Perfection is over.
Cincinnati lost their first game of the season, nine weeks into their schedule with a 10-6 loss to the Houston Texans during Monday Night Football. Many of the same characteristics that have summed up the Bengals during primetime games re-surfaced on Monday.
Houston faced third down from Cincinnati's 37-yard line with 14:56 remaining in the game. The Texans needed 13 yards to convert. Backup quarterback J.T. Yates, replacing the concussed Brian Hoyer, easily found tight end Ryan Griffin (with Carlos Dunlap covering, which is one of many baffling philosophies Cincinnati's coordinators employed on Monday) near the sidelines for 15 yards and a first down. On the ensuing play, Houston took a 10-6 lead with 14:27 remaining when Yates dropped a rainbow pass toward a nimble DeAndre Hopkins, who kept his feet inbounds for an impressive 22-yard score.
Cincinnati offered no response; they were in a coma throughout most of the second half. The Bengals went three and out during their ensuing possession, with a wide open miss to Tyler Eifert. Despite the defensive effort to hold Houston, Cincinnati's offense painfully struggled. During their first four possessions in the second half, the Bengals' offense generated 16 yards on 12 plays and recorded one first down. Despite Giovani Bernard adding 14 yards on a pair of rushes and a first down, Hue Jackson called three consecutive passes, picking up six on a screen, then watches as Eifert drops one and Dalton flips the football to a blanketed A.J. Green on third down.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati's defense continued doing their part with a second down quarterback sack by A.J. Hawk and a succeeding concession draw, where the offense had a significant third down situation and would rather play it safe (with a draw).
The self-destruction continued. Whereas the first half was saturated with pre-snap penalties, the second half was a constant stream of drops from Tyler Eifert (three of them) or quarterback sacks. Cincinnati had second down from their own 19-yard line with 3:49 remaining in the game when J.J. Watt bounced around the edge to dropped Dalton for a quarterback sack.
Facing a third-and-18, Dalton stood strong in the pocket and delivered a fastball to A.J. Green for a 22-yard pass and a first down.
This is BIG time by Dalton and Green. https://t.co/XISfcpsHiJ— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 17, 2015
Giovani Bernard added another 15 yards to the Texans' 48-yard line as the game entered the two minute warning.
Eventually the Bengals had fourth down from the Texans' 33-yard line with 50 seconds remaining in the game and one timeout. Andy Dalton took the shotgun snap and flipped a fastball to a wide open A.J. Green.
Then Green fumbled the football and Houston recovered.
Cincinnati opened the scoring with a Mike Nugent 42-yard field goal, concluding a 37-yard possession spirited with quick screens, short drops and misdirection formations. Houston responded with their own field goal when placekicker Nick Novak converted a 22-yard field goal, tying the game at three with 12:16 remaining in the second quarter. For Cincinnati, it started with promising performances from the secondary, from a well-timed deflection by Dre Kirkpatrick to Adam Jones' play during a receiver screen as the first quarter expired.
Yet, Houston charged.
Wide receiver Nate Washington gained 19, followed by C.J. Fiedorowicz's 25-yarder and Brian Hoyer's 15-yard scramble, reaching Cincinnati's six-yard line with 13:27 remaining. Following Blue's five-yard run, the Bengals' defense stiffened with a beautiful three-yard loss and a forced incomplete near the back left pylon.
Unfortunately, the team's overwhelming concern with J.J. Watt has clearly dictated... everything. Quick passes, screens, and a little anxiety led Andy Dalton to scramble on his first three plays during Cincinnati's ensuing possession, eventually reaching their own 30-yard line with 10:34 remaining in the first half.
Yet, some rhythm was gained during the possession with a handful of first downs, including a beautifully navigated Giovani Bernard 14-yard reception (that converted a third-and-10). Unfortunately, the Bengals hit the proverbial brick wall after a Tyler Eifert drop on third-and-three, forcing Nugent to convert a 39-yard field goal with 5:31 remaining in the second to give Cincinnati a 6-3 lead.