HOUSTON – Arian Foster ran for 140 yards and a touchdown, and the Houston Texans used a stifling defense for a 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday in an AFC wild-card playoff game.
The Texans will next play at New England Jan. 13.
Foster became the first player in NFL history to have 100-yard games in each of his first three playoff games.
The Texans (13-4) had trouble finishing drives all day and mustered only three field goals by Shayne Graham in the first half. Houston struck first after the break, with Foster scoring the game’s only offensive touchdown on a 1-yard run in the third quarter to make it 16-7.
In his first playoff start, Matt Schaub had an interception returned for a touchdown by Leon Hall before halftime.
Johnathan Joseph had an interception and J.J. Watt had a sack as the Texans beat the Bengals (10-7) in the wild-card round for the second straight year. Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991, the league’s longest current streak.
Foster’s touchdown and another Graham field goal gave the Texans to 16-10 lead after three quarters. Even though Houston dominated, the game was up for grabs throughout because Pro Bowler Schaub made one bad mistake. His sideline pass was intercepted by Hall and returned for a 21-yard touchdown, the cornerback’s second score in three games.
Houston piled up 351 yards and held the ball for 32 minutes through three quarters, but got into the end zone only once.
By contrast, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton had a horrid time. He completed 4 of 10 passes for 3 yards in the first half. With Watt’s sack added in, the Bengals had minus-6 yards passing and only 53 yards overall.
His 45-yard pass to A.J. Green got Cincinnati moving in the third quarter and set up Josh Brown’s 34-yard field goal. When Dalton tried to go to Green again, Joseph intercepted and got the Texans in scoring range again as the quarter ended.
After swatting down one of Dalton’s passes at the line, Watt wagged his finger at the quarterback.
Nothing was going to come easy.
For the second season in a row, the Bengals opened the playoffs at Houston looking for their first playoff win since the 1990 season, a 21-year drought that was tied for ninth-longest in NFL history. They lost 31-10 last season, with the then-rookie Dalton throwing three interceptions.
The main difference in this one: Schaub was back in charge for Houston. Rookie T.J. Yates filled in after Schaub hurt his foot last season, got the Texans a win in their first-ever playoff game, but couldn’t take then any farther.
Their franchise quarterback started a playoff game for the first time in his career. He came into the game in a slump, with the Texans losing three of their last four games while the offense sputtered.
The second time the Texans got the ball, they got going. Schaub completed an 18-yard pass, Foster had a 17-yard run and Keshawn Martin went 16 yards on a reverse, setting up Graham’s field goal.
It became a pattern – move the ball down the field, settle for three points. The fans started booing the familiar, come-up-short endings.
And Schaub did the one thing he wanted to avoid: Let Cincinnati’s high-scoring defense get its hands on the ball. Hall anticipated Schaub’s throw, stepped in front and returned it untouched for the defense’s fourth touchdown in the last four games.
Hall also ran back an interception 17 yards for the only Bengals touchdown in a 13-10 win over Pittsburgh that clinched a playoff spot. It was the first interception return for a touchdown against the Texans this season.
Like the Texans, the Bengals ended the season by hitting a wall on offense – one touchdown in the last two games.
A lot was on Dalton, who grew up in suburban Katy and had a dreadful playoff debut as a rookie last year in his hometown. He threw three interceptions, including one that Watt returned for a game-turning touchdown just before halftime.
He had to be better if the Bengals were going to end their notable playoff drought. Through three quarters, it wasn’t even close.