The Bengals make their second trip to Houston to play the Texans, a team that has won its last two games after starting 0-4. The only other time the Bengals met this Houston franchise in Texans was in 2002 when, coincidentally, they got their first win, 38-3, following an 0-7 start to the season.
The Bengals are 3-0 all-time against the Texans. The last time the franchise started a season losing its first eight games was 1994.
"We can't let anything slide because we haven't been good enough," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "So obviously there's something, somewhere that we're not quite getting done. And so we've got to make sure that in no way do we backslide anywhere."
Fitzpatrick will be making his fourth start of the season in place of Carson Palmer, who remains sidelined with inflammation in his right elbow. Fitzpatrick was a rookie seventh-round pick out of Harvard for the St. Louis Rams in 2005 when he was called into relief duty for an injured Jamie Martin and proceeded to complete 19 of 30 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns as the Rams rallied for a 33-27 overtime win against the Texans.
"It was a hectic game. It came down to the wire, and we were scrapping and clawing all the way to the end of the fourth quarter," said Fitzpatrick on Wednesday when asked about the game in 2005. "We had to recover an onside kick and kick a field goal to tie it up at the end. I just remember it being a lot of fun and going out there. It was my first opportunity to play. I was just out there trying to make plays, and kind of the guys rallying around me."
Fitzpatrick has completed 62 of 103 passes this season for 472 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also lost three fumbles but in the last two games – losses against the New York Jets and Pittsburgh – he has been better at protecting the football, be it when he throws or has it in his hands in the pocket.
"I think Fitz can play," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who leads the team with 46 catches for 458 yards and three touchdowns. "He can throw the ball, he can run, obviously. He's really smart, even if he didn't go to Harvard, he'd probably be really smart. He understands offense and what we're doing. It goes back to if everyone plays well around Fitz, you don't even have to play well, just do what you're supposed to do and Fitz will have a good game."
One of the keys for Fitzpatrick to have a good game would be for the Bengals to find a way to block Houston defensive end Mario Williams.
Williams, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft, has a modest total of 22 tackles but his six sacks are tied for No. 6 in the NFL. He also has 16 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles to his credit. Williams will predominantly line up as the right end over Bengals left tackle Levi Jones in the Houston's 4-3 defensive alignment.
The Bengals gave up seven sacks against the Steelers last week and have allowed 26 sacks this season, tied with New England for the second highest total in the league. San Francisco has allowed 29 sacks.
"Williams – he's a beast on the end," said Fitzpatrick. "He's a great player, and certainly somebody we're going to have to account for. They play hard. We've got another nice challenge in front of us."