The winless Cincinnati Bengals could be missing their starting quarterback for the remainder of 2008, and already will be without their top draft pick for the rest of the season.
Oddly enough, their best chance to finally break into the win column could be coming up on Sunday when the Bengals head to Reliant Stadium looking for their fourth consecutive victory over the Houston Texans.
With a 38-10 loss to Pittsburgh last week, Cincinnati (0-7) remained winless through seven games for the fifth time since 1991. No other team has experienced that kind of futility more than twice in that span.
“It’s tough to be in this position,” said Pro Bowl receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. “But you just have to have some pride. That’s it, bottom line. If you have pride in yourself, things should turn out better than what it looks like it’s going to be.”
Notching another win over Houston may help Cincinnati feel a little better about what has become another lost season. The Bengals have averaged 29.3 points to win all three of their meetings with the Texans, including a 38-3 rout at Reliant Stadium during Houston’s expansion season in 2002.
A dominating running game was part of the reason for the Bengals’ success over the Texans.
Thanks mostly to Rudi Johnson and Corey Dillon, Cincinnati rushed for 465 yards in the three games against Houston. With struggling Chris Perry and fellow former first-round pick Cedric Benson in the backfield this year, though, the Bengals have run for 517 yards - the second-lowest total in the NFL - and their 3.2 yards per carry ties them for Arizona for the league’s worst.
The worst start in Bengals history came in 1993, when they opened with 10 straight losses under David Shula. If they’re to finally win on Sunday, they’ll again be forced to do so without quarterback Carson Palmer, who will miss his third straight game with a sore elbow that has thrown his season into doubt.
Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked seven times against the Steelers, bringing his total to 15 in four games.
“It’s hard to look up at the scoreboard at the end of the game and see 38-10,” said Fitzpatrick, who went 21 of 35 for 164 yards.
The Bengals will be playing their first game without rookie linebacker Keith Rivers, selected ninth overall from Southern California. He was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday with a broken jaw suffered after a hit from the Steelers’ Hines Ward. Rivers was second on the team in tackles and had one interception.
Receiver Chad Ocho Cinco set a season high with eight catches last week and scored his second touchdown of 2008, but recorded only 52 yards. In the three wins over the Texans, the former Chad Johnson has caught 19 passes for 197 yards and one score.
“We’ve got to win one to get that momentum and get that taste out of our mouths,” Ocho Cinco said.
Like the Bengals, Houston (2-4) is in last place in its division, but will try to take advantage of its second straight winless opponent and win its third straight after an 0-4 start. Last Sunday, the Texans jumped out to an early three-touchdown lead before holding on for a 28-21 victory over Detroit.
“I’m a little relieved, I guess,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “You’ve got to enjoy winning in this league. It’s hard to win. Sometimes you play good enough and you don’t win and then today we definitely didn’t play good enough throughout the second half, but we found a way to win.”
Tight end Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes from Matt Schaub, who was 26 of 31 for 267 yards. Rookie running back Steve Slaton scored on a short run, and Andre Johnson had his third straight 100-yard receiving game, finishing with 11 catches for 141 yards.
Since Oct. 1, Johnson has 30 catches for 450 yards, leading the NFL in both categories.
“He gives us a huge spark as a team because we know that if we can get the ball in his hands so many times he’s going to make some big plays for us and make people miss and be able to turn a five yard completion into a 15, 20 yard gain,” Schaub said of Johnson. “Having that guy over there that we get one-on-one coverage, no matter what the route is, I can go his way and he is going to secure the catch and then do something with it after the catch.”
In two games against the Bengals, though, Johnson has only six catches for 68 yards with no touchdowns.