HOUSTON — There were a lot of crushed people in the Bengals locker room Saturday after the 19-13 loss to the Texans knocked Cincinnati out of the AFC playoffs. But no one may have been more disappointed than safety Chris Crocker.
Cut by the Bengals in April, Crocker came off the street to stabilize the secondary in late September and helped get them here. But he couldn't play with a bruised quad he received in last week's game against Baltimore.
"It was disappointing but it was better served to let others guy go out there and give it a push because obviously, I wasn't healthy," Crocker said. "It's a helpless feeling when you can't do anything just sitting on the sidelines and just helping guys try to talk through the situations but there's really no words you can really say to make anybody feel better, I mean me included. It's just one of those things where you go so far and you end in the first round so I think that's the toughest thing being here before and still not getting over the hump."
Nate Clements got his sixth NFL start at safety, but he had to move to slot corner late in the third quarter when nickel corner Adam Jones had to leave with an injured hamstring. That brought on Taylor Mays at safety as the secondary underwent a shuffle in the fourth quarter. The Texans did attack the middle of the field early in the game with tight end Owen Daniels making nine huge catches for 91 yards. He was the guy that killed the Bengals, since they held 112-catch receiver Andre Johnson to four catches for 62 yards.
Plus, Crocker had to watch running back Arian Foster rip up the Bengals defense for 140 yards while the Cincinnati offense went 0-for-9 on third down. That put Houston in third-and-shorts and the Bengals in third-and-longs.
"It was a big difference; I mean look at our field position battle all day. That's just the thing when it comes to games like these you really have to be on your A-game or you have to at least split the time of possession and win third downs," Crocker said. "That's first grade stuff we talk about every week; be good on third downs and stop the run and we didn't do both, either of those on both side of the ball and just wasn't a good day for us. It's sad you know. It's disappointing. It really is."
CLASS OF '84: When Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall spent four seasons together at cornerback for the Bengals, they'd joke they were the class of '84 because both were born in 1984. Both put on a 21st century performance Saturday in the playoffs with each getting a huge interception for their teams.
Hall scored the only Bengals touchdown on a 21-yard return that gave Cincinnati a 7-6 lead with 9:30 left in the first half, and Joseph picked off Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton late in the third quarter on a play that proved fatal. Joseph put Houston at the Bengals 26 for a field goal that made it a two-score game with 14:12 left.
The pick came with Dalton throwing a quick ball over the middle and wide receiver A.J. Green wasn't ready. Joseph, as he was all day, was right behind him and was ready.
"I kind of just got a jump on it. Had a feeling for what they were going to run on that particular down and just made a play on the ball," said Joseph, who was feeling pretty good after picking off his old team in a second straight playoff game. "It really does, to be honest. But those guys, they know me, and they know I'm a player that's going to play each and every down. Obviously, I'm more happy for our team than anything else about my personal goals. For us to just advance to the second round of the playoffs again this year is big."
Joseph came back to haunt with a solid game shadowing Green. But he had help on one of the game's biggest plays when he and cornerback Kareem Jackson converged on Green early in the fourth quarter in the end zone. Green got by Joseph, but as Dalton hung it up, Green didn't judge it all that well and Jackson came over to drill him to make sure he didn't catch it.
"Right under my chin strap," Green said.
"I don't know if it was man-to-man, or Cover 4, which is still man-to-man for us, but obviously they just ran a post route and I got back in there and tried to make a play on the ball," Joseph said. "At the same time, Kareem just pushed through and having the awareness to keep pushing through deep in his own coverage and just made a nice hit on him."
For the second time in three weeks, Hall scored the only touchdown of the game for the Bengals, this one when he jumped a sideline route to fullback James Casey.
"He threw it right to me," Hall said of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. "I glanced back at his eyes and at the same time was getting a feel for the receiver. It was a perfect call, really."