Bengals' road to the playoffs gets more difficult after loss to Texans

CINCINNATI (AP) — A fifth straight opening-drive touchdown from the offense. A fifth straight multiple-takeaway game from the defense.

Against a Houston Texans team on Sunday that is very comfortable against Cincinnati, the Bengals had many of the ingredients that had produced four straight wins and lifted them into contention in the AFC North.

They just didn’t do quite enough.

Despite forcing three turnovers by the Texans and making a spirited rally from a 20-7, third-quarter deficit to tie the game at 27-all in the final two minutes, the Bengals slipped to 5-4 with a last-second, 30-27 loss.

They also fell to 2-7 in their last nine games against Houston.

The Bengals are 5-4 for the third straight season. They fell into last place in the NFL's toughest division, a game behind the Steelers and Browns and 1 1/2 behind the Ravens. Cincinnati has come back each of the last two seasons to win the division and reach the AFC Championship.

The Bengals play at Baltimore on Thursday night. The Ravens beat the Bengals 27-24 in Week 2, when Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow was limited by a calf injury.

Coach Zac Taylor placed no significance on the Bengals' first-half-of-the-season trend.

“We’re just focused big on Thursday,” he said.

Injuries were among Cincinnati’s problems. Two starters, defensive end Sam Hubbard and wide receiver Tee Higgins, were inactive.

After scoring on the opening drive, the Bengals’ offense became anemic. They punted on their next five possessions and their sixth ended at halftime.

“No rhythm,” Taylor said. “Too many three-and-outs. Too many second-and-eights. If we get a first down, we can get some rhythm.”

Burrow felt the Houston defense deserved some credit.

“They have veteran guys,” said Burrow, who finished 27 of 40 for 347 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. “They have veteran linebackers. They have good players in the backfield, and they have juice up front.”

There were plenty of highs and lows for Cincinnati, most notably on its final possession. After connecting with Tyler Boyd on a 64-yard pass to the Houston 7, Burrow found Boyd open in the end zone. But Boyd, who finished with season highs of 12 catches and 117 yards, dropped the ball and the Bengals had to settle for a tying field goal with 1:33 left.

Burrow didn't blame Boyd for the loss.

“We wouldn’t have been there without him,” the quarterback said.