*Before Vontaze Burfict led another stout Paul Brown Stadium defensive stand, he carried out the French flag. *
Sure, it was as ugly as it sounds. The city lit up in all its Monday Night orange-and-black splendor before 61,381 at Paul Brown Stadium and all that comes out of it is Texans 10, Bengals 6.
And it was as odd a collection of Bengals killers as you'll ever find.
T.J. Yates, for God's sake, who came back from the dead to haunt the Bengals four years later with his first NFL TD pass since he beat the Bengals in his last NFL start in the 2011 playoffs. Safety Quintin Damps, signed off the street, made A.J. Green fumble in the last 40 seconds. And tight end Ryan Griffin, activated Sunday from injured reserve, caught a pair of 15-yarders on consecutive third downs to set up the only TD of the game.
But you can tell as much about a team falling to 8-1 as you can about a team running to 8-0. Let it be known that all three major characters in the Bengals' first loss of the season stood by their lockers until the final media member asked the last mournful question about one of the more winnable losses in recent history.
In the old days, they would have run out of Paul Brown Stadium quicker than an Andy Dalton's counter-punch line to a J.J. Watt boast. But these guys hung around, stood up, and took the blame, indicating they've got something left inside for the stretch run.
"How many games have they won?" asked cornerback Adam Jones of the 4-5 Texans. "All right. They've won four (bleeping) games. They act like they won the Super Bowl. Kudos to them. They played well . . . I live and love the pressure that we have built for teams to come in here and play us hard every Sunday and Monday and to get every team's shot.
"Nobody's down in here. It's just a steppingstone we're trying to get to. We're still working to the same thing."
Jones was draped all over Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the game's only touchdown, a ridiculous 22-yard leaping one-handed catch even though Jones had him pinned to the left sideline in the end zone with 14:20 left in the game.
"I was in great position. I have to make that play. I make that play nine out of 10 times," Jones said. "Yeah, what do you think? Did you think I thought he would catch it?
"I should have pushed him out."
Jones didn't want to hear how the Bengals had blanked Hopkins in the first half and how they held a guy on pace for 132 catches to just five for 57 yards. But the Texans couldn't get anything long for the first 46 minutes.
"The bad part is that he hangs out in Atlanta in the offseason. He's a good kid," Jones said of his hometown. "I take my hat off to him He made the catch. It's hard to press those five-yard outs on cut splits. And he ran an out-and-up comeback . . . Those plays don't beat you in a game. It's the deep ball that beats you and I've got to make that play. Whether it's 20 yards or 30 yards."
While Jones was taking the blame, so were Green and tight end Tyler Eifert. Green had the killing fumble with 40 seconds left and Eifert killed them with three drops at various junctures. But they batted 1.000 as stand-up guys after the game.
"It's the NFL," Green said. "Things like that are going to happen. We still put ourselves in the best situation to win this game. I have to make that play I can't fumble the ball like that."
And there were a lot of other places they could have pointed the finger. The Texans defensive line chased Dalton much of the day (three sacks and another time they hit him) and coordinator Romeo Crennel confounded the Bengals receivers with sagging safeties and cornerbacks playing off the ball.
It was tough to figure what was more surprising. The fact they ran it only 20 times against the Texans' lethal pass rush. Or the fact running backs Jeremy Hill (15 yards on seven carries) and Giovani Bernard (8-36) could combine for only 3.4 yards per carry against the league's fifth worst run defense that was basically playing a cover two.
Cincinnati Bengals host Houston Texans at Paul Brown Stadium in week 10 of the regular season.
"They were playing Quarters (coverage) and a lot of cloud to my side almost every snap," Green said. "They played great defense. They didn't give us any deep balls and tried to undercut the underneath stuff. Everything is not going to be perfect. Get it out of the way now. On to the next week."
It sounded like the kind of coverage that Eifert has torn up this season. Three TDs on national TV eleven days ago. As many drops on national TV Monday night.
"It should have been but I had three drops,' said Eifert, who caught three balls for 26 yards. "We couldn't get that rhythm flowing. Drops. Penalties. Dumb mistakes. We need to play better."
And on a third-and-two he didn't drop with the clock ticking under 13 minutes, Eifert said he shouldn't have changed routes when the defender fell. Dalton led him over the middle, but Eifert was going in another direction.
"I was waving but he was already throwing the ball,' Eifert said. "I should have kept running the route."
The Bengals offense committed the cardinal sin against the Texans' NFL-leading third down packages. The NFL's No. 4 offense on third down went 4-for-14 because nine of them were at least third-and-six. Thanks, in large part to penalties.
"They've been leading the league in third-down defense, and when you get people in third-and-long situations — like we put ourselves in, because of the penalties we had tonight — then they're going to have a little bit of an advantage," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "It's hard to convert 60 percent of those. We converted some, but not enough of them."
The Bengals certainly can't point their fingers at the defense. Griffin did get loose on those two third-down conversions in the TD drive when the blitz didn't get to Yates on both throws. But on one of them, SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur had good coverage on Griffin and 15 more yards got tacked on with blitzing linebacker Vincent Rey's borderline late hit call on Yates.
"I thought I hit him as he was throwing," Rey said. "But I understand the call."
The Bengals also seemed to understand what's next.
"It's the NFL. Anything can happen," Jones said. "I'm a leader in here. We don't have practice tomorrow, but we'll bounce back."
Eifert didn't drop this one.
"You drop one, then you think about catching it instead of grabbing it and it starts to be a mind game and you can't let that happen," Eifert said. "On to the next one."