Heading into this chilly December weekend, the Cincinnati Bengals largely controlled their own destiny to claim the conference’s sixth wildcard position, enabling the team to leave other games in the background while worrying about their own affairs. To do that Cincinnati can’t settle for indifference or just the ideal of being competitive, starting the final quarter of the season as members of a chaotic blitz amongst a handful of teams. It all starts this Sunday against a 9-3 Houston Texans squad that’s empowered with one of the league’s top defenses and a powerful rushing offense that beats and wears opponents downs with a two-back system, enabling fresh legs to pound the football deep into the game.
Winning the football game would have kept the whole "control their destiny" focused on the team’s itinerary, which could up an interesting rematch during the postseason if Houston is knocked out of the second seed or if the Titans close to within a game after this weekend is over. For the Bengals in their must-win quarter of the season, with a string of games against non-playoff teams in St. Louis and Arizona, a win over the Texans provides a sense of calmness restored if other factors weigh in Cincinnati’s favor.
None of it did.
As the Cincinnati Bengals lost in the closing seconds against the Houston Texans on Sunday, the New York Jets crushed the Kansas City Chiefs 37-10 significantly reducing Cincinnati’s playoff chances.
While it was a game Cincinnati had controlled throughout most of the first half, the true self-destruction resulted from a poor second half. An Andy Dalton fumble early in the third quarter led to a six-yard touchdown pass by Texans quarterback T.J. Yates, reducing Cincinnati’s 16-3 lead to six points.
Things went from bad to worse in the fourth quarter. The Houston Texans offense outgained the Cincinnati Bengals by over 100 yards (128-22) during the final period, scored ten points while Cincinnati’s offense was largely absent with only one first down gained and just over four minutes on time of possession. And during that fourth quarter, Cedric Benson lost five yards on five carries, crushing Cincinnati’s need to move the football and consume clock.
Because Houston’s final two possessions went 13 plays each, with 88 yards gained that resulted in a field goal and 63 yards that resulted in Houston’s game-winning touchdown with seconds remaining in the game. And easy touchdown on a crossing pattern by Kevin Walter, completely uncovered all the way into the endzone.
Cincinnati’s playoff chances are significantly damaged, fully dependent on a collapse with the other teams vying for that final wild card spot. Cincinnati heads to St. Louis to take on the 2-10 Rams in week 15.