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HOUSTON – Ryan Mallett was unable to build off his impressive starting debut.
Mallett struggled in his second career start, finishing with 189 yards passing and often overthrowing open receivers in a 22-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Andy Dalton threw for 233 yards and a touchdown and A.J. Green had 121 yards receiving to help Cincinnati to the victory.
Mallett wasn't sure why he was so off-target on Sunday after a solid outing in a win over Cleveland last week. He completed just 21 of 45 passes with an interception on Sunday.
"I didn't play well," said Mallett who became Houston's starter after veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick was benched. "I couldn't hit the broad side of the barn from 5 yards away."
It was Dalton's second strong game and he again relied on Green, who is healthy after dealing with a toe injury. Green finished with a career-high 12 receptions for 121 yards against a secondary playing without cornerback Kareem Jackson (knee).
"All day long, they got the ball out of their hands very quickly," J.J. Watt said. "It doesn't matter what you do up front when they get the ball out that quick."
The Bengals (7-3-1) led throughout, but Houston (5-6) cut the lead to 3 late in the third quarter before Cincinnati tacked on two field goals in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
Rookie Jeremy Hill scored on a 2-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter after an interception by Mallett for Cincinnati's only touchdown of the second half.
Houston's only touchdown came on a 60-yard interception return by Johnathan Joseph in the third quarter.
"The crazy thing is even though we weren't able to get anything going, we were never out of the game," Andre Johnson said. "It definitely feels like a missed opportunity."
Rookie Alfred Blue ran for 46 yards filling in for Arian Foster for the second straight game. Foster, who entered the day third in the NFL in yards rushing, has a groin injury.
Top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney had his most extensive action since injuring his knee in Week 1. He's played in two other games since the injury, but his snaps have been limited. He had three tackles, including one for a loss.
He said he still doesn't feel as he did before his injury.
"Some things are holding me back still, but I'm just out here trying to do what I can do," he said.
Giovani Bernard had 45 yards rushing after missing the past three games with an injured shoulder and hip. But Hill still got plenty of carries, running 18 times for 87 yards.
Dalton threw two incompletions in a row to bring out Mike Nugent for a 31-yard field goal to push the lead to 19-13 with about nine minutes left. Nugent added a 49-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining.
The Texans had a first down at the 8-yard line but their offense stalled after that and they settled for a 25-yard field goal by Randy Bullock to get within 16-13 late in the third.
Joseph, who played his first five seasons with the Bengals, grabbed an interception and dashed 60 yards — high-stepping the last 5 — for a touchdown to cut the lead to 16-10 midway through the third quarter.
Rey Maualuga intercepted Mallett on the first play of the second half to give the Bengals the ball at the Houston 22. Hill had five carries on the next drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 16-3 early in the third.
Mohamed Sanu grabbed a short pass from Dalton and dragged A.J. Bouye into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Dalton's pass to Green on fourth down from the 1 was incomplete in the second quarter. It didn't matter much though, as Geno Atkins tackle Blue in the end zone on the next play for a safety to make it 9-0.
The Texans had trouble getting things going on offense and they had to punt on their first two possessions before the safety on the third one.
NOTES: Bengals right tackle Andre Smith injured his left biceps in the first quarter and didn't return. Smith said he'll get an MRI, but didn't provide any other details on the injury. ... Johnson had three receptions to pass Randy Moss for 10th on the career list with 985.
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