Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - A.J. Green racked up 121 yards on a career- high 12 catches, and the Cincinnati Bengals received a stout effort on defense to come through with a 22-13 victory over the Houston Texans.
The Bengals kept the Houston offense out of the end zone and limited the Texans to 248 total yards in their fourth win in five games, which gave Cincinnati (7-3-1) a slim lead atop a crowded AFC North.
"This is the time of year where you have to be playing really well," said Bengals quarterback and Houston native Andy Dalton. "As you know, in this league, it's the team that gets hot right now and carries it into the playoffs. We are putting ourselves in a good position."
Dalton completed 24-of-35 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown to Mohammed Sanu in the triumph, with Jeremy Hill adding 87 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts.
The Texans' only touchdown came on Johnathan Joseph's 60-yard interception return of Dalton in the third quarter. Ryan Mallett was largely ineffective in his second career start at quarterback, mustering just 189 yards with an interception on a 21-of-45 completion rate.
"We didn't play well today, I didn't play well today," said Mallett. "I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn from five yards away."
Alfred Blue, coming off a 36-carry, 156-yard effort in last week's win at Cleveland, was held to 46 yards on 16 rushes in place of an injured Arian Foster for Houston (5-6).
The Bengals jumped out to a 9-0 lead near the midway mark of the second quarter, getting a long and impressive drive from their offense and a safety from a defense that shut Houston down for the majority of the first half.
Cincinnati marched 94 yards in 13 plays to gain the upper hand, with Dalton converting three third-down situations with completions during the lengthy sequence. His final pass of the possession was a short strike to Sanu, who dragged cornerback A.J. Bouye into the end zone for a 6-yard score late in the opening quarter.
The Bengals got down to the Houston 1-yard line on their next possession, but Green couldn't come down in bounds on a fade route on fourth down. Cincinnati still managed to get some points, however, when Blue was tripped up in the end zone by Geno Atkins on the next play.
Houston mustered just 106 yards over the first two quarters, most of which came on a 15-play, 67-yard trek that ended in Randy Bullock's 36-yard field goal which cut the lead to 9-3 at halftime. Mallett hit on his initial five throws of the drive, which was later extended by Jonathan Grimes' 8-yard run on 4th-and-2.
Mallett threw into coverage and was picked off by Rey Maualuga on the opening play of the second half, however, setting the Bengals up at the Houston 22. After Green came up with an 11-yard catch on third down to create a 1st-and- goal, Hill walked into the end zone from two yards out to put Cincinnati up 16-3.
Dalton's only mistake of the day enabled the Texans to get back in it later in the third quarter. Under pressure from a safety blitz, his hurried target for Green was snared by Joseph and the ex-Bengal raced down the sideline for a 60- yard touchdown that cut Houston's deficit to six points.
"We had an all-out blitz. I think we did a great job of disguising it," said Joseph of the play. "I just made a great break on the ball and finished it off with some great blocking and the guys guided me into the end zone."
The re-energized Texans then forced a quick three-and-out and Mallett directed a 12-play, 75-yard drive to further close the gap, though his two incompletions near the goal line caused Houston to settle for Bullock's 25- yard field goal that pulled the Texans within 16-10 late in the third.
"Holding them to field goals when they got into the scoring zone, those were big plays not giving up touchdowns," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
Houston failed to record a first down on their next two possessions, though, sandwiched in between a massive 17-play Cincinnati series that took eight minutes off the game clock. Sanu's diving 10-yard grab was one of three successful third-down plays on the pivotal jaunt, which was capped by Mike Nugent's 31-yard field goal with 8:48 remaining.
Nugent added a 49-yard field goal with 1:55 to go to increase the margin, with Hill's 30-yard run deep into Houston territory leading to the kick.
Cincinnati recorded its first win over the Texans since 2005, having lost five straight in the series including a pair of defeats in the AFC Wild Card Round in 2011 and 2012 ... The Bengals converted 11-of-20 third-down opportunities, compared to a 4-of-14 mark for Houston ... Bengals running back Giovani Bernard returned from a three-game absence caused by a hip pointer to tally 45 yards on 17 carries ... Both Hill and fellow rookie Blue were backfield mates at LSU last season ... Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith left the game with a left arm injury in the first quarter and did not return.