HOUSTON - If you want to know just how much the once-vaunted Bengals offense is struggling, just look at the two plays at the end of the first half when it couldn't get two yards for a first down in the red zone even though their two Pro Bowl receivers were one-on-one and they had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
Which meant absolutely nothing because the Texans were throwing the ball around like the Bengals of '05 and pieces of '06 and '07 in a 35-6 throwdown in which Andre Johnson had one of those monster games that Chad Ocho Cinco used to have when his last name was Johnson with 11 catches for 146 yards.
The Bengals offense is standing pat, too. Again another day a Bengals wideout didn't have a 15-yard catch, never mind 20. It looked like the Bengals had a 14-yard touchdown throw with a minute left in the half when The Ocho cleanly beat corner Eugene Wilson on a fade in the end zone. But like last week against the Steelers, it was just out of his reach.
"Almost isn't good enough," Ocho Cinco said. "It's been 'almost' all year. It's been the same thing all year: almost. Almost isn't good enough. It was a couple of inches last week, the same thing. I don't know what it is. It's like stuff like that, we'd always connect, and now all of the sudden, everything is inches, inches away."
That was on second and two from the 14.
Then wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who came into the game second in the NFL on third-down catches and had three more Sunday, was in his spot on third and two over the middle, but cornerback Dunta Robinson was all over him. Houshmandzadeh wanted a holding call, but he also admitted, "It was a good play. The technique he was playing and the play that we called was good for them, bad for us."
It was a zero blitz, which meant that it was just Houshmandzadeh and Robinson, in his second game back since coming back from a knee injury that wiped out a season of his career.
"I had an outside breaking route. I had to go outside and he was playing me a whole man outside. What was I to do?" Houshmandzadeh asked. "He's playing me a whole body outside and I have to go outside. It's a lose-lose situation. I have to make the best of the situation."
It looked like the Bengals had the best situation on the snap before when Ocho Cinco was wide open. Houshmandzadeh got upset when it was suggested the play was off because of the timing The Ocho missed in training camp with a couple of injuries and is now working with a backup quarterback.
What made matters worse is that the Texans secondary had been receptive in allowing opposing quarterbacks to roll up a triple-digit passer rating. Instead, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub broke a team record with a 144 rating in sifting the Bengals for a whopping 24-of-28 for 280 yards on a day Cincinnati could offer the path of least resistance with just one sack and no interceptions.
How about this?
Houshmandzadeh has 512 yards on the season and Ocho Cinco has 312. Johnson finished the month of October with 596 yards. As they watched the onslaught, Houshmandzadeh and the injured Carson Palmer talked about what it had been like in the old days. They couldn't even think about how the Texans looked.
"We worked so hard to reach the point where teams feared us offensively," Houshmandzadeh said. "It's not been that way at all now. We're just worried about how far we're off offensively. I'm sure (Carson) feels like if he we're playing that he could make a difference. But this year? It's tough."
How tough? The Bengals are on pace to gain just 3,664 yards, the worst number since the 1968 expansion Bengals got 3,426 in a 14-game season.
Ocho Cinco couldn't help but be reminded when he saw what the Texans were doing.
"Yeah, man. No matter what you did, we were going to get it to whatever individual's hands we wanted to get it to," he said. "We're not at that point where we can do that right now. What we have to do is stay basic and make the basic stuff work. Like I told you last week and I'm going to keep saying it every week, until we execute the basic stuff, we can't go any further outside that general playbook like the first day of training camp."
Houshmandzadeh was stunned that the Bengals couldnt make any hay against the Texans coverage.
"Honestly, we could have gotten deep; they played us a lot of man to man," Houshmandzadeh said. "Actually, they did a really good job of mixing it up. They played us more man-to-man than we've seen in the past few games, but they did a good job of mixing it up. They played heavy outside leverage forcing you to release inside. That's a good job.
"I would say 50 percent of the game they played us man, but they did a good job of mixing it up. So, you might anticipate one coverage and you call a play anticipating one coverage and they play man and it's a short route call. So, you catch the ball. You don't think anything of it. It's an eight- or nine-yard gain, and then when you call a deep ball, they don't play the coverage that you expect them to play. So, it doesn't work. They did a good job. Right now, we just can't even really find a word to describe the way our season is going. I can't. I've used embarrassing, sickening, but I can't find the word."
That's what the defense wanted to say about the ease with how Johnson dominated it. Safeties Dexter Jackson and Chinedum Ndukwe rocked him several times after he caught the ball over the middle and after Ndukwe drilled Johnson on the 27-yarder that started the game, he said "a lesser receiver would have coughed it up."
The Texans did Sunday with Johnson what the Bengals haven't been able to do with Ocho Cinco and moved him around in all three receiver spots, which can be tough against zone and underneath defenses. The Bengals have felt Ocho Cinco is more comfortable playing the one position of the 'X' receiver.
"They did a good job moving him around," Jackson said. "They would put him in different places and you have to find him. He obviously has no fear and when you've got a guy that can make (that) catch as well as on the outside, you've got a special player."
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer knew that coming in. The Texans are all about getting the right matchups for Johnson and when they attacked Cincinnati's best cornerback of late, Leon Hall, they went quick and underneath.
"The disappointing thing was what he did on third down," Hall said of the catches of 17 and 10 yards in that critical first possession of the second half. "They did a good job getting the ball to him quickly."
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph agreed that moving Johnson around was a key and that the Texans may have moved him around a little more than usual.
And, of course, the play of Johnson opened it up for other guys. Former Bengal Kevin Walter, who had three TDs on the season, had two Sunday. David Anderson, who had two catches for six yards on the season coming in, had two killing third-down catches on the 91-yard drive, including the wide-open six-yard TD pass.
"Obviously, the offense right now is probably the worst in the league statistically," Houshmandzadeh said. "So, I don't know. It's tough. I would have never thought that we would be in this position. I could never have imagined that after eight games we would have no wins and statistically probably be the worst ranked offense in the league and that's what we are right now. That's hard to imagine."