Was the game really as sloppy and poorly coached as it felt on the first pass?
A second look at the tape reveals all.
The Real Story
The good news for the Texans is that they were the clearly superior team. Arian Foster was tremendous and helped to establish an ability to consistently advanced the ball.
The overall gameplan was painfully conservative, and it often seemed that Matt Schaub's entire focus was on mistake avoidance. He checked down at least 14 times on 38 passes, often settling for insufficient yardage on third down.
Ironically, it was one such checkdown that led to his pick-six in the first half. After a while, the Bengals started looking for the dump pass and helped short circuit several Houston drives.
Defensively, the Texans were dominant. Connor Barwin played his best game in months, and J.J. Watt continued to be J.J. Watt.
The matchup to watch before the game turned out to be just as pivotal as expected. Johnathan Joseph kept A.J. Green under wraps most of the day and even had a big interception, but Green also got his catches.
In the end, the difference came down to Andy Dalton's inability to hit Green for a score. In the final quarter, Green got free of Joseph deep twice, but Dalton underthrew one pass and overthrew another. The Bengals never got an offensive touchdown, and the Texans lived to play on.
The Texans had better talent and knew it. That knowledge nearly cost them a win.
Barwin and Watt formed a high-pressure tag team that made life miserable for Dalton.
Foster was the star of the game offensively. It was the best he's looked all year, and the Bengals simply had no answer for him.
The Houston offensive line also played their best game. They surrendered no sacks and just one tackle for a loss the entire afternoon.
Glover Quinn had a terrific day in coverage.
Calling Schaub a goat may be harsh in a game where his numbers were great, but he certainly looked terrified to make a mistake. Of course, he did make a rather large one that could have cost his team the game. It was not a strong performance. He deserves the goat tag just for the inane two-minute drive alone.
Joseph's play was also spotty. His final numbers all look terrific, including a huge interception, but he also allowed a deep ball to Green and was beaten on other occasions when Dalton just didn't make a good throw.
With 2:27 to play in the first half, the Texans trailed 7-6. They faced a 3rd-and-3 from the Cincinnati 4-yard line.
Arian Foster was having a fantastic day.
So of course, Gary Kubiak elected to go empty backfield and throw.
And of course, Schaub misfired wide of Andre Johnson.
And of course, Kubiak then elected to kick a field goal.
Instead of pounding the ball twice on a bad power run defense, Kubiak went the other direction.
That says everything about why a game that shouldn't have been close came down to an overthrown ball in the end zone with three minutes left.
Needless to say, Kubiak isn't going to have a strong review here.
He twice punted from midfield on 4th-and-short. He called safe passes whenever the Texans crossed into field goal range.
About the only thing he did right was going play-action on 3rd-and-2 with 2:33 left. It was a gutty call, but the Bengals weren't prepared for it, and Schaub was able to hit Garrett Graham for the first down.
Kubiak had the superior force, but he chose to let the other team hang around. It's the same sin he's committed several times before.
Keep An Eye On
Can the Texans overcome the beating they took at the hands of the Pats back in December?
The concern is that to keep up with New England will require a level and style of play the Texans just aren't capable of reaching.
Schaub will have to stay aggressive downfield, and his arm doesn't look up to it. I don't know that anyone will be surprised if after the season it comes out that he's secretly hurt.
Joseph still looks shaky in coverage, and unless they get more pressure on Brady than anyone has all season, he'll be able to pick them apart.
Are the Texans a Super Bowl team, or have they hit their ceiling as the third-best team in the AFC?
They have one week to prove their case.