Imagine where Sunday's game would have ranked on the Bengals' list of comebacks.
Paycor Stadium, packed to the brim with its third biggest crowd ever of 66,526, began to empty out with 3:53 left. Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow had just thrown a rare red zone interception and it looked like the Texans were going to run out a 27-17 victory.
But a near pick-six by Bengals cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, followed quickly by Burrow and slot receiver Tyler Boyd combining for the Bengals' biggest pass of the year, a 64-yarder, got the game tied at 27 with 1:33 left. Then the Texans and their magician rookie of a quarterback C.J. Stroud canceled out all the Burrow karma with the winning field goal as time ran out.
So all the 5-4 Bengals were left to do was imagine.
"Really, it's a testament to this team that we were even in the game at the end,' said center Ted Karras. "The way we played, I felt like we had no business winning that. That's a heck of a fight by everyone. But it's a loss."
Burrow called it one of the most frustrating losses of his career.
"You saw the game," said Burrow, who threw two interceptions in a game for the first time since the last AFC title game. "We have to step it up. We have to be better. Today wasn't good enough; it's as simple as that,"
TB'S TOUGH DAY: Frustrating as in the anguish on the face of Bengals slot receiver Tyler Boyd. He wore the face of Bengaldom Sunday.
With wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) out and Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (back) hurting, Boyd delivered a season-high 117 yards and put them in position to win the game on the Texans 7 with 1:53 left on that dynamic 64-yard catch-and-run amid Paycor pandemonium. It was his eighth catch of the day, leaving hm ten shy of becoming the fifth Bengal with 500 career catches.
But 20 seconds later they were groaning and Boyd was inconsolable as he threw his helmet to the sidelines. One of the surest catches in Bengals history, Boyd dropped a third-down touchdown pass after cleanly beating linebacker/safety Denzel Perryman on a slant and Burrow feathered it with the right loft. But it bounced off his hands twice. Not a 31-27 lead. It was only a 27-27 tie.
After the Texans won it 93 seconds later on a field goal, Boyd sat head down on the bench until running back Joe Mixon yanked him up by the arm and walked off the field with his arm around him.
"We wouldn't have even been down there if it wasn't for him," Burrow said. "Obviously, you'd like to come down with it, but we were able to go down there and tie it up. [We would have] liked to punch it in, make them go down and score a touchdown in that situation, but we were able to tie it up."
A good 45 minutes after the game, the anguish was still there. He didn't speak to the media, but guys like Chase did. He recalled how Boyd encouraged him through his rookie training camp remembered for his drops.
"I didn't say much (to him)," said Chase, who also delivered with 124 gutty yards on five catches. "Just looking at that like my rookie year when I had problems. But I don't want him to get too mad about that situation. Great route by him. Just have to move forward now."
GUTTY CHASE: Speaking of great routes, Chase made a great play when he broke off his route on the Bengals' last play of the third quarter trailing, 20-10. They hadn't scored a touchdown since the opening drive, but he and Burrow electrified them back in the game with another 64-yard completion, this one for a touchdown.
When Chase saw Burrow scrambling to his left, Chase changed gears, went that way, and shot through the safeties. Burrow squared his shoulders, muscled it out there, and Chase was happy he told the coaches he'd play.
Chase admitted he wasn't 100% ("Everyone knew I wasn't 100"), but when the Texans defense was asking him if he was hurt in a second quarter he didn't have any catches, he went to head coach Zac Taylor.
"My first (reaction) was to go to Zac and say get me the ball and show them I'm hurt but I can still play football," Chase said.
Chase said it was left up to him if he wanted to play with the sore back. He was rewarded with getting doubled most of the day.
"He's grinding it out. That's football. If he feels like he's good enough to go, he's going to go," Burrow said. "That's the kind of guy he is. Not much else to say."
TAYLOR-BRITT AGAIN: What more can Bengals second-year cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt do?
With his fourth interception in the last five games, he got the Bengals back in a game they were seemingly left for dead. Inexplicably, the Texans tried to pass on third-and-two from the Texans 28 with 3:41 left in a game they were winning by ten and averaging 5.5 yards per carry. After a scramble, Stroud tried to go to his top receiver and that's who CTB covers. He cut under rookie receiver Tank Dell over the middle, caught it, and his 30-yard return was four yards shy of his second pick-six of the season.
It was only Stroud's second interception of his career.
"They hit me with the same route before, but I was playing off coverage," Taylor-Britt said. "I was just going to press him the next time. He's a guy that tries to catch and run it. He's not going to do anything spectacular. So he's going underneath. So once he did, I undercut it and made a play. He was condensed to the line. I knew where he was going.
"I knew I had to take one from him. He threw I right to me."
Stroud ended up talking to Taylor-Britt about it.
"Cam made a hell of a play. I've been playing against him since college and have a lot of respect for that guy. He's really smart," Stroud said. "We ran that play the drive before for a big completion. He told me too, 'I knew it was coming.' He undercut it, the defensive end played up field so I had to step up in the pocket. I didn't want to take a sack. I tried to lay it over (Taylor-Britt), and he looked up right when I threw it and he picked it. It was a heck of a play."
It was one of the few plays the defense made on a day the Texans rolled up 544 yards, the second most in the five seasons against a Bengals defense coordinated by Lou Anarumo. Anarumo preaches no explosive plays, but Stroud got them for eight completions of at least 20 yards, the longest four going to wide receiver Noah Brown on his monstrous 172-yard day on seven catches. The most against the Bengals since Green Bay's Davante Adams had 206 in a 2021 overtime game.
"They just kept running over routes over and over. And corner-posts and post-corners," Taylor-Britt said. "Literally, they stopped throwing overs once we changed (to man from zone.) They were getting us with it in the beginning.
"(Stroud) was setting up in the backfield and letting it fly with the overs and hit you with corner -posts, post-corners, overs low or high. Just try to catch your eyes. He's real good at that."
It appeared Stroud made hay against the Bengals zone in the last drive. Tight end Dalton Schultz went for 25 down the seam on third and-and-six and then Stroud went underneath to Brown with 15 seconds left.
Safety Nick Scott and linebacker Germaine Pratt had him stoned at the 33, meaning emergency kicker Matt Ammendola would be trying to make the first 50-yarder of his 17-game NFL career. But Brown broke the tackles for 13 more. Pratt, who made the winning strip last Sunday night against Buffalo, didn't get the ball this time.
Slot cornerback Mike Hilton said the Bengals tried to deke the rookie by showing an all-out blitz on third-and-six.
"Stroud was getting out of the pocket and he was just running and finding the open space. They just had a connection today. Shout out to them, they played well. We definitely didn't play our best," Hilton said. "It really was just (us) not making plays. He got outside the pocket a lot, and he wasn't even looking to run. He was looking downfield for the deep ball and they connected on three, four of them for 30-plus yards. You give those types of plays up and it will be hard to come back from, and we didn't."
"I know he wasn't looking to run. He was looking to throw once he got outside the pocket to buy some more time for his wideouts."
And, oh yeah, Taylor-Britt made the catch with a dislocated finger from earlier in the game.
"Popped it back in," said Taylor-Britt, who played all but four snaps. "It didn't go easy. They just played around with it and we're all good with it."
DJ DAY: Taylor named the old Texans nose tackle DJ Reader as the game captain, and it turned out to be one of his toughest days as a Bengal. Texans running back Devin Singletary ran for 150 yards on 30 carries, the most a Bengals defense has allowed on the ground in Reader's 39 Bengals games across four seasons.
"We didn't play well enough. You're not going to be rewarded," Reader told Bengals radio voice Dan Hoard in the post-game. "We missed tackles. That's it. We just missed tackles. You can't miss that many tackles as a defense. It's frustrating because we didn't play up to our standard. You can do a loss if you played up to standard, but we didn't play up to standard."
SUCCINT BURROW: Burrow was pretty brief with his post-game answers and, like he said a few times, there was not much to say. It was rough in the red zone, where they've been gold lately and went in Sunday with the ninth-best TD percentage even with the slow start.
But one common thread from the other Paycor loss this season (also by three points to Baltimore) was that red-zone pick Burrow almost never throws. He only had one all last year and the second one this year came on a first down Sunday from the Texans 14 with four minutes left and down 27-17.
He needed something quick and tried to hit Boyd running to the right side in the end zone and there was double coverage. He had Mixon in the flat, but he was trying to make a play and Texans cornerback Shaquill Griffin was standing underneath for the pick in the end zone.
"Just trying to make plays. Obviously, wasn't able to make that one," Burrow said. "You have to try to make plays in that situation. We'll watch the tape."
On second down from the 14 before the final Boyd play, Burrow checked to a quarterback draw and got a yard. He said he'll be watching the tape there, too.
"I thought we had a good look at the draw," Burrow said. "It didn't end up playing out. I'll have to watch the tape. I'm not sure if they stunted up front or not. That usually can mess those draws up."
Karras said the Texans "just collapsed their front. I should have probably stayed in the hole a little bit longer and just beefed it up. They know we can do that. I think that was just a good D-Line play."
The play before on first down from the 7, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins finished off the hat trick and one of the best games of his 101 in the NFL with his third sack of the day.
"I've got lot of respect for that D-Line," Karras said. "I've been playing against (the other tackle) Maliek Collins since I was 19 in the Big Ten. He's one of the most underrated guys in the NFL. Sheldon Rankins has been doing it for just as long. That's a solid front. We didn't play what looks like winning football for the Bengals."
HENDRICKSON CHECKED: It's believed Bengals Pro Bowl sacker Trey Hendrickson had his knee checked out after the game in what they hope is just a hyperextension. It was a bizarre end to the last play from scrimmage, where Noah Brown got up from making his 22-yard winning catch and stumbled into Hendrickson's knee. Hendrickson was helped off the field.