Rookie defensive end J.J. Watt started it.
It was a tight game late in the second quarter when Watt, who has played like a veteran all season, lifted his 6-5, 288-pound body high enough to intercept a point-blank pass from Andy Dalton and lumbered 29 yards for a touchdown.
Watt's journey to the goal line would never be described as gazelle-like, but it served its purpose. It was generally considered to be the turning point that helped the Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10 in their first ever NFL playoff game.
"I was just trying to get my hands up in the passing lane and it happened to stick," Watt said. "I realized I had the football and so I just tried to get to the end zone without falling down. The stadium went nuts so thanks to our fans for helping change the momentum of the game."
That gave the Texans a 17-10 halftime lead and soon the rest of the defense joined in. Defensive backs Danieal Manning and Johnathan Joseph had interceptions and Dalton was sacked four times, pushing the Texans into the next round of the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens.
With their theme song, "Bulls on Parade" blaring each time they took the field, the defense returned to the rough style of play they demonstrated earlier this year when itwon seven games in a row.
"I think that was the turning point in the game," running back Arian Foster said. "It boosted our morale. It gave the defense energy. It gave us energy. We feed off each other. That's what I love about this team. He's been doing that since training camp, consistently. The D-line does a good job of getting their hands up but he does that consistently."
The Texans took a 24-10 lead late in the third quarter on a 40-yard touchdown pass from T.J. Yates to veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson, who has been sidelined much of the season by injury.
The Texans continued to feed off of Watt's big play.
"You see what happened after that," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "After J.J. got the interception and took it to the house, everybody started making plays."
The defense went to work in the fourth quarter to keep the Bengals from any hope of a comeback. Joseph got an interception early in the fourth quarter and with 7:25 to go, Manning got the third pick off Dalton. Moments later Foster tip-toed down the sidelines 42 yards to seal the deal.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips felt good about his defense early on.
"When we tied it up (7-7) I thought we'd be in control after that," Phillips said. "They had 17 yards rushing at the half. So we knew they had to throw it all the time. We'd shut down their running game so those kinds of things you take advantage of."
Phillips praised Watt's work in practice.
"You want your top first round pick to be a player," Phillips said. "They usually don't develop that quickly. Some of them it takes a while. You could see throughout the season that this guys' really a good football player.
"He does it every day in practice, he knocks down more balls than anyone we have and you'd be surprised how many times he's done the exact same thing in practice throughout the season. We're surprised he hadn't done it earlier.
Phillips called Manning's work in practice leading up to the game "the best I've been around."
"The energy was there in practice all week," Manning said. "I was so focused. This is one game you have to look at. You don't have to look at any but this one game. That's why my focus was on the game."
Watt made an instant impact after coming in as the first round draft pick. He had 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for losses, good enough to earn Texans Rookie of the Year honors in voting by his teammates.
Smith, who had two sacks in the game, has tutored Watt this season and admired his work against the Bengals.
"Any time a d-lineman scores it's like the biggest thing in life," Smith said. "We always dream when we used to play tight end and fullback and score a touchdown in high school and it never happens again. J.J. I best feels pretty good."
Smith, a playoff veteran, also was proud of the way the team played together.
"Everybody was playing like a family," Smith said. "When I talked to them is that when playoff time comes, the only way you're going to win is as a unit. Everybody put it out there."
And it all started with Watt's touchdown.
"I think it changed the momentum completely of the game," linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Going ahead like that, 17-10, really got the fans into it. That was the first turnover of many and it sparked a lot of excitement."
It's nothing the Texans haven't seen in practice.
"He's always had a knack for that," Cushing said. "He practices it, and it just comes over right into the game. He's a real fanatic about it. He's always getting his hands up on pass rush or whatever during practice. If you just continue to do it all the time, it's going to happen in the game."
Backup quarterback Jake Delomme got an early taste of Watt's specialty.
"When Jake Delomme first got here we were going through a walk through and I batted down three of his passes and I felt terrible and he was kind of mad at me," Watt said. "I told him, 'that's my thing.' It's become second nature. Once you do it in practice, it's going to happen in a game. It was a very special moment."
Dalton now knows the drill too.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.