With one minutes and 45 seconds remaining in the game, an entire season hung in the balance. Not just any season, either, but one that could affect the trajectory of the franchise into the next decade. One in which a team allegedly desperate to quiet its doubters has talked collectively about a renewed urgency to win now.
Staring down an 0-2 start and the imposing math that'd come with suffering back-to-back home defeats to begin the season, the Bengals - and a fan base fearing the worst - turned its hopes toward its supposedly loaded cadre of weapons and its steady, veteran quarterback.
Who then threw the ball toward Alex Erickson.
With the game's outcome riding on that final drive, and the hopes for the year riding on the game's outcome, Andy Dalton targeted Alex Erickson three times, in fact.
I have nothing against Alex Erickson. He has a well-earned place on the team, and against the Texans, he was productive on both offense and special teams. But when an entire season possibly hinges on what happens on one drive, he ain't exactly my ride or die.
The staggering, maddening ineptitude of the Bengals offense continued last night. They've played eight quarters without a touchdown and look as rudderless as the Cincinnati offenses of the late 90s. No identity has been established. Execution is awful. Decision-making is shaky. Players and coaches are both culpable. It's an absolute shit-show.
In so many ways.
For all of the preseason hype surrounding their vast array of weapons, the Bengals are totally punchless. Their running game has no rhythm, and two games in, neither of their supposedly enviable group of backs has established himself in a clearly-defined role.
Their top two pass receivers are often absent from the proceedings as the Bengals continue to allow defenses to nullify AJ Green and Tyler Eifert, submissively cow-towing to their opponents.
Their first round pick was also mostly absent, because the head coach would apparently prefer to punish rookie for fumbling rather than boost the offense by tapping into his vast amount of talent.
Their offensive coordinator seems in over his head. Their quarterback is skittish (I'm being kind). And their offensive line - perhaps predictably - is a disaster.
And yet here they were last night, because of their defense and special teams and in spite of their inability to capitalize on prime field position, still armed with a chance to win the game and steer the season back on course.
They threw the ball to Alex Erickson.
Nothing about the first two games - both abject failures by any measurement - is more maddening than how the Bengals - Andy Dalton and Ken Zampese, in particular - cannot figure out a way to get production from their best and most explosive weapons. There's a lot going wrong with the offense, of course, and no area should be spared the blame that comes with scoring nine points in eight quarters, but what's hard to accept is watching them go down without taking their best shot.
Alex Erickson doesn't represent their best shot.
AJ Green knows this, and good for him for finally speaking up.
Adam Jones knows it too, and his assessment of this mess is spot-on.
The problems lie in the fact that nothing suggests that anyone in position to do something about it actually can. Andy Dalton - for all of his attributes - has remarkably become both risk-averse and mistake-prone. Ken Zampese seems like he wouldn't know if he was reading his playbook upside down. And Marvin Lewis' coach-on-Sunday-thinking-about-the-questions-on-Monday philosophy suggests that he'll make no changes that could save the season from slipping away.
Their last shot at saving it may have come late last night.
They used it on Alex Erickson.