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Houston Texans 28, Cincinnati Bengals 17: When the protagonist still has two options

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In every story there's a protagonist. And while on some quest, the protagonist hits a point in which everything falls apart. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo was finally consumed by the ring. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker lost his hand, learned that the galaxy's terror was his own father and Han Solo had just been frozen in carbonite. Apply your favorite story. The protagonist always loses hope at some point. Whatever could go wrong, goes wrong. Most of the time it's unexpectedly. Perhaps it was when they weren't focused on the bigger objective. Maybe that's what happened with the Bengals. Maybe they lost focus. Maybe the picture was bright with the grand prize that was deceptively within reach. "We got caught up in whether we were going to challenge or not challenge and a lot of other things that didn’t really matter, instead of just playing football," head coach Marvin Lewis said after the game. "Not focusing got us out of the game, particularly in the second half. We had guys running onto the field looking over their shoulder at me instead of playing football."

So maybe the Bengals lost focus. Were they looking forward? Were they thinking of what they accomplished, believing that they'd beat Houston no matter what? The Texans played a great game. The Bengals were soundly beaten. When Matt Schaub threw the football, he threw good passes to wide open receivers. When the Texans offensive line fired off the football, they were driving the front seven. Instead of playing like boulders, the Bengals defense stood like feathers, catching blockers, rushers and receivers. The offense? Please. They drove a little bit. Mother would be proud. But they were \ shut out in three of the four quarters. In the third quarter, the Bengals offense ran nine plays and averaged 2/3rds of a single yard per play. We had receivers dropping passes. We had tight ends dropping passes and fumbling the football. We have veteran leaders on the offensive line committing drive killing penalties.

How can you not say the Bengals loss was a matter of just losing focus?

Is that an excuse? No. Of course not. You lose, you lose. Find a reason for it other than not repeating your mistakes is a fools way of making an excuse. Holding. Tripping. Fumble. Fumble. Drops. Incomplete passes. Missing that one block. Whatever it was, the Bengals committed it. You're more than welcome to say the problem is play calling. But until I actually get past the point of saying the Bengals players aren't shooting themselves in their own foot, I can't go there yet. You could have the God of Football calling plays. He's only as good as his players. When they fumble, trip, hold, drop then exactly what could the God of Football do? Bob Bratkowski is hardly the God of Football. But he's dealing with the same smelly crap.

Another indirect consequence is that the Bengals nearly didn't sell out. And perhaps they technically didn't. It wasn't just the fans that bought the remaining tickets. It was Chad Ochocinco and Motorola. So what do the people think that paid the money they were hesitant to pay? Additionally, what about those that received a free ticket through the promotional efforts, think about the Bengals after this. Think if they didn't want to pay before would pay for tickets now?

In an effort to not underscore the Texans win, Houston does match up well against the Bengals. The only way to defend Andre Johnson is hoping he loses focus. Their receivers so wide open, that it was almost like they knew our coverages. Our zone coverages tends to back pedal so much that running backs like Steve Slaton records 100 yards receiving.

Should the Bengals have beaten the Texans? Do the Bengals look better than the Texans on paper? Does even bothering to answer those questions really matter?

Here's what we do know. The Bengals share first place now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have the Chicago Bears, the Baltimore Ravens and Steelers on tap. The season could very well be lost as it could be won in the next month.

Bengals defense put good defense description on lay-away. It didn't take long for the Houston Texans to fire out against the Bengals defense. On the first offensive play for the Texans, Matt Schaub looked to the right on a play-action wide receiver screen. Andre Johnson caught the football and completed a 59-yard pass play to the Bengals 29-yard line. Four plays later, the Houston Texans attempted to kick a field goal when Antwan Odom penetrated Houston's line and blocked the attempt. Dodged a bullet there. Right? Problem with guns is that there's more bullets.

On the Texans first two drives, Houston ran 17 plays for 145 yards total. Matt Schaub completed seven of his first 10 passes of the game for 119 yards passing, including a touchdown pass to Owen Daniels to finalize Houston's second drive that went 11 plays and 68 yards. The Texans passing game found several opportunities for big plays, wide open receivers and a tight end that killed the Bengals -- especially when the defense blitzed. Steve Slaton caught a bubble screen to the left on the Texans third drive of the game. Following several blocks, the running back ran 38 yards untouched into the endzone to give the Texans a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Through the first three drives, the Texans ran 24 plays for 220 yards total.

On third down, Michael Johnson, playing defensive tackle, penetrated the middle to knock down a pass intended for Andre Johnson with 4:51 left in the second quarter, forcing a three-and-out. On the ensuing possession, pressure forced Schaub to throw the football away with 2:30 left in the first half on third-and-two.

After the first three drives of the game, the Texans went three-and-out twice and Matt Schaub threw an interception. In the second half, the Texans scored a touchdown on their first three possessions, with three punts and a fumble during the rest of the half.

Houston Texans in the first half.
First Three Drives: 24 plays, 220 yards total and two touchdowns (and a blocked field goal)
Last Three Drives: 10 plays, 18 yards, two punts and an interception

When we learn that penalties are bad, mmmkay? The Bengals offense was cursed, plagued or whatever you want to call it, by a series of penalties on their first two drives which killed several big plays. More importantly, penalties killed drives in which the offense was moving the football. It was Andrew Whitworth's holding that stalled the Bengals first drive that negated a 15-yard bubble screen to Laveranues Coles as the Bengals threatened at mid-field to start the game. It was the Bobbie Williams (tripping) and J.P. Foschi (holding) that put the Bengals in second-and-21. The Bengals were unable to overcome the yardage deficit. Before the penalties, the Bengals offense was approaching or at mid-field. In both instances, the Bengals were forced to punt.

Thanks to Chad Ochocinco, Cedric Benson, and the absence of drive killing penalties, the Bengals offense completed a drive with a 10-yard touchdown by Cedric Benson. The offensive line buried the cutback lane and Benson, being patient, cutback behind the offensive line where a gapping tunnel led to daylight and a tie ball game.

What is it with the two-minute offenses? When there's less than two minutes left in a half, we can be certain of one thing. The Bengals offense will move the football. After an eight-yard and one-yard run by Benson, Carson Palmer picked up the first down on a quarterback sneak. With 1:35 left in the half, Chad Ochocinco runs down the left hash mark and Palmer throws a deep pass, hitting Chad in stride for a big 50-yard pass to the eight-yard line. After an incomplete pass to Chris Henry, Laveranues Coles runs down the back of the endzone to the right. Carson Palmer rolls out to the left, finds Coles redirecting to the left, tip toeing the back of the endzone, catching Carson Palmer's pass giving the Bengals a 14-14 tie with 0:48 left in the first half.

What is it with the two-minute defense? The Texans worked to pick up chunks of yards with less than a minute left in the half to record points at half time to take the lead. With :18 left in the half, Matt Schaub throws a tall pass to intended for Kevin Walter. The problem is, Walter is short and the pass fell into the stomach of Chris Crocker, who returned the football to the Houston 41-yard line. With nine seconds left in the half, Carson Palmer completed a nine-yard pass to Daniel Coats. With three seconds left in the first half, Shayne Graham connected on a 50-yard field goal to take 17-14 lead into half time.

Other than that, the offense simply didn't perform. The Bengals punted on four of their first five possessions in the first half. The Bengals offense did explode for ten points with 2:19 left in the first half. However, that was, as we say, all she wrote for the offense.

Quarter Plays Yards Result
1 7 30 Punt
1 4 39 Punt
2 8 64 Touchdown
2 3 3 Punt
2 3 4 Punt
2 6 69 Touchdown
2 2 9 Field Goal
3 3 14 Fumble
3 3 -3 Punt
3 3 -5 Punt
4 3 6 Punt
4 2 12 Fumble
4 7 54 Interception

When a clever defensive play turns into a embarrassing defensive play. Steve Slaton ran off the left edge with 14:19 left in the third quarter. Leon Hall wrapped Slaton, twisted him around so the running back fell on Hall. Of course, this was planned. Because the football was stripped and Hall recovered the fumble. Hall planned it this way, that tricky cornerback. However, Houston challenged the play and Slaton's right knee hit the ground before the football came out. Texans keep the football.

Later on the drive, with 11:31 left in the third quarter, Matt Schaub play-fakes right, rolls out left and finds Jacoby Jones wide open in the endzone. Chris Crocker, who was trailing the wide receiver by a good seven yards, became a suspect in the question, "who the hell's fault was that?" It appeared that Johnathan Joseph handed Jones over to Crocker and Crocker never bothered to follow Jones until he realized that Joseph was sitting in a zone. It was already over.

Coats' mistake scorecard.
Drops: 1
Fumble: 1

While the Bengals are driving in the second quarter, at Houston's 22-yard line with 12:27 left in the second quarter, Palmer tosses the football to Daniel Coats crossing the field. A sure-catch typically means an embarrassing miss for Coats. The football rattled in Coats' hands momentarily before falling incomplete. Early in the third quarter, Palmer finds Coats who picks up five yards on the pass. As he's falling down, the football comes lose and the Texans have the football at mid-field. Is Coats a liability at this point?

Thankfully, in both situations, Coats mistakes didn't cost the football team. After his dropped pass, the Bengals eventually scored on Cedric Benson's 10-yard touchdown run. After his fumble and a 13-yard pass to Kevin Walter, the Texans didn't pick up another first down and punted. However, it didn't worked out for the Bengals offensively on the ensuing drive. Conner Barwin sped-rush off the edge, beating Dennis Roland and sacking Carson Palmer for a nine-yard loss, forcing the Bengals to punt after going three-and-out.

A story about a screen pass that led to an 11-point deficit. Steve Slaton caught six passes for 102 yards receiving, most of them on screen passes. With 3:51 left in the third quarter, Matt Schaub throws over the middle to running back Steve Slaton on a called screen pass on third-and-nine. Slaton picked up 27 yards and a first down. After Chris Browns' four-yard run, Schaub completes a seven-yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels giving the Texans an 11-point lead, 28-17.

Laveranues Coles drops the pass and team's chances. With 13:34 left in the fourth quarter, down by eleven points, needing to put together a drive that, at the very least, lowers the deficit to within a possession, the Bengals lined up at the Cincinnati 25-yard line with four yards to go on third down. Palmer, for some misguided reason, throws to Laveranues Coles, on the right running a slant. Coles drops it. The Bengals punt and time is running out.

The Bengals six drives of the second half: Three three-and-outs, two fumbles and an interception.

When tired turns to anxiety to anger. With 13:18 left in the game, the Houston Texans started a drive that consumed nearly seven minutes off the clock. Tick, tock. I laid on the couch, started feeling sleepy. Should I take a nap? If the Texans score a touchdown on this drive, they take an 18-point lead. If the Bengals hold the Texans to a field goal, Cincinnati will still need to score two touchdowns and hold the Texans to a quick three-and-out. Either way, I'm not feeling it. I'm tired. I was up all night and I woke up early.

Tick, tock. Sleepy. Steve Slaton takes the hand off on second-and-18, has the football stripped by Robert Geathers and after the football bounces around for a bit, Brandon Johnson recovers. Bengals football. There's a chance. A touchdown, two point conversion and a field goal. Tie ball game. Not necessarily in that order. After a quick six-yard pass to Cedric Benson, J.P. Foschi catches a second-down pass, gets turned around and tackled. When the pile didn't break immediately, you knew there was trouble. Foschi fumbled the football and the Houston Texans recovered. Three emotions within a minute, and all that changed is that I'm laying on the couch again... pissed.

Whatever we think, all that matters is that must Bengals march on. What usually happens when we, you and I in our daily lives, are kicked to the ground, refuse to stand up and pout about it? Absolutely nothing. The Bengals were punched in the mouth Sunday. Now we'll now how "mature" the Bengals are. Will they rebound, fight twice as hard? Or will they bitch and moan about how they were beaten by a 2-3 team after beating the Packers, Steelers and Ravens? Now, we'll see what this team is made of. Now we'll see if this team can find their focus again.