Cincinnati Bengals Observations From a Gutting 30-27 Loss to the Houston Texans

Rookie C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans blew up the Cincinnati Bengals' four-game winning streak with a big day at Paycor Stadium.

In spite of some late drama and a surprising plot twist, the Houston Texans blew up the Cincinnati Bengals’ four-game winning streak Sunday at Paycor Stadium, lighting up Lou Anarumo’s defense in a 30-27 victory.

The loss drops the Bengals to 5-4 and sets up a must-win game Thursday night at Baltimore if they want to entertain any hope of winning a third consecutive AFC North title.

The Bengals haven’t won a road prime-time game since 2012. And they haven’t beaten the Texans in Cincinnati since 2005.

Here are some instant observations from the loss.

Observations From Cincinnati Bengals Loss to Texans

Fast 5

The Bengals scored on their opening drive for the fifth consecutive game, taking the opening kickoff and going 75 yards in 10 plays, with Joe Burrow hitting Trenton Irwin for a 32-yard touchdown.

Irwin got the start for the injured Tee Higgins and cashed in on yet another opportunity. He also had a big game in Arizona when Higgins was out with a fractured rib.

Almost more notable than the touchdown is what tight end Tanner Hudson did, catching five passes on the opening drive for 28 yards. Hudson’s previous career high for receptions in a game was four, set last week after the team elevated him from the practice squad.

But then ….

After that opening-drive success, the Bengals had four straight three-and-outs (not including the end-of-half kneel down) and five straight punts.

Those five drives produced just 38 yards.

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They finished with just 109 first-half yards and struggled to get in sync for much of the day, with Houston’s defensive line pressuring Burrow all game – including a blow to the head from Will Anderson on the very first play of the game, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.

And then …

The Bengals scored on back-to-back drives in the second half, the second of which was a 64-yard deep shot to Ja’Marr Chase.

Listed as questionable with a back injury, Chase proved in a pregame workout he could play, but he was hardly himself. Chase had just two catches on two targets for 21 yards in the first half. Both catches came on third down and came up one yard shy of the first down.

Since Chase arrived in 2021, the Bengals had never played a game without either he or Higgins, but Sunday was as close of a look as to what that would look like with Chase barely involved.

Until the splash play.

And Chase hardly was playing possum. He clearly was in pain and often wasn’t even on the field.

The Bengals were marching for a third score after halftime, down 10, when Burrow overthrew tight end Drew Sample on a seam ball that resulted in an interception. After a defensive stop, the Bengals drove into the red zone, but Burrow threw an interception in the end zone on first down, and that looked like the clincher.

But C.J. Stroud threw his second interception of the year a few players later, and Cam Taylor-Britt returned it to the Houston 4. Joe Mixon plunged it in to cut it 27-24, and the Bengals got it back with 2:10 to go.

A 64-yard pass from Burrow to Boyd got Cincinnati to the 7-yard line, but Boyd dropped the game-winner on 3rd-and-goal, and the Bengals had to settle for an Evan McPherson field goal to tie it 27-27.

However, Houston, for the second week in a row, got late heroics from Stroud to get in position for a Matt Ammendola 38-yard field goal to win it.

Red-Zone Rise Then Crash

The Bengals came into the game tied for first in turnover differential and added to it in the first half in a big way.

Stroud hit rookie wide receiver Tank Dell for a nine-yard gain on 3rd-and-10 to get the Texans to the Cincinnati 9-yard line. But on 4th-and-1, Houston botched the snap, and Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader recovered the ball, giving the Cincinnati defense yet another red-zone stop.

The Bengals came into the game at No. 11 in red-zone defense after forcing turnovers inside the 20-yard line in each of the last two games against the 49ers and Bills.

This stop came after Zac Taylor challenged Dell’s reception. He lost the challenge — his first of the year — but the decision to have it reviewed enabled the Bengals to get their defense set while the Texans were rushing to get the 4th-and-1 play snapped.

Dating back to last year, Taylor has lost four of his last five replay challenges.

Later in the half, the Texans were on the cusp of the red zone with a 3rd-and-6 at the Cincinnati 31-yard line when Logan Wilson forced a Stroud fumble while sharing the sack with Trey Hendrickson.

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Cornerback Mike Hilton fell on the ball without much competition, as the play appeared to be an incomplete pass. But after replay review, the call was upheld, and the Bengals added +2 to their league-leading +9 differential.

But it didn’t last. The Texans got touchdowns on three of their next four trips in the red zone.

Execution by Explosion

Houston came into the game with 35 pass plays of at least 20 yards, which were second most in the league. Cincinnati’s defense had allowed 11.5% of opponents’ completions to go for at least 20 yards, third worst in the league.

It played out in living color with Stroud and Noah Brown hooking up on five passes of at least 20 yards, and Stroud hitting tight end Dalton Schultz for a 23-yarder and a 25-yarder that got them on the edge of field-goal range for the game-winner.

Brown finished with a career-high 172 yards, while running back Devin Singletary also had an explosive day, rushing for a career-high 150 yards, with six of his carries going for at least 111 yards.

Houston finished with 544 yards, the most the Bengals have allowed this year and the second most in the Anarumo era.

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