The Cincinnati Bengals have spent all season disabusing their critics of the notion that they don't belong. For 57 minutes Sunday, they were well on their way to accomplishing that, holding a 19-13 lead against the AFC South leading Houston Texans. The Bengals then allowed the Texans to go 80 yards over the last 2:31 to steal a 20-19 victory before the second smallest crowd in Paul Brown Stadium history.
Both teams came out throwing to no avail on their first series. Houston went to their vaunted ground game on their second series and Ben Tate produced immediate results. His 44 yard dash took the ball down to the Bengals 33 yard line. There the drive stalled and former Bengal Neil Rackers hit from 46 yards out to give the Texans an early 3-0 lead.
The Bengals went to the ground themselves with Cedric Benson picking up 11 yards on two plays. Andy Dalton then made a fine back shoulder throw to Jerome Simpson to put the ball into Houston territory. On the next play, Cedric Benson burst through the right side for 42 yards down before being dragged down at the one yard line. A false start on Bobbie Williams, however, moved the ball back five yards and the Bengals had to settle for a Mike Nugent 22 yard field goal which tied the game at 3-3.
The next Texans drive resulted in one of the big turnovers Mike Zimmer has been hoping for. TJ Yates floated on high over the middle and Reggie Nelson picked it off at midfield and returned it to the Texans 25 yard line. The Texans defense never bent though. Bernard Scott was dropped for a loss on the first play and Andy Dalton could find no open receivers on second or third down. Mike Nugent connected again from 47 yards and the Bengals had the lead at 6-3.
The Bengals nearly got another turnover on the ensuing kickoff, forcing a fumble but the Texans recovered. TJ Yates found Owen Daniels over the middle to get the ball out of the shadow of their own goal post. Yates then hit Kevin Walter on a 19 yard play action pass to move the ball into Cincinnati territory as the first quarter drew to a close. Cincinnati has Houston in a third and 13 but a 10 yard screen to Arian Foster gained 19 yards to the Bengal 24. Kevin Walter then picked up another third down to Bengal 15. Ben Tate took the ball down to the two on a strong run. He was stoned on the next play by Rey Maualuga, forcing a fumble which the Bengals recovered and the drive was over.
Cedric Benson and Andrew Hawkins ran the ball out of the precarious field position then Andy Dalton found Jermaine Gresham for 26 yards to get the ball out to midfield. Benson powered the ball inside the Houston 40, but when G Bobbie Williams went down with a leg injury, the drive stalled. They eschewed the field goal and went on fourth and three from the Houston 35. Dalton found AJ Green on a crossing route for 11 yards and the Bengals were back in business. Cedric Benson carried for six more yards to take the ball into the red zone. On third and three from the Texans 17, Dalton fired a bullet to Jerome Simpson who took a shot from Danieal Manning but held on for the score. The drive took 15 plays and traveled 97 yards, eating up 7:45 of game clock to put the Bengals up 13-3.
TJ Yates made another good third down play at the two minute warning, finding Owen Daniels down the middle to get the ball out near midfield. They repeated that for another big third down gain two plays later taking the ball to the Cincinnati 35. Kelly Jennings came on a corner blitz and sacked Yates followed by Geno Atkins getting pressure up the middle and forcing a throw away. A screen to Arian Foster picked up seven and got the ball down to the 30 yard line for a Neil Rackers field goal attempt. Rackers pushed it right from 47 yards, leaving the Bengals the ball and 30 seconds and a timeout to work with.
Andrew Hawkins took a shovel pass 22 yards down to the Houston 41. Then Jermaine Gresham picked up 10 more yards to the 31. Mike Nugent's attempt from 49 yards was true and the Bengals would head into the locker room with a 16-3 lead.
Cincinnati's first half effort matched the game's importance. Though Houston had a 211-204 total yardage advantage, the two turnovers were crucial. One led to three Bengals points and another took at least three Houston points away. Cedric Benson's rushing was the key as he carried 13 times for 92 first half yards. Ben Tate and Owen Daniels accounted for 127 of the Texans' yardage.
The Texans got into the turnover column on the first play of the second half when former Cincinnati Bearcat Conner Barwin got Andy Dalton from the blind side to force a fumble. The Texans recovered deep in Cincinnati territory. Yates would hit Joel Dreesen from six yards out cutting the Bengals lead to 16-10.
After Dan Turk buried the Bengals with punt downed at the two, a pass interference penalty against former Bengal Johnathan Joseph got the ball out to the 42 yard line. AJ Green then beat Joseph in what has become his trademark, a leaping grab down to the Texans nine yard line covering 36 yards. Once again, however, the red zone proved to be a barrier. Mike Nugent connected for a fourth time, this time from 28 yards to put the Bengals back up by two scores 19-10
TJ Yates had his team back in Bengals territory as the third quarter drew to a close after doing his best Tim Tebow impersonation, picking up a first down to the Cincinnati 40 on a designed quarterback sweep. Houston had advanced to the Bengals 31 when Arian Foster slipped on a third down carry. Facing fourth and two, Gary Kubiak decided to forego a field goal attempt and went for it. Robert Geathers got pressure on Yates and stripped him. The ball bounced around and when it stopped rolling, Jonathan Fanene had the ball at the Houston 48.
The Bengals offense couldn't manage anything though. Jacoby Jones made a nice return of Kevin Huber's punt to keep Houston out of poor field position and the Texans had the ball back at their own 25. A wild play ensued after officials ruled a screen pass to Arian Foster a fumble. The Bengals couldn't fall on it and the Texans recovered on their own two. TJ Yates and Kevin Walter got them out of that negative position on the next play with a 20 yard completion. Two more third down completions put Houston it Bengals territory at the 43. Ben Tate took a sweep down to the Cincinnati 16 and Houston was in the red zone with just under seven minutes left. The Bengals held though and Houston was forced to bring out Neil Rackers who hit from 33 yards out to cut the lead to 19-13 with 5:35 left.
The Bengals were able to get the ball out near midfield and burn over three minutes off the clock. Bernard Scott got very close to picking up what could have been a game clinching first down. Guard Mike McGlynn was called for a false start on fourth down and the Bengals had to punt.
Houston took over on their own 19 with 2:33 on the clock and no timeouts remaining. Yates stood in against Bengals pressure and made several impressive throws to move the ball into Bengals territory. A 19 yard completion to Kevin Walter got the ball to the Bengals 35. After a Michael Johnson sack brought up a third and 15, TJ Yates scrambled to the Bengals 24 to keep the drive alive. Adam Jones was called for pass interference with 12 seconds left. That put the ball on the Bengals six yard line. Yates hit Kevin Walter with two seconds left to tie the game. Neil Rackers gave the Texans the victory with the extra point.
Cincinnati's game plan was to force TJ Yates to beat them. He did. Yates completed 26 of 44 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals shut down Arian Foster but couldn't control Ben Tate who rushed for 67 yards on eight carries. Their biggest problem was not getting the Texans off the field on third down. Houston converted nine of 16 third down tries.
Cincinnati's offense was shut down in the second half. Cedric Benson actually lost a yard on eight second half carries. All told, Cincinnati managed only 81 yards of offense in the second half and put up only one Mike Nugent field goal.
This loss could be deadly for Cincinnati. Not only does it knock them out of the lead for the wild card position, the way they lost will be hard to rebound from emotionally. The Bengals hit the road next week in St. Louis before returning home for Arizona and Baltimore. All three are must wins and the Bengals must get some help now with at least the New York Jets, but probably multiple teams.
This young team's resilience will be sorely tested now.
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