The Bengals may be out of the playoff mix, but they didn’t simply hand the game over to a Texans team looking to clinch the AFC South.
But as hard as the Bengals fought, they handed away yet another game they had no business losing, the story of their season after a 43-yard missed field goal by Randy Bullock, who was signed by the Bengals just last week and was originally a Texans draft pick. Here’s a look at the winners and losers from this debilitating loss.
Fresh off of his berth in the 2017 Pro Bowl, Geno Atkins showed in Houston why he’s still the game’s best 4-3 defensive tackle. He was wreaking havoc early on and helped the Bengals rack up three sacks in the first quarter alone, one of which came from Atkins.
No matter how bad things have ever gotten in Atkins’ seven-year career, he’s never let up. That’s great to see from your defensive leader, and it’s a big reason why the Bengals played like everything was still on the line.
With Geno Atkins wrecking dudes, Houston’s offensive line was on skates for most of the first half. That allowed Wallace Gilberry to capitalize for 1.5 sacks in the first 10 minutes to go with a tackle for no gain.
It’s great to see Gilberry still has enough left in the tank to make a positive impact on this defense. He certainly looked better in this game than Margus Hunt or Will Clarke have looked at any point this year, even though they’ve had their moments.
Gilberry was just having a great game on this night after weeks on the bench with a calf injury.
With A.J. Green likely done for the year, now is the time for Cody Core to step up and make a name for himself. The Bengals certainly are giving him the chance to, highlighted by six targets in the first quarter in Houston.
With Andy Dalton under fire, most of those passes were off target, but Core did manage to snag four of them for 14 yards. He also had a big stiff-arm on A.J. Bouye that showed how physical the 6’3”, 205-pound receiver can be.
Just seeing Core this involved in the offense is a positive development for him, even if it was mostly short routes that the Texans were ready for all night. He finished the game with eight grabs on 14 targets for 39 yards.
While Core was getting the targets, LaFell got his usual workload and had a career night with it. His biggest play was an 87-yard touchdown catch on a quick slant in which he torched almost the entire Texans defense. He finished the game with a career-high 130 yards on just six catches.
The biggest early surprise in this game came when Darqueze Dennard started at the boundary corner opposite of Adam Jones. That’s where Dre Kirkpatrick has been starting all year, but the Bengals went with Dennard to start this one.
Dennard has struggled mightily in the slot this year, but he’s not really a slot corner. He was primarily a boundary corner in college, and that may be where he’s best served in the NFL.
He’s a press-man corner, something you don’t do much of in the slot, which is why he’s struggled in his role thus far, so maybe the Bengals final saw that and let him play on the boundary more.
While Kirkpatrick has played well, it’s not as though he’s playing at such a high level that Dennard shouldn’t get more snaps there.
This game was setting up to be an ugly one, and boy did it live up to that billing and then some. Over the first 10 possessions, far of them were three-and-out as neither offense looked capable of maintaining drives against air.
It’s always good seeing the Bengals defense play well, but part of that was due to Houston having an offense with Tom Savage at quarterback and no Lamar Miller.
CIN/HOU game is setting NFL offenses back 20yrs... no wait 30yrs... actually I don't know what offenses looked like in 50s, but maybe this!— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) December 25, 2016
Cincinnati’s offense was just as painful to watch with no ground game to speak of, Andy Dalton being pressured on every other play, and his passes sailing high way too often for this offense to convert third downs.
At least Brandon LaFell made things better in the fourth quarter with his big catch and run in what was an exciting fourth quarter...until it wasn’t.
Shocker: Cedric Ogbuehi is bad at left tackle, just as he is bad the right side. He’s just a mess right now, and there’s really no explaining why on Earth the coaches thought starting him on the blindside vs the NFL’s top-ranked defense was a good idea.
It went about as badly as you could imagine, and it’s clear Ogbuehi does not need to be in the team’s long-term plans at either tackle spot. He just hasn’t shown nearly enough to think he’ll be a viable starting tackle anytime soon, and the Bengals may need to spend another early-round draft pick on one.
Going off the above, Andy Dalton was setup to lose from the get-go in this one. I joked with Rebecca before the game we could just prewrite Dalton being a loser, and sadly, that’s exactly what played out.
Dalton was constantly under siege and rarely looked composed as he overshot receivers throughout the night when he wasn’t chucking them out of bounds. With no A.J. Green or Tyler Eifert, Dalton rarely got to throw to open receivers that weren’t right at the line of scrimmage.
Dalton didn’t have a bad game, but he wasn’t great either and got drilled into the turf far too often. After watching Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr break their legs in Week 16, it’s a minor miracle Dalton has made it this far without a major injury.
The good news is Dalton took the hits and kept on chucking it until the end while putting the Bengals in position to win the game...
Well, it’s safe to say Randy Bullock isn’t the answer at kicker. The veteran had his chance to win this job in the offense and earn another contract with Cincinnati, but he missed what amounts to an easy field goal in the NFL, a 43-yarder to win the game that sailed wide right.
That’s why the Texans cut him last year, and that’s why the Bengals probably don’t need to bring him back next year.
Missing a game winning field goal is like getting a pair of socks for Christmas. It just flat out stinks, man— Jon Gruden (@Faux_Gruden) December 25, 2016
Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate. Hopefully you didn’t watch this game.