TDBH: Watt a pluck ends dream rookie season for Green-Dalton Bengals

Posted Jan 6, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - January 7, 2012

HOUSTON — It’s unfathomable that the Bengals are even here in the AFC Wild Card Game at Reliant Stadium. With a rookie quarterback, a rookie playmaker, and a rookie offensive coordinator that couldn’t work with them until late July’s opening of training camp because of the labor dispute, the Bengals are picked to go 0-16 by some unimpressed pundits. But Andy Dalton becomes the first rookie to throw 20 touchdowns and win nine games and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green is as advertised as the fourth pick in the draft to take them on a magic carpet ride that doesn’t end until today’s 31-10 fall to earth at the hands of the Texans in, of all places, Dalton’s hometown. It turns out the other marquee rookie in this game steals the day, but not until the final minute of the first half in a 10-10 game when defensive tackle J.J. Watt offers what soon becomes his signature with a shocking 29-yard interception return for a touchdown for Houston’s 17-10 lead at halftime.

 And it is more of an unbelievable play by Watt instead of a poor one by Dalton. On first down from his own 34, Dalton drops back, has time, and whips a ball to the right side for Green. But after right guard Mike McGlynn blocks Watt, Watt leaps straight in the air, catches the ball one-handed instead of batting it down and rolls untouched past the disbelieving Bengals with 52 seconds left. “We were going blow for blow and they got a huge play,” says Andrew Whitworth, the sixth-year left tackle who along with fourth-year center Kyle Cook is a game captain for the Bengals’ infant offense. “That’s what the playoffs are all about. I’ve said it all week: great plays are what separate teams in the playoffs and he made a great play.” Watt’s second-ranked defense batters Dalton into his worst game as a pro. He ties his career high with three interceptions, his 51.4 passer rating is his second worst and he gets sacked four times.

But the Bengals don’t protect their rookie quarterback like the Texans protect their rookie quarterback, T.J. Yates playing for the injured Matt Schaub. In the first half of the season, the Bengals overcome their youth by running the ball and stopping the run but those strengths disappear down the stretch. Running backs Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott are able to get only 25 yards on 13 carries compared to Texans running back Arian Foster skating to 6.4 yards per his 24 carries. During the first half of the season, the Bengals are a second-half team when five of their first seven wins are secured in the fourth quarter. But in December and January they are outscored, 68-36, in the second half. While the Texans adjust their coverage at halftime to hold Green to one catch for five yards, nose tackle Domata Peko says Houston switches up its running game.  “We had a good game plan coming into the game,” Peko says. “It seems like they made some adjustments on us and started busting their runs outside. We’ve got to have better perimeter run force. They simply made more plays than us.”

But Peko still has head coach Marvin Lewis’s words ringing in his ears as he zips up his travel bag. “We’re one of the younger teams in the AFC and the sky’s the limit and we’ve got to make the playoffs a norm around here,” he says. Despite the big loss, the optimism is palpable as they head for the buses. “We already have guys to build off of,” Whitworth says. “Ending the season is a disappointment, (but) this is the greatest upside I’ve ever felt this team’s had. We’ve got a chance to build off of it.” Green, the first Bengals rookie to make the Pro Bowl in 30 years, has bags to pack, too. For Hawaii.  “Andy and I were rookies just scratching the surface,” Green says. “We’ve got a lot of veteran guys that are going to show us the way, but next year we’re not rookies anymore.”

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