The playoff weekend kicked off with a rematch from last year. The Cincinnati Bengals once again, went on the road to play the Houston Texans in a game between similar teams. After a late-season collapse, the Texans slid down from a first-round bye to hosting a game on wildcard weekend. The Bengals on the other hand, finished the last half of the season winning seven of eight games to clinch the final seed in the AFC. Let us preface the summary by saying there was only one offensive touchdown scored. This one involved a defensive score, featuring six field goals that got the job done.
Defensive lineman J.J. Watt has my vote for Defensive Player of the Year, and he came up big today for the home team with a handful of tackles, a couple pass deflections, and a sack. He made his presence felt and led the Houston defense like he has since he came into the league last year, the catalyst to a defensive struggle. Cornerback Jonathan Joseph looked the healthiest he has since getting banged up in the middle of the season. Although the Cincinnati gameplan did not target wide receiver A.J. Green in the first half of action, Joseph played up to his Pro Bowl nod by shadowing and frustrating the Pro Bowl receiver. Green did make an impact in the second half, however he did drop a few passes. The secondary was physical with him and delivering hits, so his head was on the swivel listening to the footsteps. His counterpart, Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, was targeted sporadically. Johnson had a pass go through his hands in the in the endzone.
Both defenses rattled the opposing quarterback. Matt Schaub wanted to take a pass back, one that resulting in a pick six by cornerback Leon Hall. Andy Dalton also threw an interception and struggled throughout the game, overthrowing Green in the endzone that would have taken the lead in crunch time. Schaub did make a second half adjustment, by targeting tight end Owen Daniels and his safety valve moved the chains. Daniels led all players with 9 receptions for 91 yards. Both running backs ran the bell well when given the opportunity, unfortunately Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis didn’t get enough touches (11 rushes, 63 yards, 5.7 average) while Arian Foster carried the ball 32 times for 140 yards and a touchdown.
The Bengals got the necessary stops to give themselves a chance after trailing, they just couldn’t punch the ball in for points. They have some coaches with their futures in question, interviews with non-playoff teams are on the horizon. On the sidelines, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips cheered and quarterback Matt Schaub expressed a sigh of relief in a postgame interview. Houston advances past Cincinnati in consecutive postseasons. For a team that started stronger than the rest of the league, you can see the doubt in their eyes. That leaves head coach Gary Kubiak with the task of motivating and refocusing a team with high expectations, they just have to beat the Patriots in New England to keep playing.