I’ll preface this by saying this game warranted viewing on the small TV in my office rather than the high-def flat-screen in the living room. Time stamps are in Arizona time, which is Mountain time right now, because we don’t change the clocks here, ever. This is a weird thing to tell people and they always react accordingly. (“Whaa…? Ohhhh I see…thats sooo crazy! So how many hours difference is it?…followed by the inevitable mistake they make of thinking time gets later as you move farther west)

Moving on…..

2:25pm MST- Charles Barkley (he’s hosting SNL tonight) is in studio with Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison…Sir Charles picks the Bengals (toss-up for him though he says) and he thinks the Lions D has the best chance of having a monster game,  so he picks Detroit to win by a FG. We now see why they love him in Vegas.

2:30pm- WELCOME TO HOUSTON’S RELIANT STADIUM!…..Dalton vs. Yates head shots graphic….not exactly Brady vs. Rodgers but whatever, its playoff football! At least Mike Mayock is assigned to this game as analyst; I have definitely grown to like him. Really knowledgeable and forthcoming with opinions and info. Not getting Dierdorfed in this one.

2:34pm-Apparently I can follow Alex Flanagan on Twitter today….Why?

2:35pm-BUM PHILLIPS WALKING OUT OF THE TUNNEL!! Emotional moment for the city and fans.

2:36pm -Gary Kubiak vs. Marvin Lewis…..the battle of two coaches who have somehow kept their jobs despite numerous unsuccessful seasons.

2:37pm- Already 4 references to the roof being closed on the stadium today…c’mon guys you’re better than that. Move on.

2:38pm-Houston RB Arian Foster, play #1, recovers own fumble….play #2, false start on Texans….but on a positive note for them, the referee is named Clete. I guess JR or Cooter weren’t available. Play #3, Yates overthrows Andre Johnson on an easy crossing route…but at least they’re trying to get AJ the ball early. Texans punt.

2:40pm- Andy Dalton, from Texas, went to HS and college in Texas, now trying to eliminate a Texas team from the playoffs. This, of course, is a storyline, complete with photos of Dalton in high school action. Also, Jerome Simpson has a FIVEhead.

2:42pm-Both offenses start with 3-and-outs….but Dalton looked a tad more comfortable.

2:44pm-First glimpse of the day of Papa John’s weird owner who insists on thrusting himself into all of their commercials. He used to act much, much weirder; he’s definitely toned down his weirdness. Followed by token B-roll shots coming back from commercial of BBQ ribs being cooked. For the record, here is the listing of foods and/or objects/places that will be shown to indicate what city each game is being played in:

  • New York: hot dog carts
  • Denver: snow-capped mountains, skiers
  • New England: Clam chowder, the Charles River, a statue of someone from the Revolution
  • Baltimore: Inner Harbor, crabs
  • San Francisco: trolley cars, possibly seals
  • Green Bay: Bratwurst being ladled with sauerkraut, cheese
  • Indianapolis: Peyton Manning’s house with a “For Sale” sign in the yard

2:47pm-Texans are nervous for sure, and it’s not just the rookie qb. Foster just ran into his own off lineman on an easy sweep play. Then Yates has a pass knocked down. This game isn’t gonna pick up until at least the second quarter for offense, and probably not really until after the half.

2:51pm-Last playoff game in Houston was 17 years ago!

2:52pm-First downfield attempt for Cincy to AJ Green gets the honorary Joe Flacco Pass Interference call on the defense and a first down in the red zone. I have a feeling we will see more of this today by Cincy.

2:53pm-Antonio Smith attended the Shaolin Temple prior to being drafted to the NFL. Didn’t know another player besides Jake Plummer went there.

2:54pm-Everyone who took Brian Leonard to score the first points of the game just threw a chair.

2:55pm-Cincy 7-0. Benson walks in from the 1….a little too easily.

2:57Pm-I’ll have to remember not to watch the Pro Bowl on Jan 29. They should really change that to a flag football game. Or a Madden tournament.

2:58pm-First sideline report, and now thanks to Flanagan we know qb T.J. Yates is getting input from the other qbs and the offensive coordinator on the team, which is apparently news-worthy. I guess if I was following her on Twitter I would have known all that 28 seconds ago instead.

3:00pm-First really good throw for Yates, followed by an awful personal foul call on the Cincy D. These calls are getting ridiculous, despite Mayock saying it’s a correct call. The d-back led with his shoulder and hit the receiver right as he caught the ball. I hate these penalties.

3:03pm-Tied 7-7. Foster gets around the corner for the tying td. Then we see Pac Man Jones talking to the defensive coordinator on the sideline. Can’t believe the guy is still in the league.

3:06pm- MADONNA IS THE SUPER BOWL HALFTIME PERFORMER? She’s the next classic “safe” superstar on the list? I think next year it might be Public Enemy. I also can’t wait for 20 years from now when they will be choosing between Taylor Swift or Wiz Khalifa.

3:07pm-Andy Dalton is 3-0 in Reliant Stadium, all high school and college games. Oh and he just fumbled the snap. Crowd is into it again now. Apparently, from what I we are being told, the building is louder with the roof closed.

3:09pm-Bengals are doing a good job so far of getting A.J. Green involved. He’s their best offensive player and a difference-maker. He’s also got one-on-one coverage all day with one of the best db’s in the league, Johnathan Joseph. Underrated signing and under-the-radar when Texans acquired him since all the attention was on Nnamdi Asomugha.  Joseph is one of the big reasons the Texans D is so good. This is the biggest on-field matchup of the day.

3:13pm-Is anyone surprised that a former Arena League coach (Jay Gruden) is having so much success in the NFL as an offensive coordinator? He has great weapons to work with for sure, but this wouldn’t be happening even 10 years ago.

3:16pm-Roger Goodell sitting entirely by himself in a luxury box. That was kinda weird.

3:18pm- So the Bengals are trying to sell us that they KNEW Dalton would be this good this fast? Give me a break. Flanagan reports that Dalton “doesn’t get rattled”, followed by him being sacked. Then Cincy’s Mike Nugent misses a field goal. Score still tied at 7-7.

3:21pm-NFL Honors being televised for the first time this year, presumably as more filler for networks during the dead time right after the Super Bowl…who will be the MVP? The Man of the Year? I’m surprised the ESPYs have had this much influence that the league/networks feel the need to add another awards show to the spring lineup. I’ll just read the winners online, no need to watch these guys at a podium giving crappy, uncomfortable speeches.  If I was Aaron Rodgers I would send Matt Flynn to accept the MVP on my behalf, Flynn would give just as good of a speech, and then we could all question Rodgers abilities as a Toastmaster.

3:27pm-First replay challenge of the game! Marvin Lewis feels it necessary to challenge the spot of the ball on a short should-have-been-a-first-down play from their own 25. I guess all these types of plays are important, but this game definitely has the feel of a close one and Lewis may regret having used that challenge this early. They still would have had third down to try and get the half-yard. I wouldn’t have done it.

3:30pm-Lewis loses the challenge as the ruling about the spot is confirmed. We also learn that Lewis is 20 for 50 in his career on challenges (a 40% clip….ewww)…Bengals then run Dalton on a qb sneak easily for the first down. That challenge is gonna hurt them later, I can feel it.

3:32pm-TE Donald Lee (insert obligatory announcer comment about how Lee has “big-game experience” because he owns a Super Bowl ring from last year with the Packers) big catch and run for Cincy. Then a dumb roughing penalty on Texans’ Antonio Smith….guess they don’t teach as much discipline as we all thought at the Shaolin Temple. The RZA would NEVER have committed that foul.

3:35pm- Bengals 10-7. Third and long for Cincy, and they call a shovel pass to Leonard. Marvin Lewis once again playing not to lose, settles for the FG from 37yds out…..Bengals up 10-7. Feels like they should be up by 2 tds though. You can’t let a home team in the playoffs, playing in their first ever playoff game, hang around when you have all these chances to drop the hammer. Why not try to get the first down instead of running a 2-3 yard play? What’s the difference between a 37 yard and a 40 yard FG, especially in this situation?

3:42pm-I miss the old NFL where head coaches could wear what they want, and took full advantage of it by donning Stetsons, porkpie hats, and Landry-esque lids.

3:43pm-Yates throws into double coverage way downfield to Johnson (incomplete) instead of hitting his choice of three wide open wr’s.

3:45pm- Marvin Lewis uses his second and last challenge of the game with 4:33 to go! Because of his earlier challenge being ruled against him, he now has NONE left regardless of the result of this challenge (which he will probably lose again). Who is giving him advice from upstairs to go for these?  It was bad enough to use one that early, but now BOTH are gone?? Marvin, you gotta keep that other one in your pocket in a playoff game buddy….this will DEFINITELY come back to haunt them. Just prepare yourself now for the media questioning in the post-game.

3:48pm-Bengals lose second challenge, along with another timeout. Both challenges were unnecessary and nearly unwinnable. I can’t believe he’s still making mistakes like this as a head coach. I guess you can do whatever you want when you have those kind of pictures of the owner at Matt Leinart’s house though.

3:50pm-Just remembered that if Yates gets dinged up, Jake Delhomme will make an appearance for the Texans. And this could happen ANYTIME during the Texans playoff run. We would then also see a shot of (gulp) Jeff Garcia warming up on the sideline. Is it too late to get Jeff George on the Ravens roster?

3:52pm-Arian Foster looks like at any moment he could take it to the house. Bengals are just barely containing him. But you can feel it coming.

3:56pm-Tied up 10-10. Heres the difference between Calvin and Andre Johnson: Megatron would have come down with that 3rd and 6 shot to the end zone. One-on-one coverage, jump ball situation….CJ definitely would have had it. Texans’ Neil Rackers hits the FG.

4:00pm-Texans 17-10. JJ Watt, defensive lineman (and former college TE), scores a td on a pass he knocked down at the line and picked off. Runs untouched 30yds to the end zone. Unlucky for Dalton after he had a nice scramble for a first down, but that’s the type of stuff that happens in playoffs.  However, there has definitely been an inordinate number of defensive linemen with TAINTS this year (Vince Wilfork, the Dolphins player with two against Sanchez in week 17)

4:06pm -Awful clock management by Cincy. Marvin Lewis lets about 40sec run off the clock, calls a draw play to Leonard who gets about 30yds, then calls his final timeout with 8 sec left to throw a 60yd hail mary. MAKES NO SENSE. Dalton then proceeds to get sacked by Watts with a 3 man rush. I think we’re looking at the last 2 quarters of Lewis’ Cincinnati head coaching career.

4:08pm -HALFTIME, TEXANS 17 BENGALS 10. Bengals have blown their chance from the looks of things.

4:23pm- During the break, Lewis told Flanagan that they need to score more and run the ball better in order to have a chance.  Sideline reporting everyone!

4:25pm-“Too many men in the huddle” penalty on a 3rd and short on Bengals first series out of the locker room. Then Dalton has to call a timeout because the play didn’t get in on time. Then Dalton throws a short pass followed by the punt.  Uh oh.  Mo is in the house.

4:37pm- Big 3rd and 1 conversion at their own 20 for Cincy. If they didn’t convert there it would have meant a huge advantage in field position for Houston on the ensuing punt. Then Dalton finds the wide open guy on the next play.

4:39pm-Well-timed blitz call by Texans and they sack Dalton on third down. No one has ever questioned Wade Phillips’ abilities as a defensive coordinator. I still say if Dallas had used him in charge of the D and Garrett in charge of the O, the Cowboys would have been in a much better situation. Now they will need to find a new head coach and….oh wait, that hasn’t happened yet. It’s got to though, right? Garrett can’t stay another year after the blunders he made this year, can he?

4:41pm-These Pepsi commercials where Rex Ryan is in the locker room with the Jets yelling at them has taken on pretty hilarious new meaning. Only thing missing is Santonio Holmes sulking in the corner, although its not entirely inaccurate for him not to be in the locker room with everyone else.

4:44pm- Foster with another screen pass where he was one block away from breaking it for a td.  Mayock just referred to Ben Tate running with the ball as a “protected species”. It definitely feels like this is Houston’s game to lose at this point.

4:46pm -Chris Crocker just dropped a TAINT for Cincy that would have tied it up. That’s one that will be mentioned a LOT in Cincy after they lose….along with the awful challenges by the head coach.

4:51pm-Texans 24-10. Yates finds Johnson on a deep td where he was pretty open after blowing by Pac Man. Good throw by Yates, even though every time the ball comes out of his hand it looks like its sailing on him. 14 point swing there because of the dropped INT turning into a TD for Houston.

4:56pm- Jerome Simpson just jumped over and then walked on a defensive back to get a first down, after he dropped a ball in his hands the play before. On a similar note, I started him and then waived him 3 separate times on my fantasy football team this year.

4:59pm- Dalton takes a Tebow-esque  sack on first down, and Wade is throwing the kitchen sink at the young qb right now….the whole thing about the linemen having their ears pinned back, yadda yadda yadda….

5:04pm-After a Texans timeout, Cincy decides to go for it on 4th and 3. Yates heaves it up, and it’s intercepted by former Bengal db Joseph….who should have just dropped it and taken the extra 30yds in field position. Meanwhile, Flanagan is reporting that the Bengals are frustrated on the sideline.

5:06pm-Foster makes one of the best 5yd runs ever for the first down. He has 100yds now but that big one is yet to come. And since it’s the 4th quarter, Kubiak is gonna ride him the rest of the way if he’s smart.

5:08pm- Why does Matt Leinart always look like he just woke up about an hour ago, threw some warm-ups on, and raced in his Honda Del Sol to get to the stadium?

5:10pm-Kubiak calls a single back formation for someone named James Casey, wearing a TE number, to get his second carry of the season. He’s got Foster and Tate….but typical Kubiak out-thinking himself. 7:30 to go, Texans punt, Cincy ball at their own 10 yard line, down two td’s. If there’s ever a time for Lewis to coach UN-conservatively (and to save his job with a comeback), this is it.

5:15pm-Dalton tries to force it to Green, and it’s picked off, although its close if the db had both feet in. Thankfully, Lewis has no challenges left to take a look and see. The fork is officially ready to be plunged into Cincy, and their head coach.

5:18pm- Cincy turnovers: 3, Texans turnovers: 0.

5:19pm-31-10 Houston.……annnnnd THERES the Foster big time run for a td….he almost went out of bounds, then trucked the safety Crocker before ending up in the end zone. 153yds and 2 tds for Foster and it’s all done. So Crocker’s day consisted of dropping a game-tying INT that would have changed the game completely, followed by being run over by Arian Foster for the season-ending td.

5:31pm- Garbage time for Cincy and they still can’t convert. In the red zone and the Texans D is playing 100% to keep the Bengals from scoring. Bengals call timeout after almost not having enough men on the line of scrimmage. Then the former Bengal db Joseph almost picks off Dalton in the end zone on 4th down to end Cincy’s season, but it was really over a couple of quarters ago.

5:40pm- FINAL SCORE: HOUSTON 31 CINCINNATI 10. And that’s your game folks! Houston followed a solid game plan by not putting too much on the rookie qb’s shoulders. Yates only had 20 attempts and 159 yards, but that was perfect. After settling down he completed the passes he needed to Andre Johnson for third down conversions and a couple big plays. Then they salted it away with the rushing attack, and the D caused turnovers. It wont be so easy next week against Baltimore, but that’s a surprisingly winnable game for Houston. For Cincy today, fullback Brian Leonard was way too involved (9 touches!), but mainly because the coverage downfield on Simpson, TE Jermaine Gresham, and Green was so good.  Basically Dalton had the type of game that one would expect from a rookie qb making his first playoff start on the road. His coach didn’t really help him out either, which I suspect will be addressed shortly. My guess would be Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer would be a good candidate to move up into Lewis’ coaching position. They have great building blocks moving forward though.

Boxscore here:

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