Cincinnati Bengals Hold On to First Place with Win Over Houston Texans


Nov 23, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) in unable to make a reception during the fourth quarter as Houston Texans defensive back Darryl Morris (26) defends at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on the week and your perspective, the 2014 Cincinnati Bengals have been a) Super Bowl favorites, b) groundbreaking offensive innovators, c) colossal disappointments, or d) stuck in the mud fighting with the rest of the AFC North. After their 22-13 road victory over the Houston Texans, though, the Bengals remain what they have been for most of the season: division leaders.

In some ways, the Bengals team that showed up today was the one we expected to see when the season started. There was start receiver A.J. Green hauling in 12 catches for 121 yards.  There, in the backfield, were Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill, combining for 132 yards on 35 carries.  And over there, when the Bengals needed him, was kicker Mike Nugent, making good on both field goal attempts and both extra point tries.

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If you hadn’t watched the drama over the last three months, you might think everything went as planned.

But if you looked closer, you saw that Hill, not Bernard was the featured back.  That linebacker Vontaze Burfict was nowhere to be seen.  That defensive tackle Geno Atkins recorded just two tackles.

The run defense, which hampered the Bengals all season, did fine on Sunday, holding the Texans to just 64 yards on the ground and even picking up a safety against rookie running back Alfred Blue.  Cincinnati was helped tremendously in this respect when Houston announced that Arian Foster was out for the game, but the Bengals still made their stops.

So, despite all the bad things that have happened this season, the Bengals emerge from Week 12 with the slimmest of leads in the AFC North, but this whole affair seems unlikely to be settled until the final weekend of 2014.  The Cleveland Browns held serve today, beating the Atlanta Falcons on the road, and the Baltimore Ravens get their chance to keep pace tomorrow night against the New Orleans Saints.  The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, are on a bye, but they figure to play a pivotal role in the Bengals’ ultimate January destination.

December will feature two Bengals-Steelers games, with the tilt in Pittsburgh wrapping up the regular season, and all of the division marble may be on the line.