HOUSTON — The Houston Texans had their moments in 2012, starting off 11-1. They struggled down the stretch while losing home-field advantage in the playoffs. On Saturday, the Texans regained their swagger.
Behind Arian Foster’s 140 yards rushing, a stout defense and four field goals by Shayne Graham, the Texans defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in an AFC wild-card rematch, 19-13, before a crowd of 71,738, at Reliant Stadium. The Texans play at New England next week.
Foster became the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 or more yards in his first three career playoff games.
“I’m excited about what we did today,” said Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who engineered an offense that, despite sputtering in the red zone, controlled the ball nearly 39 minutes. “To do it in front of our home crowd after the way things have gone the last month, to right the ship and come up with a victory.”
As controlling as Houston’s offense was, its defense was just as effective, allowing only six points. The Texans limited Cincinnati to 198 yards and the Bengals were 0-for-9 on third downs. Bengals receiver A.J. Green didn’t have a reception until 8:58 remained in the third quarter, when he caught a 45-yarder from Andy Dalton.
“It’s fun to be part of this defense,” said Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who had one sack after having an NFL-best 20 1/2 sacks this season and added two pass deflections. “It’s a playoff game win. That’s tough to accomplish in this league. But we have bigger things on our mind.”
In last year’s playoff win over the Bengals, Watt returned an interception 29 yards for a score.
The Texans, who eliminated the Bengals, 31-10, in last year’s playoff, led nearly the entire game except when Schaub’s pass intended for James Casey was intercepted by Leon Hall. Hall returned it 21 yards for a score that gave the Bengals a 7-6 lead in the second quarter. But the Bengals couldn’t build on their lead.
“I’m not one for moral victories,” Hall said. “We lost. We had a good year. Obviously, we didn’t play good enough because our season is over.”
Cincinnati won seven of its last eight regular-season games.
Despite being outplayed most of the game, the Bengals had a shot at victory late. On third-and-11 from the Houston 36-yard line, Green had two steps on Johnathan Joseph but the pass from Dalton was out of reach for Green in the end zone. Green had five receptions for 80 yards.
“The reason we won is because nobody on this football team ever panics,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “They have a lot of class. They battled and they understand there are going to be highs and lows and that’s why they were able to stand up to this challenge.”
Aside from a 29-yard first-quarter run from BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati struggled offensively in the first half, getting only four first downs.
Although the Texans and Bengals are in different divisions, they have met three times in the past two seasons with the Texans winning all three.
The Bengals have not won a playoff game since 1990, when they beat the Houston Oilers, 41-14, at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.