Andy Dalton and his offense couldn't move the ball and the result was a playoff loss to the Houston Texans for the second straight year.
The Cincinnati Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1990—over 8,000 straight days without a postseason win. That streak unfortunately will continue into the 2013 season, with the Bengals losing to the Houston Texans on Saturday, 19-13.
Though the vaunted Bengals defense could have played better—they didn't sack Texans quarterback Matt Schaub once, their front seven bit hard on the play-action pass repeatedly while also allowing running back Arian Foster to rush 32 times for 140 yards and a touchdown, and coverage was shaky at best (looking at you, Rey Maualuga), the real killer for the Bengals in this game was their offense.
It started off badly for Cincinnati, with just 53 net first-half yards—59 rushing and negative six passing—and just 7:07 in time of possession. Good coverage left A.J. Green without a target, Andy Dalton connected on passes to just Marvin Jones, Jermaine Gresham and BenJarvus Green-Ellis and pressure led to inaccuracy.
Though the second half was slightly better for the Bengals offense with Green finally becoming part of their plans, with five total catches on 11 targets for 80 yards—56 of those coming on three consecutive receptions in the third quarter—it still didn't produce touchdowns. The Bengals had just two field goals from their second-half drives and ended the game converting none of their nine third downs. Dalton also threw an interception in the fourth quarter, and the ensuing Texans drive resulted in a field goal and a 19-10 lead.
Rushing didn't produce solid results for Cincinnati either. While the Texans could do almost anything they wanted (shy of touchdowns) thanks to the play-action, the same couldn't be said for the Bengals without effective running. Green-Ellis ended the day with 63 rushing yards on 11 carries, with 43 of those yards in the first half. All they could do was pass, and with pressure constantly closing in on Dalton and his receiving targets unable to shake Houston's coverage, yards, extended drives and points were all at a premium.
Though the Bengals defense could have accomplished more, especially where the pass rush and linebacker coverage were concerned, it also was the reason the team stayed in the game until the end.
Cornerback Leon Hall notched a pick-six of Schaub in the first half (making it the fourth straight game with a Cincinnati defensive score), and despite the ability for Foster to seemingly run at will and Schaub having a much easier time getting the ball out of his hands, drive after promising drive ended with punts or field goals rather than touchdowns. The lone six-point score for Houston was Foster on a one-yard run.
Ultimately, Dalton was the most disappointing player for the Bengals in the loss. Twice he could have connected with Green in the end zone, but he underthrew the first ball and overthrew the second. His aversion to pressure had him making hurried throws, though he was sacked only twice.
Play calls often did him few favors, such as all the first-half screens being thrown despite Houston's defense repeatedly blowing them up behind the line of scrimmage, but the errant targets to Green will be the most lasting memories of Dalton's performance in the loss.
It was an ugly outing for the Bengals, simply because it was so ugly for their offense. They had just 198 total yards, held the ball for only 21:11 (yes, less time of possession in the whole game than the Texans had in the first half alone) and couldn't get anything going on the ground.
Though it's a significant sign of progress that Cincinnati has made it to the playoffs for two consecutive years, it's equally significant that both of those games were losses (and both to the Texans) thanks to the shortcomings of the offense. For a quarterback-driven offense, Dalton was a disappointment; now the Bengals have to wait at least another year to get that elusive playoff victory.