The Cincinnati Bengals started the 2015 season 8-0 for the first time in franchise history and have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. So a matchup with the lowly Houston Texans, who sat at 3-5, should have been no problem, right?
The Texans continued their domination of the Bengals with a 10-6 win in a defensive struggle in Paul Brown Stadium in front of a roaring jungle of 61,381 Bengals fans on Monday night.
The most discouraging part is the Texans did it with their backup quarterback after starter Brian Hoyer was knocked out of the game due to a concussion. Given, T.J. Yates didn’t do much, but his 22-yard rainbow to DeAndre Hopkins pushed the Texans past the Bengals and into the driver’s seat in the lackluster AFC South.
Sure it’s just one loss, and sure the Bengals are still 8-1 — sitting pretty in the AFC North with a three-game lead over Pittsburgh — but quarterback Andy Dalton showed a side Bengals fans are all too familiar with. One that should make Bengals fans uneasy every time they think about yelling out, “who dey.”
The Red Rifle turned into the “Red Rider B.B. Gun,” as Texans defensive end J.J. Watt called Dalton after the game, and his inability to win in primetime games was on full display again as he pushed his overall primetime record to 4-8.
Dalton finished Monday night’s blunder of a game 22-of-38 for 197 yards and an interception for easily his worst performance of the year.
The biggest problem is the Bengals looked tentative to take shots deep down the field against the Texans — something they’ve excelled at so far this season. Dalton ranks third in the NFL for average yards per pass, according to NFL statistics, but couldn’t connect on passes downfield on Monday.
Perhaps Watt breathing down Dalton’s neck all night had something to do with it. Watt’s pressure against backup right tackle Eric Winston clearly impacted the Bengals’ ability to convert on third-downs, finishing the game at an abysmal 23 percent (3-of-13) conversion rate.
Ultimately, the fifth-year quarterback will take the brunt of the blame for the loss to the Texans, but realistically, Dalton isn’t the only one to blame. Tight end Tyler Eifert dropped several passes that he normally catches and receiver A.J. Green fumbled away the Bengals’ final hopes in the last minute. Pair that with the Bengals’ inability to run the football — 21 carries for 73 yards on Monday (3.5 average) — and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
The lackluster performance comes at the worst possible time for the Bengals, as the team’s next contest is on the road against the red-hot Arizona Cardinals in another primetime matchup on Sunday night.
The question is, can the Bengals match up under the lights and show the NFL what they are truly made of? Or will they fry in the desert next week against the team’s former quarterback and possible league MVP Carson Palmer? Also, looking even further, the Bengals still have key division tilts against the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, as well as a Week 16 matchup with the Broncos in Mile High Stadium.
Despite the 8-0 start, the Bengals could very well lose half of their second-half games.
Sure, some might say I’m overreacting, crossing the Bengals off my list of Super Bowl contenders after Week 10. But my instincts and my gut tells me to not trust this bunch until they prove they can consistently win in primetime games, let alone in the playoffs.