HOUSTON — The Bengals closed the regular season with a 7-1 finish that featured their best players playing the best when they needed them most, but in Saturday's AFC Wild Card game at Reliant Stadium they couldn't summon the synergy that produced their third playoff appearance in four years.
Instead, head coach Marvin Lewis's playoff record dropped to 0-4 when the Texans took advantage of the worst offensive show in the 34-game era of quarterback
The Bengals were supposed to be rising and the Texans were supposed to be diving, but another stale offensive day quickly squashed that. The offense that scored just seven touchdowns in December wasn't any better in January. They didn't score a touchdown for the second time in three weeks and didn't have a third-down conversion without benefit of a penalty. In managing just 127 yards passing, the first-team offense finished the season scoring just one touchdown in the last 10 quarters.
Dalton finished 14-of-30 with a 44.7 passer rating and the ugliness was spread out. About 15 percent of the team's 48 snaps went for no yards or negative yards and two were screen passes, two were sacks and two were runs.
And Cincinnati's second-best in the NFL sack unit didn't register one.
But somehow the defense kept the Bengals in it and, amazingly, gave the offense a chance to win it with 2:57 left in the game and the Bengals looking at a third-and-11 from the Texans 36. Green beat cornerback Johnathan Joseph on a double move down the right side and he was open in the end zone, but it was overthrown. And wide receiver
Dalton didn't target Green in the entire first half and he didn't get it to him until 10:15 left in the third quarter. Their 45-yard connection seconds later—Green's first 40-yard-plus catch since Nov. 25—set up
But on the next series on a route over the middle, Dalton tried to hit Green quickly and Green looked like he didn't think it was coming. The ball sailed into the arms of Joseph and the Texans had the ball at the Cincinnati 26 with 3:06 left in the third quarter.
But the Bengals defense just didn't give up even though it had some adversity. It came up with another stand in a series it lost third cornerback
The Texans got their only touchdown with the aid of two penalties, a 15-yard interference penalty on rookie cornerback
The Bengals allowed 420 yards, the most since they gave up 431 against Denver in Week 8, but it was hardly all the defense's fault since it was on the field for 77 snapps while the offense had just 48.
The bad news for the Bengals after their worst offensive effort in the first half all season and maybe of any other was that Foster had more touches than the Bengals ran plays while Cincinnati had the ball for less than six minutes with Dalton completing just four of 10 passes for three yards.
But the good news was the defense held Houston to two red-zone field goals and another from 48 yards while scoring its fourth defensive touchdown in as many weeks and went into halftime down just 9-7.
With its offense invisible, the Bengals defense again came to the rescue. Cornerback
Still, the Bengals defense got worn down with a ridiculous time of possession against the Bengals: 23 minutes to seven minutes, thanks to an offense that didn't come close to getting the ball in the hands of its best player and couldn't block defensive tackle J.J. Watt in the screen game or on some pass rushes. Watt had one of his signature sacks in the half working against right guard
And when Dalton did get a ball off, tight end
Bengals running back
Naturally, the defense kept the Bengals in it. It came into the game preventing TDs on 12 of its previous 17 red-zone trips and did it again Saturday three out of four times.
Graham kicked a 27-yarder following a Bengals red-zone stand with 13:07 left in the first half to make it 6-0 when the secondary made Schaub check it down to force the field goal.
Then after Hall's touchdown, the Texans had a third-and-three from the Bengals 4, but Schaub didn't make a very good throw to Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson cutting to the sideline in the end zone and the incompletion forced Graham's 22-yard field goal to make it 9-7 with 2:23 left in the half.
But it was a costly drive that consumed 7:11 with the Texans grinding out two third-and-ones as Foster channeled last year's 153-yard effort in this game.
After Hall gave the Bengals the lead, they had a great chance to take control of the game on the next snap when safety
The Bengals did a decent job in the first half against the pass working without safety Chris Crocker, holding 112-catch receiver Andre Johnson to two catches for 30 yards and Schaub to 19-of-26 passing for 144 yards and a 70 passer rating. But a defense that allowed just 97 yards per game on the ground gave up 106 in the half.
The Texans got Graham's 48-yard field goal on the second drive of the game that started at the Texans 4 to take a 3-0 lead with 7:49 left in the first quarter.
But the Bengals got a big stop from defensive tackle
The Bengals could have had a first down on their second snap, but Gresham dropped one over the middle and when Dalton went back to him over the middle on third-and-eight, free safety Glover Quinn knocked it away. Then the next drive got blown up on Houston's one sack of the half when Watt came up the middle.
The Bengals and Texans defenses came out crisply with three-and-outs to start the game. Cincinnati limited Schaub to a two-yard gain on the first snap when the Bengals blanketed the receivers on play-action bootleg. The Bengals then swarmed a screen to Foster for a four-yard loss.
But the defense could only do so much in a half the Texans ran 47 plays to Cincinnati's 18.
PREGAME NOTES: Chris Crocker, the man who helped solidify the Cincinnati defense's run to the sixth ranking in the NFL rankings, didn't suit up for Saturday's AFC Wild Card game against the Texans at Reliant Stadium and the Bengals turned to 12-year veteran Nate Clements to make his sixth career start at safety.
Crocker, who was limping in last year's Wild Card game on a bad knee, suffered a bruised thigh last week in the first quarter of the win over the Ravens. Clements came into the season with 159 starts at cornerback before he was switched to safety early in the season. Then the Bengals brought in Crocker off the street in late September and Clements was relegated to a backup role with Leon Hall and
Also inactive for the Bengals on Saturday were cornerback
With the Texans putting inside linebacker Tim Dobbins on injured reserve, the Texans went to their fourth backer to give Barrett Ruud his second start of the season. Brian Cushing and Darryl Sharpton are already on injured reserve.