After realizing that the season is over, a combination of emotions surface.
First and foremost is that the Cincinnati Bengals were embarrassed Saturday night, suffering an early exit from the postseason on national television. This isn't a means to disregard Houston's success and game-planning, which burnt Cincinnati in nearly every phase of the game. Rather the missed tackles, failure to secure turnovers with turnovers on offense or the combined yard/rush average (1.9) between Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott.
Maybe it's the seven incomplete passes when targeting A.J. Green, Rey Maualuga noticeably looking out of place just before he's being knocked around by the offensive line or Chris Crocker dropping an interception, or late in deep coverage against Andre Johnson or the unsettling attempt tackling Arian Foster down the right sidelines on his 42-yard touchdown run.
Strongest emotions are always fueled by most recent events. Then many hours later, after a night of uninterrupted sleep, you reexamine.
Before the season started, the Cincinnati Bengals, often considered the worst team in the NFL with their own fans projecting a four or five win season, were believed to be in rebuilding mode. Instead they qualified for the playoffs. They beat the teams that they were supposed to beat while failing to upset better teams, not entirely uncommon
They broke records with a rookie quarterback and rookie wide receiver, led by a rookie offensive coordinator. They beat the Buffalo Bills for the first time since 1988, won a game in Jacksonville for the first time since 1995. They beat the Seahawks for the first time in Seattle since 1994 and before the season started, the Bengals had never beaten the Rams in St. Louis; they won 20-13 in week 15.
Eleven years had passed since Cincinnati's last win over the Arizona Cardinals and the last time Cincinnati beat the Indianapolis Colts was 1997. The Bengals beat both teams.
Cincinnati's loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday wasn't the end. No. Far from it. It's just the beginning.
"I think we have a bright future. I mean, we’ve got a lot of young talent here and a lot of guys that work really hard and want to be good so, that’s what you need to make a good team, we’ve just got to put it all together."
- Andy Dalton
"Andy and I were rookies just scratching the surface," Green said in a subdued but stubborn locker room. "We’ve got a lot of veteran guys that are going to show us the way, but next year we’re not rookies anymore.
- A.J. Green