(Reuters) - The Houston Texans used a stifling defensive performance to snap a late-season skid and defeat the visiting Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 in a wild-card game that kicked off the National Football League postseason.
Houston, who squandered a first-round bye opportunity after dropping three of their last four regular season games, stopped the Bengals attack cold and used a blend of the run and pass to dominate the game.
“I watched us go through difficult times. It’s been a gut check for this organization the past month,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “I‘m very proud of them.”
Running back Arian Foster ran for 140 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Matt Schaub completed 29-of-38 passes for 261 yards as Houston reprised their first-round success last year over Cincinnati, who have gone 22 years without a playoff win.
With the victory, the AFC South champion Texans earned a second-round road showdown on January 13 against the AFC East-winning New England Patriots, who pounded them 42-14 last month.
Houston controlled the ball on offense for nearly two thirds of Saturday’s game but had trouble finding the end zone and settled for field goals that allowed Cincinnati to stay close.
The Texans kicked four field goals and the Bengals booted a pair under the domed roof at Reliant Stadium.
The Bengals, held to minus-six yards in the passing game over the first 30 minutes, trailed 9-7 at halftime thanks to a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown by Leon Hall, who cut in front of James Casey along the sideline to snare Schaub’s pass and run unimpeded to the end zone.
Foster, who also caught eight passes for 34 yards, bulled in from one yard out on Houston’s first possession of the second half to give the Texans a 16-7 lead with the only touchdown the winners would score.
Schaub praised the play of Houston’s offensive line, who did not allow a sack against a Bengals defense that led the NFL with 51 sacks in the regular season.
“They played an outstanding game,” said Schaub, who was making his postseason debut after missing last year’s playoffs due to a foot injury. “That’s a good pass-rushing group, and they opened up holes for Arian.”
Kicker Shayne Graham connected from 48 yards in the first quarter and added three more from 27, 22 and 24 yards while Houston outgained the Bengals in total yards by 420-207 and denied them a first down on each of their nine third-down plays.
Cincinnati still had a chance pull ahead late in the game, but a fourth-and-11 pass to Marvin Jones came up three yards short at the Houston 28-yard line with under three minutes to play.
“Third-down conversion was the key to the football game,” said Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis. “We didn’t generate any big plays ... so we were playing behind the eight ball a little bit.”
Cincinnati’s top receiver, A.J. Green, was not targeted once by quarterback Andy Dalton in the first half.
“Coverage and things,” Lewis explained when asked about Green. “A couple of times when A.J. would have been the target he (Dalton) got flushed out of (the pocket).”
Dalton began connecting with Green after the intermission, but overthrew him once and underthrew him another time on long passes into the end zone when the receiver was in the clear.
The loss dropped Lewis’s record to 0-4 in the playoffs during his 10 years as Bengals coach.
“We have to keep beating down the door until we break through,” he said. “It’s disappointing. We got to figure out a way t6o push over the hump.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue