Though the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals came into this season with limited expectations, implementing a new offense orchestrated by a rookie offensive coordinator, quarterback and wide receiver, the team America believed would be the worst in the NFL, won nine games and claimed a berth in the playoffs on January 1, 2012. Suddenly expectations changed. Rather than praising the team for making the playoffs, a rematch against the Houston Texans where Cincinnati held a commanding nine-point lead in the fourth quarter, offered optimism that Cincinnati may win their first game in 21 years – or 7,671 days.
Despite giving up a first quarter touchdown, the Cincinnati Bengals defense held Houston’s offense to three punts during their first four possessions whereas the Bengals strung together three scoring opportunities, putting ten points on the board – Mike Nugent missed a 50-yarder midway through the first quarter.
Then everything went fell apart midway through the second quarter.
With 7:09 remaining in the first half, the Texans strung together a 59-yard drive on 13 plays, capped by a game-tying Neil Rackers field goal. After Cincinnati returned the ensuing kickoff and following a 15-yard scramble by Andy Dalton, defensive end J.J. Watt picked off Dalton’s pass at the line of scrimmage, returning it 29 yards for a touchdown to take a 17-10 lead. The first half eventually ended with Watt’s quarterback sack as the second quarter expired.
Though the Bengals were only down by seven, the Texans clearly commanded momentum heading into half time.
Along with an embarrassingly ineffective offense, coordinated by Jay Gruden who is favored to become Jacksonville’s next head coach, Cincinnati’s defense began wearing down. Highlighted by Chris Crocker’s circus act of missed tackles, failed interception attempts and bad coverage reads, or Adam Jones’ painfully busted coverage on Andre Johnson or Rey Maualuga often out of position and blocked to the ground, Houston’s second half offense reverted to their strength, the running game.
During their regular season finale against the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati’s defense allowed 221 yards rushing. Arian Foster and Ben Tate combined for 190 yards rushing on 33 carries and two touchdowns.
This is the third time during the Marvin Lewis era that the Bengals are one-and-done in the playoffs, losing first to Pittsburgh, then New York and now the Houston Texans.