Adam Jones returned to the lineup Thursday and gave them a lift emotionally.
Adam Jones, the oldest Bengal who turns 34 the day before the Bengals play their fourth game of the season in two weeks in Cleveland, never thought he'd celebrate his birthday with two home losses in one of those precious twilight seasons already in jeopardy of slipping away.
"It's frustrating for all the guys," said Jones after the unthinkable 0-2 was reached in Thursday night's 13-9 loss to Houston. "We have a lot of younger guys here. They're going to play football for eight or nine more years, Me, I know my clock is ticking. I have a window, and it's probably three to four more years. I'm trying to win by any means necessary. We need to do whatever we have to do to fix this."
There certainly doesn't seem much to fix on defense.
Yes, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is going to get second-guessed for not double covering the ubiquitous DeAndre Hopkins in that last drive that ate 6:24. Hopkins, their only viable wide receiver who caught more than 10 yards Thursday, converted a third-and-seven and forced a pass interference penalty on Jones on second-and-20 on the series' third snap.
But the fact is Hopkins, a legit game-breaker who had three catches for 29 yards in the last drive, finished with just 73yards on seven catches. Rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for just 125 yards in his first NFL start. The Bengals stuffed them on third-and-one three times, twice in the fourth quarter. The Bengals held them to 27 percent on third down. They gave their offense the ball at the Bengals 46, 45, and Texans 39 on the game's first three series and saw punt, punt, fumble before giving it to them on the Bengals 47 with 9:53 left in the game down, 10-9. They were back on the field in 1:33 after a punt.
Think they played well enough to win? No wonder Jones said of Hopkins, "He didn't do anything all day. Yeah, it's frustrating." Jones, making his 2017 debut after his league suspension in the opener, gave them everything they asked. An emotional edge and tight coverage on a Pro Bowler. When he hurt his elbow and had to be helped off in the fourth quarter, he came back. So did linebacker Vincent Rey after he was in a seven-point stance.
"It's offense, defense, and special teams. This is the NFL; you have to win all three sides of the ball," Jones said. "Normally when you win special teams and defense, you win the game. You have won field position. If you win the field position, you should win the game. There's no sugarcoating that. That's what happens in the NFL. It won't happen overnight. You have to take it like a man and keep working."
The Texans made one play. A broken play. On third-and-15 with 50 seconds left in a 3-3 half, Watson dropped back, saw nothing in the Bengals' deep zone and took off up the middle for a 49-yard touchdown run.
That was it on a night Houston gained just 266 yards.
"I was on the backside, I blame myself. I should have run faster," Jones said. "It's a team game though; offense, defense, and special teams. We just didn't come out on top. We'll figure out a way, we always do. We'll band together and keep the troops going."
George Iloka welcomed back his safety partner in Shawn Williams on a night the Bengals held the Texans two running backs to 3.4 yards per carry and 3.3. But they count the 49-yarder, too.
"We just have to do a better job getting him down," Iloka said. "I start with myself. I've got to defeat that block and make a tackle and then everybody as a defense we have to watch the film.
"As a defense we can't let that happen. I wouldn't say that play sucked the air out of us because you saw how we responded in the second half. But it hurt. We were playing well. He hadn't done much to then and we give up a cheapie."
In two games the defense has given up three touchdowns, one from two yards out after an interception, one on a scramble, one on a 48-yard pass that traveled five yards.
"I'm not going to over-analyze this game," Iloka said. "As a defense we played OK. But we didn't play good enough to win."
Cincinnati Bengals host Houston Texans in week 2 of the regular season at Paul Brown Stadium 9/14/2017