In the end, the Bengals unfortunately proved what many had said: They weren’t quite ready for this. The Texans were, and won going away, 31-10.
The Bengals proved they couldn’t stop the Texans running game, and they proved their offense couldn’t put up points in a loud, hostile playoff environment.
The defense that had been first in the league and stout against the run in the first half of the year, withered in the face of a stellar running back for the second week in a row. Their tackling was lazy and weak and their gap discipline wasn’t what it had been in the early part of the year.
On offense, Andy Dalton picked a bad time to finally look like a rookie, throwing 3 interceptions with one taken back for a touchdown.
The Texans succeeded in shutting down A.J. Green, kept Cedric Benson bottled up (to the tune of just 14 yards), and took a very close game in the first half, and blew it open in the second.
All three phases failed. The offense committed 3 turnovers and looked confused and uncertain for the entire second half. They didn’t score a point in the final 34 minutes of the game. The defense let Arian Foster run wild, got no appreciable push on the pass rush, and forced no turnovers, despite the Texans putting the ball on the turf multiple times. Allowing 153 yards to Arian Foster was inexcusable. Their tackling was abysmal. Special teams failed with a missed field goal, and could not win the field position battle.
Worst of all, the coaching staff failed miserably. Marvin Lewis’ two first half challenges were bone-headed. Maybe now that Lewis is 0-3 in the postseason he’ll re-evaluate how he approaches these things. Something needs to change.
In all three games, the Bengals got the match-up they wanted yet wilted like a tulip in the snow. They were better than the Steelers in 2005, better than the Jets in 2009, and better than these Texans today, but simply couldn’t get it done. At least they didn’t do it in front of the home crowd this time.
Of course, the future is certainly bright for the Bengals. Despite today’s performance, Andy Dalton looks to be the franchise quarterback that can replace Carson Palmer. A.J. Green is a future star in the league, and the defense has a strong foundation for the future. They have a king’s ransom of draft picks for April, and will be a more desirable locale for top free agents.
But none of that matters right now. Right now, the Bengals must face the reality that their season is over, and that they did not answer the bell. Twenty one years and counting.