It’s time to face facts: the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t very good. They teased us with five exciting, come-from-behind wins and a few near misses. But after Sunday’s dreadful 20-19 loss to the Houston Texans, the Bengals are now 1-6 against teams with a winning record.
They made us believe they weren’t the Same Old Bengals by winning the games they were supposed to and playing every opponent tough, with the exception of last week’s shelacking at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But yesterday against Houston, the Bengals lost the way they have in the past: they folded down the stretch. They found a way to turn a win into a loss. Third-string rookie quarterback T.J. Yates threw a touchdown pass with two seconds left in a game the Bengals were winning by nine midway through the fourth quarter.
And Cincinnati only has itself to blame. The Bengals committed three penalties in the entire game, and they added up to a one-point heartbreaking loss. In the first quarter, HB Cedric Benson galloped 42 yards to the Texans’ one-yard-line. With first-and-goal at the one, the Bengals false started, moving the ball back to the six. Cincinnati gained two yards on its three plays and settled for a field goal. Two yards was enough for a touchdown from the original line of scrimmage. The Bengals left four points on the field in a game they lost by one.
In the fourth quarter, Cincinnati faced a fourth-and-one near midfield. Head coach Marvin Lewis elected to go for it to try to put the game away with a little over two minutes left. The Bengals false started again, making it fourth-and-six, forcing a punt to set up the Texans’ game-winning drive.
And then on that drive, CB Adam Jones was called for pass interference, putting the ball on the Bengals’ six-yard-line with 12 seconds left in the game. Three penalties total, which accounted for 11 points in a one-point game.
To be sure, the penalties didn’t have to matter. Cincinnati could have gained six yards instead of two for the touchdown. Someone could have made a tackle or covered better on another play, so the Texans didn’t score on their final drive.
But the bottom line is this: in a game with their season on the line, the Bengals choked. They wilted under big-game pressure, just like they always do.
It would be easy to blame this on Lewis. In his nine years as head coach, this has been the calling card of his team. Starting in his first season when the Bengals needed a win on closing day at home against a three-win Browns teams to stay in the playoffs hunt and couldn’t get it, Cincinnati has found many ways under Lewis to blow it.
But the truth is this legacy haunts the franchise. Even its greatest teams found ways to blow it when it mattered. Whether it was Lewis Billups dropping an interception in the endzone that would have ended the 49ers’ comeback bid in Super Bowl XXIII, or failing to score after four shots from the one-yard-line in Super Bowl XVI (a game they lost by five points), the best teams in Bengals’ history choked just as readily as the worst.
The painful thing is they had me believing. Yes, they’d lost three of their last four coming in, but they had beaten the teams they were supposed to. They were winning in the fourth quarter. They were coming from behind when need be.
And this is a game they were supposed to win. Houston didn’t have Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson, and it was down to its third-string quarterback. Cincinnati was hosting an indoor team from teh South in 35-degree weather. This was a game they were supposed to win.
But it was also a big game — a statement game, a season-defining game. And we know what the Bengals do in those situations: they lose.
So I will continue to root for the Cincinnati Bengals. My heart is too firmly entrenched in the Queen City to give up. But I am not going to believe anymore. It’s too disappointing. I’ll believe in the Cincinnati Bengals when they actually win games that matter on a consistent basis.
Until then, I’ll expect them to do what they do best: lose.