Cincinnati's 20-19 loss to the Houston Texans in week 14 was a moment in the season that everything could have collapsed. No. Historically the Bengals should have collapsed, but instead Cincinnati won two of their final three games and with a little help in Kansas City and Miami, the Bengals clinched the sixth seed for the 2011 NFL playoffs. Yet Cincinnati's week 14 loss still weighs heavily.
Not just for the fact that Cincinnati had a comfortable-enough lead to slow down on offense, the Bengals defense was ruthless at the start of the fourth quarter. It was a win by all definitions that doesn't include the generic and baselessly frustrating "any given Sunday."
During Houston's first five plays in the fourth quarter, the Cincinnati Bengals forced two fumbles, registered a quarterback sack and Rey Maualuga (who forced one fumble), dropped Arian Foster for a one-yard loss with 14:27 remaining in the fourth.
In reflection Maualuga said after the game:
"It’s very frustrating. We led the whole game until the end of the fourth quarter. We had it in our favor and seemed as if we were doing everything well."
You have to believe the defensive letdown will enforce a Mike Zimmer response, reminding the team what happened with a strong-willed demand not to let it happen again.
While the defense does get the bulk of the blame for that loss, what was lost is that Cincinnati's defense actually played well.
During the nine possessions prior to Houston's field goal in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati's defense forced four turnovers, two punts, a missed field goal while allowing a touchdown and field goal.
Before Houston's final two possessions, Arian Foster and Ben Tate (who posted 2,166 yards rushing combined) rushed 21 carries for 95 yards rushing. Foster alone averaged 2.7 yards/rush. Through the first three quarters, T.J. Yates sported a quarterback rating of 67.8. Additionally the Bengals generated five quarterback sacks, seven tackles for loss, ten quarterback hits and another six quarterback pressures.
Before their collapse during the final two possessions where Houston scored 10 points on consecutive 13-play drives, Cincinnati's defense was doing their part in securing Cincinnati's win.
Cincinnati's defense is capable enough to shutdown opposing offenses, we've seen it before -- like before collapse in week 14. And if they do, Cincinnati's path towards Foxboro greatly increases.