The nightmare that is NRG Stadium continues for the Cincinnati Bengals.
On Christmas Eve, at the same venue where they lost back to back playoff games in 2011 & ’12, the Bengals were in great position to play spoiler to the first-place Houston Texans on prime time.
Trailing 12-10 with the ball at their own 15, the Bengals started a last-ditch drive to pull off a big road win. Andy Dalton completed eight of nine passes for 48 yards and Rex Burkhead added a pair of 9-yard runs as the Bengals marched 60 yards in under four minutes.
Dalton’s biggest completion was a 4th & 5 conversion to C.J Uzomah, who caught five passes for 28 yards in his first game since Nov. 14th.
Burkhead’s final carry ran the clock down to five seconds. Setting up kicker Randy Bullock, just acquired by Cincinnati 11 days earlier, for a game-winning field goal try from 43 yards away.
Bullock hit 61 of 76 of his field goals as a member of the Texans from 2013-’15, but couldn’t convert against his former club on Saturday. The Texas A&M-product stuttered prior to the snap, then pushed the attempt wide right as the clock hit all zeros and the Texans clinched the AFC South for the fourth time in the last six seasons.
The Bengals were hit with a bad injury report prior to the game. A.J Green, despite practicing on Friday, was held out due to the partial hamstring tear he suffered back on Nov. 20th against Buffalo. Also, Tyler Eifert was ruled out for the game with a back injury and Jeremy Hill was questionable, but did suit up to carry the rock seven times for a mere eight yards.
Working with a limited cast, Dalton completed 28 of 41 passes for 268 yards, this coming after back to back sub-200 games. Trailing 6-3 early in the fourth quarter, Dalton found Brandon LaFell on a screen pass, who raced 86 yards for the game’s first touchdown to put Cincinnati in front, 10-6.
LaFell’s 86-yarder was the longest reception by a Bengal since Darnay Scott‘s 88-yard touchdown against Seattle on September 17, 1995. He also became the first 100-yard wide receiver for Cincinnati (not named A.J Green) since Mohamed Sanu in October 2014.
The glory was short-lived, though, when Houston drove 75 yards on just four plays on their ensuing drives. After a 21-yard catch and run by DeAndre Hopkins, running back Alfred Blue, replacing an injured Lamar Miller, went untouched from 24 yards out for his first touchdown since November of last season.
Blue ran for a season-high 73 yards on 21 attempts. Burkhead was Cincinnati’s leading rusher with 42 yards on 12 carries. He added four receptions for 25 yards.
Texans’ quarterback Tom Savage made his first career start after replacing Brock Osweiler in week 15 to lead a 13-point comeback against Jacksonville. Savage was sacked four times and finished with 176 yards on 18 of 29 passing. His lone rush attempt went for 11 yards on the Texans’ lone touchdown drive.
Cincinnati dropped to 1-6-1 this season in games decided by one possession. The lone victory came in week one against the Jets. Their last five losses have been by a combined 16 points.
They finish the season by hosting the Ravens next Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati hasn’t lost to Baltimore at home since the 2011 regular-season finale.