It's become too much of the same ol', same ol' for the long-time AFC doormats, and I suspect neither team can overcome it. The injuries mounted, the schedule ramped up, other teams got hot, and the 2011 season seems to be slipping away. I wish it weren't the case, and I've championed these teams and their progress at various times, but in a brutal conference with four teams flirting with 13-win seasons, I can't see room for these two at the playoff table next month.
Both teams failed on an epic level Sunday. For Oakland, it's OK to lose to undefeated Green Bay because hey, it's the Packers and it happens. But things should never get 46-16 lopsided, but it did as the Raiders ran into a buzzsaw on the road. The Bengals opted instead to blow a big second-half lead to those plucky Texans with T.J. Yates at QB, looking every bit like the Bungals of old in the process.
The Cincy meltdown was difficult to watch and was the exact opposite of how this team was playing heading in November. The Bengals led, 16-3, at the half, and Cedric Benson gashed Houston on the ground (13 carries for 92 yards) those first two quarters. The home crowd was behind them and they looked ready to pull off a signature win and propel themselves deeper into the playoff hunt.
But then the miscues piled up. To wit:
» Next series was a three-and-out, with just one Benson run (Benson ended up rushing eight times for minus-1 yard in the second half).
» They even turned a positive into a negative, when a strip-sack of Yates at midfield resulted in a three plays, minus-1 yard and a punt.
» Then came the play that might haunt their season forever. It was like the football follies, as directed by Tim Burton, because it took a nightmarish bend for Bengals fans. Arian Foster fumbled at the Houston 19, then three Bengals proceeded to recover and summarily fumble the ball all the way down to the Houston 2, where Texans lineman Eric Winston managed to fall on it. Had any Bengal just held on to the ball, with less than 12 minutes to play and leading 19-10, it's likely game over. A chip-shot field goal at the very least would have made it 22-10. Instead, the Texans drove for a field goal to cut it to 19-13.
» Then, Cincy drove to midfield and was about to go for it on fourth-and-one, but a false start -- at home -- negated the chance. Punt time. Implosion time.
You know how it ends. Yates, the rookie from North Carolina who has been playing for less than a month, drove Houston 80 yards for a last-second, game-winning score. It was a pretty amazing finish and pretty damning for the Bengals as well, who have dropped four AFC games recently after flirting with the top seed in the conference.
Oh, and those zany Raiders. Eleven more penalties, for 89 yards. That's become almost comical. They lead the league with 144 (league average is 99) for 1,116 yards -- a staggering 222 more penalty yards than any team in the league. That ain't easy to do, folks.
The injuries to receivers and star back Darren McFadden has robbed them of their extreme speed advantage, but Carson Palmer hasn't exactly been lighting it up, either. You have to wonder if this 46-16 stinker will wound the young team's psyche some. They got manhandled by the Dolphins the week before that and face Detroit ("The Penalty Bowl," anyone?), Kansas City and San Diego to close out the year, and now trail red-hot Denver in the division.
Since taking over as the full-time starter coming out of the bye in November, Palmer ranks just 16th in the NFL with a 78.6 rating (directly behind Mark Sanchez and Andy Dalton and just ahead of Rex Grossman). Palmer is completing fewer than 60 percent of his attempts with 9 TDs, 10 INTs, and 16 plays of 25 yards or more in those six starts. In the first six games this season, with the Raiders 4-2, Jason Campbell ranked 17th with an 84.2 rating, 6 TDs and 4 INTs and 10 plays of 25 yards or more.