansas City, thanks to their own prolific passing attack. In this pseudo-homecoming, Jones, a Southern California native from the Los Angeles suburb Fontana, wants to make sure that he gets his hands on a pass early in order to keep catching others.
"I'm the type that wants to get into it early. Get the ball in my hands as early as possible," he said. "We have a lot of playmakers, so if it's their day, so be it. That's the beauty of our team and offense. If someone takes away a certain part, there's always someone that is going to produce. But it's good to get all of us in a rhythm early."
Two weeks ago, it was running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Jermaine Gresham who became the top passing options in the 41-20 win over the Browns. Windy and rainy conditions, along with a big halftime lead, forced the Bengals to mostly scrap their deep passing game. The combination meant Jones wasn't expecting a productive day.
Shorter passes and one gadget play were among the 14 completed passes the Bengals had. Bernard caught four for 41 yards and Gresham caught two for 27 yards and a touchdown. Bernard's biggest gain, a 25-yard snag along the Browns' sideline, came from receiver Mohamed Sanu, who had the ball as the result of a lateral from Dalton. The 93-yard passing performance Dalton had, combined with Sanu's 25 yards meant Cincinnati was held to less than 120 yards passing for the first time since Week 15 last season.
One week before the defense- and special-teams-inspired win over the Browns, Green was the receiving star in Cincinnati's 20-17 overtime loss at Baltimore. He had eight catches for 151 yards and a touchdown, marking the fifth straight game he had more than 100 yards receiving. Green followed up that performance with two catches for just 7 yards against Cleveland.
"I like the diversity. I like keeping people fresh," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said of his multi-playmaker system. "If you have a number of guys that can help you, then we should never have a guy say he's tired. So we can sub guys in and out and guys can be fresh and playing fast."
When it specifically comes to Jones, Gruden said nothing has changed about the receiver's play the past three games. Because of the multiplicity of the offense, the ball just hasn't been going his way.
"He's had great practices up to the games," Gruden said. "Just sometimes, in the course of the game, some people will get shut out, so to speak, not because of their lack of playing good. It's just maybe the ball's not getting there. We like where Marvin's at. He's a solid No. 2 for us right now; him and Mo both.
"We're happy with where Marv's progress is and we think he's going to have a huge last five games of the year."
Asked if teams are playing him a little differently since his emergence, Jones admitted that the coverage may be a little tighter and a little better overall, but those changes aren't very drastic. Gruden agreed.
"The good thing is if they have a marquee corner like [Cleveland's] Joe Haden, [Jones] is usually going to get the second one," Gruden said. "So he should have a matchup that we feel good about every week. We really feel like Marvin can go up against anybody and have a good day."
Maybe that day will be Sunday. If not, the Bengals are sure they can snap out of their recent offensive funk by turning to any one of their other playmakers.