It wasn't pretty, but it didn't have to be.
The Texans overcame a stagnant red-zone offense with a dominant defense and running game to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 in a Wild Card playoff game on Saturday at Reliant Stadium. They'll face the New England Patriots next Sunday in the Divisional Round in Foxboro.
"These guys have stayed the course the whole way," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "They've been through a tough month, and that's part of the National Football League. The reason we won today is because nobody on this football team ever panics. They've got a lot of class... That's why they were able to stand up to this challenge today."
In a rematch of last year's Wild Game at Reliant Stadium, which the Texans won 31-10, Houston dominated Cincinnati just about everywhere but the scoreboard. They outgained the Bengals 420-198 and controlled the ball for 38:49. The game stayed close to the end because the Texans were 1-of-4 in the red zone and settled for four field goals.
"We played a great football team," Kubiak said. "We had to be patient, we had to battle, and we had to play our type of game. I'm just very, very proud of our organization today."
After finishing the season on a 1-3 skid, the Texans (13-4) went back to a familiar formula to pound the Bengals (10-7) on Saturday. Arian Foster carried 32 times for 140 yards and a touchdown. The defense allowed just two field goals, pressured quarterback Andy Dalton constantly and held the Bengals to 0-of-9 on third down.
"That's the goal every game," said defensive end J.J. Watt, who had a sack and two passes defensed on Saturday. "You don't want to give them a third down."
Dalton finished the game with 127 passing yards, one interception and a passer rating of 44.7. The Bengals' lone touchdown came on a Matt Schaub pick-six in the second quarter. Schaub played an otherwise efficient game, going 29-of-38 for 262 yards with an 83.4 passer rating in his first-career playoff start. Schaub missed the Texans' inaugural playoff run last season with a broken foot.
"After last year, it's very exciting to be a part of this and be out on the field with my guys and be able to win a playoff game," Schaub said. "It's been a long time coming."
A raucous sellout crowd of 71,738, a new franchise record for attendance, helped the Texans set the tone from the start of the game. They went ahead 3-0 on the game-opening drive and trailed only for a seven-minute period in the second quarter.
"(The crowd) was on fire from the moment we walked in there for pregame all the way to the finish," cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. "I think that's big when you're at home because it wears a team down offensively. Little things start to slip in."
The Texans outgained the Bengals 250-53 in the first half but led just 9-7 after stalling twice in the red zone in the second quarter, leading to two Shayne Graham field goals from within 30 yards.
Schaub was picked off on third-and-three from the Houston 19-yard line in the second quarter. Cornerback Leon Hall stepped in front of a pass in the left flat intended for fullback James Casey and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown with 9:30 remaining in the second quarter. That put the Bengals up 7-6 despite having only 29 yards of offense.
"I've got to be better, giving them seven points there in the game, but we battled back all day," Schaub said.
The second half started with the Texans' defense forcing a three-and-out and the Texans' offense scoring its only touchdown. Foster ran it in from one yard out on second-and-goal to cap a six-play, 46-yard scoring drive.
Joseph picked off Dalton late in the third quarter, giving the Texans the ball back at the Cincinnati 26. The Texans could not convert the turnover into a touchdown but came away with another short field goal, this one from 24 yards, to go up 19-10.
The Bengals cut the deficit to 19-13 with a 47-yard field goal by Josh Brown on their next drive. They got the ball back with 6:15 remaining and a chance to take the lead, bu thte Texans forced a turnover on downs on fourth-and-11 from the Houston 36 when Joseph and safety Shiloh Keo tackled wide receiver Marvin Jones after an eight-yard gain.
The Texans ran out the remaining 2:44. Kubiak called for a play-action pass on third-and-two from the Houston 36 with 2:33 remaining, and tight end Garrett Graham made a seven-yard catch in traffic to move the chains. Foster ran 10 yards for another first down two plays later to ice the game and send the Texans on to the Divisional Round.
Texans tight end Owen Daniels had a game-high nine catches for 91 yards. Watt and outside linebacker Brooks Reed both sacked Dalton. Joseph, who played for the Bengals from 2006-10, had an interception against his former team in the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson had four catches for 62 yards.