No matter how broad the view you apply regarding Cincinnati's season, the Bengals 31-10 loss to the Houston Texans hurt. It hurt veteran fans, who has gone 20 years without witnessing a playoff win. It hurt younger fans who, in many regards, have never seen a playoff win because they were either too young or weren't even born yet. It didn't all start bad but the game was a mitigated disaster in the end.
CINCINNATI'S TOUCHDOWN GIVES THE BENGALS AN EARLY LEAD. After both teams exchanged punts to start the game (along with a second punt by the Texans), Cincinnati took an early seven-point lead during a 74-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a 52-yard pass interference against safety Glover Quin. A 16-yard screen pass to Brian Leonard pushed the Bengals to Houston's one-yard line with 7:38 remaining in the first quarter.
Benson secured the handoff on Houston's goalline while Kyle Cook and Andrew Whitworth opened a massive lane for Benson to dive into the endzone. Now the idea of the Bengals winning a playoff game increases, witnessed by their relatively efficient offense that would make random appearances throughout the first half.
ARIAN FOSTER'S FIRST TOUCHDOWN RUN. After Cincinnati secured an early 7-0 lead, the Texans responded, putting together an 80-yard touchdown drive rather easily. Foster ran for 20 yards on second and six from Houston's 26-yard line, followed up with an Owen Daniels 21-yard reception that was compounded by Reggie Nelson's personal foul.
Eventually the Texans reached Cincinnati's eight-yard line with 5:04 remaining in the first quarter. Houston lined up in single-back formation, strong side to the left.
Perfect blocking by the Houston Texans established a wall that gave Foster a lane down the left sidelines. Tight end Joel Dreessen sealed Rey Maualuga inside, while Andre Johnson neutralized outside linebacker Manny Lawson.
It was too easy.
By the time any Bengals defender (namely Adam Jones) touched Foster down the left sidelines, the Texans running back was crossing the goalline, tying the game at seven.
THE PLAY THAT CHANGED THE GAME. Neither the Houston Texans nor the Cincinnati Bengals distanced themselves from each other in the first half. During Cincinnati's ensuing possession after Houston tied the game at 10, with a minute remaining in the second quarter, the Bengals reached their own 34-yard line.
Ryan Whalen and A.J. Green lined up wide right with Jerome Simpson and Jermaine Gresham left. Dalton takes the snap, drops three steps and targets Green's ten-yard hitch route on the right. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt took note of Dalton's drop, noticing his focus to his right. With the football intended for A.J. Green to the right, the flight path was designed to go over Watt, so the defensive back stepped back momentarily. After Dalton released the football, Watt jumped and clobbered the thrown football, maintaining control for the interception and giving the Texans a 17-10 lead late in the first half.
BENGALS (AND CROCKER) BECOME DEAD MEN WALKING. Houston reached midfield with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter, holding onto a seven-point lead over the Bengals. T.J. Yates takes the snap on second and six, fakes the handoff to Arian Foster on a stretch to the left. Yates rolls out to the right on a bootleg with absolutely no pressure tracking him down.
Owen Daniels, from the left tight end spot, crosses the field in view of Bengals safety Chris Crocker, who is tracking the tight end.
Just as Yates throws across his body, Crocker beats Daniels to the football. Rather than an interception that could have tied the game at 17, Crocker dropped the football for a harmless incomplete pass.
Houston's drive continues.
Two plays later the Texans are sitting on Cincinnati's 40-yard line with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter. Yates takes a five-step drop, looks down the middle of the field against Cincinnati's Cover One. Andre Johnson, lined up wide left, breaks out and then cuts upfield. Adam Jones reacted to Johnson's out route, but failed to realize the wide receiver cut upfield.
Once Johnson broke upfield, the amount of separation between Jones and safety Chris Crocker (playing centerfield in cover one), was far too vast to prevent the 40-yard touchdown reception.
The Texans extended their lead to 14 points with just over one minute remaining in the third quarter.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw two interceptions on Cincinnati's ensuing possessions, leading to a Texans ball control philosophy of running the football to milk the clock.
After two runs for a combined three yards, the Houston Texans setup from Cincinnati's 42-yard line with 5:26 remaining in the game. Houston's formation was similar to the one that scored their first touchdown of the game with the lone exception being that Kevin Walter was in the slot to the right.
Arian Foster gets the third and seven handoff, targeting the right edge. Cincinnati's defense was quickly sealed by a superior Texans blocking scheme. Chris Crocker was the lone Bengals defender unblocked and with a decent angle, he could make the stop while preventing the first down.
Crocker did make contact with Foster around Cincinnati's 21-yard line, needing a quick little shove out of bounds to stop Foster's sprint down the right sidelines.
Nope. What about using his body, or his backside, to push Foster out of bounds?
Not the first time. Another try?
Foster wanted no part of that. And now the "I screwed up so I'll dive out of the play" as Foster runs into the endzone, giving the Texans a 31-10 lead.
And save for a never-stop-fighting attitude from Cincinnati's offense that was negated by Houston's defense, the game was over.