Houston’s new kicker, Matt Ammendola, made a 38-yarder as time expired for a 30-27 win Sunday at Paycor Stadium after Cincinnati scored 10 points in the final four minutes to tie the game with just 1:33 remaining. The Bengals (5-4) had their four-game winning streak snapped.
Here are five takeaways from the loss:
1. Explosive plays hurt
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo always says he cares more about the points allowed than yards, but earlier this week he emphasized the need to eliminate explosive plays. The Bengals didn’t do that, and Houston made them pay.
The Texans had nine plays of 20 yards or more, including two on the final drive that put them in position to kick the game-winning field goal, and Devin Singletary racked up 150 yards rushing on 30 carries. They finished with 544 yards of offense, but did have three turnovers.
C.J. Stroud passed for 356 yards and one touchdown, and Noah Brown finished with a game-high 172 yards receiving on seven catches while accounting for six of the eight longest plays through the air. Tight end Dalton Schultz caught four passes for 71 yards, including two of 20 yards or more, and Singletary added a 22-yard run.
“They had a lot of play-action, catch your eyes, run, run, run, play-action big shot,” Taylor-Britt said. “They had a little scheme of the day and they got us with it.”
2. Burrow struggled under duress
Burrow only had four incomplete passes in 18 attempts in the first half, but the Bengals couldn’t get first downs, and he faced pressure all night. The Texans ended up sacking him four times, and he escaped several others, especially in the second half as he started to scramble more.
The fourth-year quarterback finished with 347 yards on 27-of-40 passing, and he threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter while trying to come back. Meanwhile, Houston’s front made running a challenge, too, as Joe Mixon finished with 46 yards on 11 carries.
“We need to run the ball more, make Joe (Burrow) comfortable,” center Ted Karras said. “Joe was under duress quite a bit today, and when he’s uncomfortable, that affects the whole offense obviously. This whole organization runs through 9 and we didn’t have his back good enough today.”
Meanwhile, the Bengals only sacked Stroud once. Sam Hubbard was out with an ankle injury and Trey Hendrickson combined with Logan Wilson for the only sack.
3. Costly mistakes
Tyler Boyd is known as one of the most reliable targets in the league, but he had two uncharacteristic drops that proved costly.
After the Texans got a field goal on the opening drive of the second half to extend its lead to 13-7, the Bengals were looking for a response and Boyd dropped a would-be conversion on second down with 8:54 left in the third quarter. Burrow was sacked the next play to force the fourth straight three-and-out and fifth straight punt.
Then, Boyd also dropped a third-down pass in the end zone on the Bengals’ final drive. That would have given them the lead and Houston would have needed a touchdown to win it.
“He’s going to put a lot on himself because it’s the end of the game, but there were so many opportunities we had over the course of the game,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “Players and coaches – all of us – there’s a lot of things all of us could have done better so we weren’t in that position.”
4. Bengals missed Higgins
The Bengals knew it would be a challenge without Tee Higgins, who was out with a hamstring injury, and with Ja’Marr Chase dealing with a sore back all week. Taylor said he tried to protect Chase at times and he wasn’t targeted until the second quarter, but Chase kept telling him to feed him the ball.
In the second half, Burrow started leaning on his playmakers more. Chase helped get the Bengals going in the third quarter with a 64-yard touchdown reception on a play Burrow extended after avoiding a sack. Chase saw him out of the pocket and adjusted his route and Burrow found him deep. He finished with 124 yards on five catches.
Although Boyd had the two drops, he had some key plays he did make and finished with a season-high 117 yards on eight catches. He had a 64-yard catch with about two minutes left to put the Bengals at the 7-yard line before Evan McPherson’s game-tying field goal.
“Obviously, we’re a much better team when Tee is out there,” Burrow said. “That’s no secret. Tee is one of the premier receivers in the league, but we had guys step up today. Guys made plays.”
5. Turning the page
The Bengals don’t have time to dwell on the loss with a big game at Baltimore on Thursday in a short week. The Cleveland Browns (6-3) came back to beat the Ravens (7-3) on Sunday.
Cincinnati was 5-4 the past two years before going to back-to-back AFC championship games, but the Bengals haven’t won any division games yet.
“The division is going to be where it’s at,” wide receiver Trenton Irwin said. “We’ve got to prove ourself in the division. We’ve done well in the past obviously, but we started off rusty this year and we’re excited to get after Baltimore on Thursday out there.”