HOUSTON — Couldn't stop Arian Foster. Couldn't make that one big play when it was right at their fingertips. And, in an ending so sickeningly familiar, the Bengals couldn't break one of the NFL's longest streaks of playoff futility.
Plenty of blame to go around for this one.
Andy Dalton overthrew an open A.J. Green in the end zone in the closing minutes, and the Houston Texans held on for a 19-13 victory Saturday in a wild-card rematch from last season.
With its second straight post-season loss in Houston, the Bengals extended one of the NFL's longest playoff droughts. They haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, a 22-year stretch that equals the seventh-longest in league history, according to STATS LLC.
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"It hurts when you lose, particularly when you lose in the playoffs," Coach Marvin Lewis said.
Nobody knows that exquisite pain more than the Bengals. Their post-season streak is the longest current one in the league.
What hurt most? That they came up inches short this time.
Despite being outplayed all game, they had one final shot at the end. They got the ball back at their 20-yard line with 6:15 left, and Dalton had his chance for a memorable comeback in his hometown. He's used to playing at Reliant Stadium — he grew up in suburban Katy and had high school games there — and now had a chance for an 80-yard drive that would get the Bengals the first playoff road win in their history.
"I was telling everybody we're going to drive down, going to win this game," Dalton said. "Everybody felt that."
They had their chance. Green got behind the coverage on a double move and Dalton saw him running free. He overthrew him on third-and-11 from the Houston 36-yard line with 2:57 to go, sailing his pass too deep into the end zone.
"I just threw it a little too far," Dalton said. "That's a play that if we make it, obviously the game's a lot different."
Green dived and stretched as far as he could but couldn't even get his fingertips on the ball.
"Inches away," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We had A.J. on that one play. Inches away."
Dalton threw a quick pass to Marvin Jones on fourth down, but he was tackled 3 yards shy of the first down. The Texans then ran out the clock.
And the post-season misery goes on.
Since their last playoff win, the Bengals have been through five coaches, had 21 different quarterbacks throw a pass, and lost all four of their first-round chances.
Their last playoff win came against a team that no longer exists, at a stadium that no longer stands. They beat the Houston Oilers 41-14 at Riverfront Stadium in a first-round game in January 1991.
This represented their best chance to break through. They'd won seven of eight to close the season, matching the best finish in franchise history. They were playing in the same place where they lost 31-10 in the opening round last year, giving them some familiarity.
In the end, it didn't matter for much.
Houston's Matt Schaub gave the Bengals a chance to stay in a lopsided game by making one bad mistake. His sideline pass was intercepted by Leon Hall and returned for a 21-yard touchdown, the cornerback's second score in three games.
Given how much the Texans dominated, the Bengals were fortunate to be so close.
Dalton had a horrid time. He was 4-for-10 for 3 yards in the first half. With J.J. Watt's sack added in, the Bengals had minus-6 yards passing and only 53 yards overall.
"I think it was a full defensive effort," Watt said. "Everybody was flying around, everybody was having fun."