The Houston Texans got back to basics on Saturday, using a swarming defense and a steady diet of Arian Foster on offense to regain their swagger with a 19-13 playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
After tumbling from an 11-1 start this season with three losses in four games to squander a first-round playoff bye, Foster led the way with 140 yards rushing and Houston's only touchdown to send the Texans into the second round against the New England Patriots.
Foster has rushed for over 100 yards in a game eight times this season, and the Texans have notched wins every time.
"It helps everybody," Foster said about getting the running game in gear against the visiting Bengals. "It keeps our offense on the field. It keeps their offense off the field and it gives our defense a break. It gives us momentum. We love to run the ball here. That's what we're built for."
Foster added another 34 yards on eight receptions to register 174 yards in all.
The quick-footed Foster, who darts in and out of tight spaces with his cut-back moves, did some of his best work near the end of the game when he gained 20 yards on four carries as Houston ran out the clock after taking over on downs at their own 28-yard line.
"The whole stadium knew we had to line up and run the ball and boy was he at his best there at the end," said Houston coach Gary Kubiak. "It just seems, the bigger it gets, the better he gets."
Foster, a consistent force in the game whose longest run covered 17 yards, was also a dominant factor in Houston's playoff-opening victory over the Bengals last year with 153 yards rushing.
That victory also lifted the Texans into the second round of the National Football League playoffs against the Patriots, who thumped Houston 42-14 last month.
Foster said Saturday's victory helped them get over the bad taste left by their stumbling finish.
"We played a clean game," he said. "We didn't hurt ourselves with penalties. That's been the biggest thing.
"You can't win football games turning the ball over and getting penalties. Once you fix your mistakes, we're a hard team to beat."
Kubiak said he had faith his club would turn around.
"I watched us go through difficult times, and a lot of times you find out a lot about people," the coach said. "They kept coming in here and kept working, and they kept thinking positive.
"Our meeting last night was a powerful, powerful meeting, just listening to players and no one getting down on themselves.
"It's been a gut check for the organization, and the players led the way today and I'm very proud of them."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)