The night began will a silent heartfelt embrace of others and ended with some full-throated boos for their own.
Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium, good intentions finally were eclipsed by bad football.
The Cincinnati Bengals hosted the Houston Texans in a showcase Monday Night Football game that featured considerable extra security outside the stadium and in.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris Friday left 132 dead, hundreds injured and much of the Western World on edge about more deadly assaults, potential America targets, including crowded NFL stadiums, have been on high alert.
That was certainly the case in a much-spotlighted game like Monday’s when no other NFL teams were playing. Extra police, many noticeably carrying weapons, were evident around the perimeter and at stadium entrances.
Inside —per the request of Homeland Security – there were several added layers of protection ,as well, including Dayton police officer Nathan R. Speelman and his bomb-sniffing German Shepherd, Zeta.
The Bengals players took to the field behind the U.S. flag carried by Rey Maualuga and the tricolored French flag lofted by fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
With the crowd of 61,381 standing, there was a moment of silence for the victims in Paris and the people of France. Throughout the stadium you saw people holding up signs. One said: “Who Dey… Pray for Humanity.”
Another simply said “Peace” and showed a peace sign made from a circle drawn around the Eiffel Tower.
The mood among Bengals fans at the start of Monday night’s game was a mix of respect and support for their French brethren and, bubbling up just beneath that, a celebratory giddiness over a home team like no other here in decades, if ever.
The Bengals came into Monday night 8-0, a start unlike any in Cincinnati history. They were 10-point favorites over the struggling and hobbled Texans.
But as Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green would say later: “This is the NFL and anything can happen.”
And it did.
Monday, while the stadium remained safe, the Bengals certainly were not sound.
Their offense struggled mightily and by the fourth quarter the crowd – witnessing the home team unexpectedly take on a milquetoast identity of Bengals teams of the past — was booing as Cincinnati finally bobbled its way to an ugly 10-6 loss.
It was the first time all year the Bengals had not scored a touchdown.
The two guys who shouldered the blame afterward have been the pillars of this offense this season.
Green, the perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver, and Tyler Eifert, the young tight end who had become the talk of the league with nine touchdown catches through his first eight games, both blamed themselves for the loss.
Eifert, quarterback Andy Dalton’s surest target this season, had three drops and finished the game with three catches for just 26 yards.
Green had five reception for 67 yards. But his final catch – a 10 yard reception to convert a fourth down and put the Bengals in position for a final seconds’ victory from the Houston 23-yard line – ended in disaster.
As Green was being pulled backwards to the ground by Houston cornerback Kevin Johnson, he was stripped of the ball by Texans safety Quintin Demps, who then recovered the fumble to seal the victory for the visitors.
“I’ve just got to make that play. I’ve got to hold onto the ball,” Green said over and over as he stood at his locker after the game and answered every uncomfortable question.
“I caught the ball and as I went down, I took one hand off it to break my fall.
“Just then (Demps) came out of nowhere and punched the ball out. That was a great play by him. But not a good one by me. I gotta hold onto the ball. I can’t fumble it away like that.
“Even though we had only put up six points, our defense had been great all night and we had put ourselves in position to win it at the end.
“We didn’t…And that’s on me.”
A few feet away, Eifert stood at his locker and blamed himself.
“I played awful, it’s embarrassing,” he said quietly. “This has never happened to me (before in a game.)
“After I dropped one, I started fighting it. I know you’ve got to forget about it, but as much as I tried…it’s tough And there are no excuses. Those were good balls to me.
‘’This was unacceptable. I let my teammates down.”
When Dalton heard about the reactions of his receivers, he shook his head:
“Both of them have to drop it. It’s one game. They’re two of the best players on the team, so they need to put it behind them.”
At the far end of the Bengals dressing room cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones handled his self-flagellation in a little more jocular and profane fashion.
He too blamed himself for the loss after Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins made a tremendous one-handed touchdown catch of a perfectly placed pass on the left side of the end zone by back-up quarterback T. J. Yates, filling in for concussed starter Brian Hoyer.
Jones was playing tight coverage, but Hopkins leaped, snagged the ball in his left hand and managed to get both feet in bounds before he tumbled out of the end zone.
After most of the media crush had left him afterward – and after he had continually chastised himself for the play – Jones quietly asked:
“So how did he catch it?”
Told Hopkins had leaped up and pulled it in towards his helmet using just his left hand, Jones couldn’t believe it:
“Whaaaat! For real? Whoooo!.
Then with a growing smile he added: “I guess I’m going to have to go home and work on that ball. I’ll put a wire up in the back yard and see if I can make that play.
“But I’ll tell you… it’s gonna haunt me.”
He may have said it with some exaggeration, but that’s what he felt.
And that certainly was the case for Green and Eifert.
So much for the pregame sign, in the Bengals locker room afterward there was no “Peace.”
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