Bungle in the Jungle

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October 3, 2005
Bungle in the Jungle

by Charles Spooner

The match-up between the high-flying Cincinnati Bengals hosting the downtrodden Houston Texans did not look pretty on paper. On FieldTurf, it appeared down right homely with both teams combining for 25 penalties. But the Bengals proved to be higher up on the NFL food chain, defeating the Texans 16-10 and dropping Houston’s record to an ugly 0-fer-3.

The Texans started the game with good field position thanks to rookie Jerome Mathis’ 35-yard kick return (his first NFL touch). New offensive coordinator Joe Pendry had the Texans looking smart moving into Bengal territory with some nifty misdirection bootleg passes to Jabar Gaffney and Andre Johnson. But the offense fell into the same dumb mistakes of penalties and sacks, stalling the drive and forcing a Chad Stanley punt.

The Bengals showed why they are the AFC’s top offense on their opening possession, with quarterback Carson Palmer directing an 84-yard, 15-play drive that consumed nearly eight minutes on the clock. An illegal formation penalty nullified a T.J. Houshmandzadeh touchdown reception. On the following play, Palmer fumbled after being thumped by Dunta Robinson on a corner blitz. The Bengals jumped on the loose ball, and Shayne Graham saved the drive with a 24-yard field goal.

The Texans answered with a drive that saw David Carr connect with four different receivers. The Texans entered the red zone for only the third time this season, and settled for a Kris Brown 28-yard field goal to even the score at 3-3.

Each team exchanged punts, thanks to ill-timed offensive holding penalties. A 36-yard pass to rookie WR Chris Henry, which was called a touchdown on the field, highlighted the next Cincinnati possession. The touchdown was reversed, but DeMarcus Faggins was called for pass interference in the end zone. One play later, Palmer used play action and hit fullback Jeremi Johnson in the right flat for a one-yard touchdown, bumping the Bengals to a 10-3 lead at the half.

The second half opened with a three-and-out defensive stop. The Texans began on offense on their own 10-yard line after a booming 53-yard Kyle Larson punt (“high spiraling and beautiful” said CBS play-by-play man Gus Johnson). Carr went 4-4 on the drive and Domanick Davis made a key 19-yard gain into the Bengal redzone. The Texans gave the Bengals a dose of their own medicine, hitting fullback Moran Norris on a 4-yard score and his first NFL touchdown.

Momentum seemed to be swinging the Texans’ way. The Bengals went on self-destruct mode with four penalties and a 42-yard field goal miss on the following possession. Houston quickly moved into Cincinnati thanks to key third down run by Carr. However, sacks by Bengal rookie linebackers Odell Thurman and David Pollack pushed the Texans back to their own 25-yard line. Momentum going into the fourth quarter was back on the Bengals’ side of the field.

Conversely, Palmer received excellent protection on the next drive, despite numerous injuries to his offensive line. Carson’s 60 yards passing set up another Graham field goal and a 13-10 advantage.

The ghost of former Texan offensive coordinator Chris Palmer seemed to haunt the next drive, as seldom used tight end Marcellus Rivers saw two passes come his way and drop to the ground. Carr converted a third-and 10 with an 11-yard scamper. But three plays later, Bengal defensive end Justin Smith stripped the ball from Carr, and it was recovered by Cincinnati at the Texan 35-yard line. Texans head coach Dom Capers challenged that Carr had thrown a pass, but the fumble was upheld upon review.

Timeouts used earlier by the Texans to avoid delay penalties allowed Cincinnati to run over two minutes off the clock despite the Texans defense holding the Bengals without a first down. Graham eased a 46-yard field goal inside the right upright, and Cincinnati led the visitors 16-10 with a little more than a minute left in the game.

Inexplicable short passes to the middle of the field marred the Texans last possession. A late “Hail Mary” was never uttered, as Carr was fittingly sacked on the game’s final play.

The Texans return to Reliant Stadium next Sunday, seeking their first home victory since November 2004. That victory came at the expense of the Tennessee Titans, next week’s opponent. Loser grabs the AFC South division cellar. If you do not enjoy hearing the hometown team booed, bring good earplugs. What Went Right?

Joe Knows Playcalling? Though the Texans could only put 10 points on the board, Joe Pendry seemed to put the skill players in position to succeed. Jabar Gaffney equaled a career high in receptions. Fullbacks and tight ends saw the ball come their way. There was improvement across the board in first downs, total yardage, and average gain per play. More important, guys appeared to play with added determination. There are still problems on offense, no question. But the players had to at least believe in the plays coming in. They seem to believe, now.

Bent But Not Broken If the defensive game plan was to keep the Bengals offense on the field until penalties took the air out of drives, it worked to perfection. 376 yards, 34 minutes of time of possession. No turnovers. The Texans only gave up 16 points on the road to a dynamic offense. Nothing sexy here, but a better effort than seen previously in 2005. Heck, even Philip Buchanon made four tackles.

Inspiration From the Juicebox Okay, the Texans are in the division basement with a little less than a quarter of the season gone by. So were the Houston Astros, sitting in the National League Central Division cellar after 45 games with a 15-30 record. From there, Clemens, Pettitte, and Co. went on a streak and won the National League wildcard on the last day of the season. So send the Texans over to Minute Maid Park and let them sample champagne off Brad Lidge’s jersey. Read some scripture with Morgan Ensberg. Share a twinkie with Lance Berkman. Find some of that Astro Mojo. Because it will take that kind of miracle for the Texans to make the playoffs in 2005. And for miracles to happen, you gotta believe.

What Went Wrong?

Pass Blocking (This is a recording.) After three games, David Carr is on pace to be sacked 106 times. The “bright side” is he’s on pace for over 600 yards rushing. At some point, someone on the Texans has to realize that this group of offensive linemen is not athletic enough to keep pass rushers in front of them. Victor Riley is not a left tackle. Todd Wade looks horrible at right tackle. The interior linemen can’t move quickly enough to pick up blitzers. It’s not so much the quantity of sacks allowed, it’s that the sacks seem to be drive killers.

Pass Rushing (This is a recording.) Aside from the occasional Dunta Robinson blitz, the Texans pass rush is almost non-existent. Even with the Bengals losing two centers and a right tackle in the game, Vic Fangio was reticent in calling for a blitz. Or even feigning a blitz. Is it a surprise that the Texans have zero interceptions after 3 games? Someone has to get to the QB on a regular basis.

AJ on Ice Andre Johnson doubled his season total in pass reception yardage. And he only had 38 yards. This is not how to use a Pro Bowl talent. Somehow, someway this team has to get Johnson the ball downfield.

Key Play Of The Game

With 3:20 left in the game, the Texans were at their own 38-yard line down 13-10 and driving for the tying or go ahead score. Carr dropped backed to pass and looked downfield to the left. By this time, Justin Smith had raced around Texan right tackle Todd Wade. As Carr cocked his arm to pass, Smith grabbed the quarterback’s arm and barely jarred the ball from his grip. Carr was able to push the ball toward the line-of-scrimmage, despite the Bengal defensive end holding on for dear life. After bouncing off an offensive lineman, Cincinnati defensive tackle John Thornton fell on the loose ball.

Referee Larry Nemmers ruled the play a fumble and a Bengal recovery. The Texans challenged that Carr had merely thrown an incomplete pass and never lost possession. After review, Nemmers (#20 in your program, #1 in your heart) upheld the ruling on the field. The Bengals turned the Texans turnover into a field goal and a six-point lead that was never again threatened.

Week 3 Recap Moran Norris dives over the goalline for a 4-yard touchdown reception. Final Score Houston Texans 10 Cincinnati Bengals 16 Lookin’ Good

Jabar Gaffney
Six receptions for six first downs. Good things can happen when you look back for the ball.

Oh, my eyes!

Burning Timeouts
David Carr twice called timeouts in the second half to avoid delay of game penalties. They would have come in handy on the Texans last drive.

2005 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.13 Denver 14-20 08.20 Oakland 19-17 08.26 at Dallas 9-21 09.01 at Tampa Bay 14-38 Regular Season 09.11 at Buffalo 7-22 09.18 Pittsburgh 7-27 09.25 Bye   10.02 at Cincinnati 10-16 10.09 Tennessee 20-34 10.16 at Seattle 10-42 10.23 Indianapolis 20-38 10.30 Cleveland 19-16 11.06 at Jacksonville 14-21 11.13 at Indianapolis 17-31 11.20 Kansas City 17-45 11.27 St. Louis 27-33 12.04 at Baltimore 15-16 12.11 at Tennessee 10-13 12.18 Arizona 30-19 12.24 Jacksonville 20-38 01.01 at San Francisco 17-20   Overall Record 2-14