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What We Learned: Bengals vs Texans

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For the first time in their last six trips to Houston, the Bengals came away with a win. Not as satisfying as a win in 2011 or 2012 would have been, but a good win nonetheless. Here is what we learned.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The media (and many fans) buried the Bengals after the Cleveland game. Apparently the Bengals didn't listen.

Remember when the Bengals season ended on Thursday, Nov. 6? Apparently, no one told the Bengals. Since that dreadful game, the Bengals have bounced back with impressive back-to-back wins on the road against two teams that were "supposed" to beat them. Beating the Texans keeps Cincinnati in the driver seat for the division title and their hopes alive for a first-round playoff bye.

This game should not have even been close.

In fact, it should have been a blowout. The Bengals controlled the offense, defense and special teams, and if not for the pick-six by cornerback Jonathan Joseph, it's doubtful this game is as close as the score indicates.

A.J. Green had the type of game we have been waiting for all season.

I certainly have critiqued Green plenty in the past and Sunday showed why. On Sunday Green showed exactly how good he is and how much he can dominate when he wants to. What I really liked is the fire he was showing on the field. He had the attitude that every pass was his and he was attacking the ball. That is the AJ Green we ask for in big games. Green is too good and too physically gifted to disappear and be taken out of the game by any defender. When Green wants to dominate, he can. I just want to see it more.

Jeremy Hill is a stud.

87 more yards for the big rookie back, 4.8 YPA and another touchdown. Having Giovani Bernard back was nice, but Hill should still get the bulk of the carries. The guy is a bell cow running back, can run people over, can make people miss, can break big runs and can catch. And how about his wherewithal to stay in bounds and go down at the end of the game? It may have taken Dan Fouts awhile to catch on to the smart play, but it did not get by the eyes of the CJ staff. Hill is now on pace for 935 rushing yards, 1,179 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns. The Bengals are 5-1 when Hill carries the ball at least 10 times and 2-2-1 when he carries it less than 10 times.

It is nice having Giovani Bernard back.

His stats on Sunday were nothing impressive, but it is amazing how different the offense feels with Bernard in there. He creates matchup nightmares for the defense and provides a constant safety outlet for Dalton. Dalton just looks more confident when Bernard is on the field. I would still like to see a package where both Hill and Bernard are on the field at the same time.

The Bengals will get praised for a good win...but Dalton will receive none of the love.

Any win is a good win. Any win on the road is a very good win. Winning on the road, against a good team in a tough building is very tough to do...ask Drew Brees. Dalton just did it in back-to-back weeks and I already know he will receive zero credit. He will get blame for the pick six - which I would argue was Green's fault for waiting on the ball - but he won't get credit for his nearly 70% completion percentage (68.6%) nor his touchdown, nor his perfectly placed pass to Sanu that should have resulted in a second touchdown. In fact, while watching the game - a game where Dalton played well - I heard on multiple occasions from those around me that "Dalton sucks."

If you are one of the "Dalton Haters" that is reading this article, I ask you this? What else do you want from this guy? When is a win not good enough? Is a .638 winning percentage not acceptable to you (Dalton is now 37-21-1)? We know his franchise record 33 touchdowns and 4,293 in 2013 weren't good enough for you. Now he has cut down on his interceptions, and that is not good enough for you. When you stop by the water cooler tomorrow and inevitably tell someone that "yeah they won but Dalton still sucks," ask yourself: what is your solution? Which quarterback are you aware of that is available and better? Dalton is not Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Andrew Luck. He never will be. You will save yourself a lot of frustration by realizing that.

And while you are busy cursing me about how you won't support him until he wins a playoff game, I will ask you to name me a quarterback that has ever won a playoff game in the regular season? You have to get there to win. He is on pace to get there again...for the fourth straight year. And if you won't give him any credit when they win in the regular season, why should he get all the blame for losses in the postseason? If they win because of the team in the regular season - and in spite of Dalton - why are playoff losses not team losses? Now, on to what else we learned...

The Defense is totally different with Rey Maualuga and Brandon Thompson back.

I have long been critical of Maualuga and right now I am very happy to be eating the shovels of crow he is feeding me. Since the return of Maualuga and Thompson, this has been a completely different defense. They look much calmer and more organized with Maualuga on the field and the results are there to proof it. The Bengals gave up 170 yards on the ground to the Browns in week 10. Then Maualuga returned and in the two games since, the Bengals have given up 139 rushing yards...total. All of the sudden this defense looks like a top 10 unit again; Maualuga has to be given a lot of credit for that. Oh yeah, and he had a very nice interception on Sunday as well.

Emmanuel Lamur was laying the wood!

Lamur is not known for his physical play, but instead known for his pass coverage skills. Not so on Sunday. He was laying the wood! There were at least three tackles where I went "oh!" And each time I looked, it was number 59 doing the hitting.

The thought of Marshall Newhouse being the starting right tackle for the rest of the year concerns me.

From the sound of it, Andre Smith is out for the year, meaning Newhouse will be the starting right tackle. That is scary and could be an issue. However, despite getting manhandled by J.J. Watt on a few plays, I thought Newhouse, overall, played fairly well. After all, Watt finished the game with zero sacks and zero big plays, so Newhouse had to be doing something right.

Marvin Lewis has quietly had a good season when it comes to challenges.

We have all complained about Marvin's challenges over the years, but this year he is 4/5. That was a shocking stat to me. I don't know what the Bengals are doing differently, but I hope they keep it up.

The referees were terrible and the NFL needs to do something about it.

Clowney was offsides on Dalton's pick six. That gave the Texans seven points.

There was PI against A.J. Green on the Bengals' final drive that would have given the Bengals the ball at the Texans one yard line - and likely a touchdown rather than Mike Nugent's FG.

A blatant two handed push off by DeAndre Hopkins - right in front of the ref - was missed on the sidelines.

And lastly, the two flags they threw on the Bengals for unnecessary roughness were embarrassing for the league. Give the crew credit for talking them over and picking up the flags, but both plays were textbook clean hits, just what the NFL is looking for and yet the refs initially threw flags. It just goes to show how these refs are so trigger happy with the flags and are flagging any hard hit. Had they not picked those flags up, those calls could have drastically changed the game.