When I pulled out my computer on the plane to start my observations from the win over the Bengals, I opened my program to start writing and immediately my observations from the Miami game popped up. I couldn't help but think how much different that day was compared to Monday night in Cincinnati. Even my wife in a text to me late on Monday night said as such.
- "That looked like a different team."
So, that's the first observation of the night…from my lovely wife, who has learned more football in two years of watching the Texans than in all the years she's known me.
- I've been in the locker room after some gut punch losses and I remember being just outside the team circle in Pittsburgh last year after that Monday night loss to the Steelers. Miami this year? Same thing. This night? I was going to savor listening/watching the raucous celebration ensue in that locker room. I wish I could've taken all true Texans fans into that room with me because it was cool as h-e-double hockey sticks. In fact, we have video on houstontexans.com from the celebration.
Check out the action from the Texans at Bengals Monday Night Football matchup.
- The Bengals various offensive wrinkles early in the game had me a bit worried, but the Texans weathered that storm on the first drive. In so doing, it sort of sent the Bengals offensive staff back to the original game plan without those various looks. Weathering that early was a big moment, even though it was just the first drive of the game.
- One of the keys to this win was the inability of the Bengals to get TE Tyler Eifert involved in the game much at all. Going in, I was thoroughly worried about the impact he could have, but he dropped a pass early and then the coverage on him was excellent throughout the second half for the most part. He also contributed to it with his drops throughout the game. Furthermore, the Bengals never got in the red zone to make him the red zone weapon that he is either.
- I talked to Christian Covington after the game and his thought matched mine - the Cincinnati offensive line held a ton throughout the night. Then again, I don't think one holding call was made on an offensive lineman on either side all night long. Covington also ended up with his first sack of the season…on Monday Night Football…against the 8-0 Bengals. It was a beautiful T/E game stunt. When he started outside, the tackle gave too much ground and he knifed through to make the sack.
- I've seen the Bengals offense play probably three or four times and it was clear that the Texans ability to disrupt receivers and get pressure on Dalton was something that hadn't happened much to them this year in the passing game.
- Bengals WR AJ Green had some success early on rookie CB Kevin Johnson but after a while, Johnathan Joseph handled Green to slow him down. Consequently, he had one of his best games of his season. Johnson, though he struggled early, made a wonderful and key pass breakup late in the game on a third down before the final fourth down forced fumble. He was named the Gruden Grinder of the game and much of that had to do with his ability to bounce back from early adversity to make plays.
- Joseph's juggling interception was more of an arm punt by Dalton, but it came on first down and just after a 12-yard Jeremy Hill run was called back for an illegal formation. The Texans didn't do much with it, but it kept the Bengals offense off the field for another few minutes. Most importantly, though, it forced the Bengals offense to be completely out of rhythm for the entire second half.
- S Andre Hal told me he came up with that pick in the third quarter. I thought he caught it too. I watched the game on the plane on the way home and he didn't make that catch. What was interesting was to watch Bill O'Brien a few feet from me reach into his pocket three or four different times to throw the challenge flag, yet never doing it. The Texans stopped the Bengals on the next third down play and it all worked out in the end, although getting the ball at the 30 could've eliminated the entire drama of the last four minutes of the game.
- I can't, for the life of me, remember the last time DeAndre Hopkins went an entire half without catching a pass, but the Bengals did a whale of a job on him in the first half. In the second half? Different story. Five catches for 57 yards and the only touchdown of the night. On his touchdown catch, I had moved down closer to the end zone, standing around the five yard line, when the ball was snapped. On the snap, QB T.J. Yates (more on him in a bit) looked to the other side of the field but I just had a feeling he was coming back to Hop. I yelled "Hop, go get it!" and he did. The one part that makes the catch so great was that he almost didn't get his second foot down because it got tangled with the first foot that was in bounds. Watching it clear as day, I didn't think he was going to get it down in time but he clicked it free and then tapped it in bounds.
- Of course, I lost it on the sidelines. Lost it. I started jumping around going crazy. I can't wait to hear Marc's call because I didn't hear a thing. The celebration for the touchdown was awesome but the way that Hop and the offense were coming off the sideline, they were coming right at me. I wasn't about to walk out of the way, so I just joined in. I didn't care.
- Immediately, Marc threw it down to me, perhaps just to catch his own breath but I was out of breath too! I just blurted out that I was on an emotional high that I couldn't comprehend. Seeing Hop make that catch wasn't to be taken for granted, don't get me wrong, but I wasn't surprised. I was just surprised that it was…
- …T.J. Yates throwing him that pass. I never saw Brian Hoyer come out of the game, but apparently Hoyer said to Yates that Hoyer thought he had a concussion and that Yates should get ready. When T.J. came in and his first throw was like Joe Kane's first throw in the movie The Program when he came back after his suspension, I thought it was going to be a long rest of the night. But, then he went and put the women and children to bed and went looking for a dinner (that's what Kane said in the huddle…oh, forget it, just go watch it. The Program was robbed for an Oscar, if you ask me).
- The two throws Yates made to Ryan Griffin on third down were outstanding. If you think about it, Yates was throwing to high school kids or friends or semi-pro players three or four weeks ago, then he got the call to come back to Houston. That work paid off handsomely for both Yates and the Texans. Those two darts to Griffin on third down were so much NOT the first throw he made to Griffin. You couldn't convince me that the same guy made those three throws. Then the one to Hopkins? Get out of here. Amazing. But he did it. And, it couldn't have come at a better time. The best time, actually.
- I joked before the game looking at the near sell-out crowd that I wondered where T.J.'s parents were, given how much of a story that was in the 2011 game. Never in my wildest dreams did I see this coming.
- In fact, after the game, someone went to the Cincinnati Bengals wikipedia page and changed the owner of the Bengals to… T.J. Yates.
- On fourth down in the third quarter when the Texans lined up for a punt, I'm convinced that Alfred Blue called off a fake based on the look the Bengals gave to them. He doesn't usually walk up to the line and gesture at all, but he walked up to the line before the snap and I'm pretty sure he called off a fake, wisely.
- The Texans didn't run the ball exceedingly well but had some moments. Early in the game, Alfred Blue ran behind Xavier Su'a-Filo for a first down on third and short. Then, one of the key moments in the game, in my opinion was Chris Polk's 13-yard run in the third quarter. Polk got into the secondary and then sought out Bengal defensive back George Iloka and put him on his wallet. I was standing behind the bench at midfield just at that moment and the sideline went nuts. The defense jumped off the bench with as much energy as I saw from them throughout the game. The Texans ran for only 82 yards, but out-rushed the Bengals by nine yards.
- J.J. Watt didn't light up the stat sheet but he still had a strong ball game. He was fresh in the fourth quarter and was able to come out of the game when he got hit in the…um, lower extremity area, I guess in the fourth quarter. DE Brandon Dunn came into the game on one situation in the second quarter and ended up with a solid stop for no gain. Covington, I mentioned earlier, had a strong ball game. In the end, though, J.J. came up with a huge sack with 3:54 left to force a 3rd and 18…unfortunately, Dalton found Green for 26 yards and a first down to keep hope alive.
- Charles James got a ton of time as the nickel back and he's making the most of his opportunity. He had a tackle for a loss early on a Bengals drive in the second quarter. He read the run quickly, knifed through the hole and found Jeremy Hill. Then, most importantly, he made the one-on-one tackle, in space. Huge. The dude is just flat out balling right now. He should've had an interception on a hit by Kevin Johnson on Marvin Jones. KJ30 laid the wood on Jones and the ball popped straight up in the air. The ball hit James right in the hands but he couldn't corral it. If he had done so, it was a track meet to the end zone in the other direction.
- Brian Cushing played as well as I can remember. He was our player of the game and before and after I did the interview with him, I tried to find the words to tell him how impressed I was with the way he played. I couldn't. I just kept saying "that was…just…that was…" I was looking for an adjective. Awesome? Outstanding? Yeah, I had nothing that could really do it justice. He missed one tackle on Gio Bernard on a 3rd and 3 in the first half but that was it. He flew around the field. He set the tone out on the field. He made definitive stops. He got everyone lined up. He was the old Cushing and hope he can do that going forward week in and week out.
- His running mate Benardrick McKinney led the team with nine tackles, including a tackle for a loss on a screen in the fourth quarter. The Texans haven't had much success this year stopping slip screens, except for two times and both of those were stops by McKinney for a loss (one v. Carolina, one on Monday night v. Cincinnati). With Cushing and McKinney in the middle, that's become a tough duo to move the ball against.
- Quintin Demps' forced fumble on AJ Green's fourth down catch at the end of the game was just flat outstanding. Not only did he strip it, but he then dove over Green to recover the fumble. When the ref signaled fumble, the sideline went insane. Then, we had to wait for the replay. When they put the replay up on the board, I saw it immediately and just started screaming to no one in particular. I knew right away it was over. Then, they showed it a second time and the sideline saw it then they knew. The announcement then was just the icing on the cake. But, Demps has been key, alongside Andre Hal at the safety position the past two weeks.
- After Demps' play, Chris Polk gestured to the crowd that it was over and time to go home. Charles James, he was in shock, it seemed. I just grabbed him and told him how great he played. It was a jubilant group. Leaving the field, I went to get dap from Vince Wilfork and he nearly broke my hand. He's won some big games but that one, for this team, was as good as it gets.
- Watching back the game on the plane, Brian Hoyer LAUNCHED that Hail Mary. He threw that about 65 yards in the air and it nearly hit one more time. Both Hop and Griffin got a hand on the ball but couldn't reel the catch in for the miraculous score. Not this time anyway.
- Special teams units have been pilloried over the past three to four years, but the performance against Cincinnati for the coverage teams was as good as I can remember. Akeem Dent nailed Brandon Tate on the kickoff after Nuk's touchdown. Brian Peters rocked Tate on the kickoff after Nick Novak's field goal in the first half. Max Bullough drilled a returner on a punt. The coverage teams were responsible for pinning the Bengals deep in their own territory throughout much of the second half.
- At halftime, to sit for a few minutes, I went into the interview room, which was adjacent to the locker room. I could hear someone, and it wasn't Bill O'Brien, uhhh, voicing his opinion. I couldn't make out words but it seemed to be someone (or more than one person) exhorting his teammates that they could get that win. Whoever it was, this team listened for certain and went and got that win.
The rest of the night was a blur, a good one finally, but as Coach O'Brien said after the game, "We're on to the Jets."