This was supposed to be a coming-of-age party for the Cincinnati Bengals. They had disposed of the Cleveland Browns in the Battle of Ohio under the lights on Thursday Night Football. Those demons were exorcised. The next hurdle was the Monday night experience against the vaunted Houston Texans defense. The high-powered Bengals were supposed to dispose of the Texans like an ant on a giant.
The Bengals offense didn’t get the memo. It crumbled against the Texans.
As much as the media and public will say the Texans dominated the Bengals, that wasn’t exactly the case. The Bengals actually beat themselves. They played a solid first half and even into the third quarter. Yes, Andy Dalton played a good game. He was booed by bandwagon fans that grew used to seeing The Red Rifle carve up the opposition like a Thanksgiving turkey. That actually happened. What didn’t happen was Dalton’s new favorite target hanging onto the ball in critical situations.
Tyler Eifert had become the darling of the media and fans. He received tons of praise and recognition for breaking long-standing franchise records and looking like the new-age tight end. Yet those accolades and standards didn’t transfer to a trap game that was a true test for the Bengals. Per ESPN statistics, Eifert was targeted seven times and caught three of the passes. In a game of that magnitude, that ratio is unacceptable.
Dalton’s numbers are misleading. Yes, he forced a deep ball that was picked by Jonathan Joseph. Other than that, he was Andy. His final stats show him with a completion percentage of 57.9 and 197 yards passing. Add on Eifert’s four drops and suddenly Dalton has a sparkling 68.4 completion ratio. Funny how just a few passes can change the complexion of things.
The Bengals offense had an accomplice in their mediocrity. Hue Jackson needs to stop the tinker toy mad scientist approach to beating teams. He has suddenly developed a love affair with exotic formations that confuse even the Bengals’ players. Who cares if Andrew Whitworth lines up as a wideout? Did the play gain massive yards or set up a touchdown? Do opponents fear the sets? Every gadget play run by the Bengals offense was sniffed out and stuffed by the Texans’ defense.
There comes a time when you must put on a helmet and play football. Grind it out and win. It’s great to be an innovator, but too much will invoke the spirit of Sam Wyche. Wicky wacky offense needs to stay in the past. Football is a game of power and brute strength. Finesse is thrown in to fool the opposition, it’s not a prerequisite. Even the great Paul Brown knew that.
“Have your team play every down like it’s their last. Once you get that heel in the throat, don’t stop to reset it.”
The Bengals’ defense understood that concept Monday night. They turned in a sparkling performance that should have given the Bengals at least a 9-3 victory. They did their part in limiting the Texans to 10 points. Outside of a DeAndre Hopkins touchdown catch — that was just nasty — the Orange and Black stood their ground. Just two more field goals from a Bengals offense that abandoned the run and the record is still perfect. Adam Jones had the right mentality, via Fox Sports.
“They f****** won a game. We’re 8-1. How many games have they won? Thank God for them. They’ve won four f****** games. They act like they won the Super Bowl. Kudos to them.”
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but that won’t solve a thing. The Bengals lost a trap game on national television that will no doubt bring out the doubters again. They had chances to put the Texans away but stumbled over their own mistakes. The Bengals had everything go right. Brian Hoyer went out, the Texans running game was stuffed. Those are things that championship teams take advantage of.
Are you angry, Dalton? Good. Now it’s time to prepare for another prime-time audition for NFL acceptance. When the Bengals play Arizona on Sunday Night Football, they’ll need to be a little more hungry. As Paul Brown said, they’ll need to step on their throats and keep it moving.
[Feature Photo by Andy Lyons / Getty Images]