HOUSTON — J.J. Watt swatted away passes, Arian Foster ran away from tacklers, and the Houston Texans did just enough to knock Cincinnati out of the playoffs for the second successive year.
Matt Schaub made his first postseason start a successful one when Foster’s 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter helped the Texans to a 19-13 AFC wild-card win over the Bengals on Saturday.
“The whole stadium knew we had to line up and run the ball and, boy, he was at his best there at the end,” coach Gary Kubiak said of Foster. “He’s become a fine, fine player, and it just seems like the bigger it gets, the better Arian gets.”
Now comes the big test. The Texans (13-4) move on to the second round next Sunday, when they visit the New England Patriots, who beat them, 42-14, on Dec. 10. This time they’re 91/2-point underdogs.
“It’s one step,” Watt said of the win. “We know what it means, and we have bigger goals than that.”
He’s glad the team got back on track this week, but knows Houston will have to play better to beat the Patriots.
“They know what they’re doing in the playoffs,” Watt said. “They’ve been here many times before. They know what it takes, so it’s going to take everything we have and we’re really excited about the challenge.”
Foster said he isn’t planning to watch too much of the recording of Houston’s loss to the Patriots.
“They’re a new team, we’re a new team,” Foster said. “Any time you play a team twice in a season … you have to attack it differently. It’s a different mentality. Different things are at stake.”
Shayne Graham kicked four field goals for the Texans, while Foster finished with 140 yards and became the first NFL player to have 100-yard games in each of his first three playoff games.
Watt finished with a sack and swatted away two of Andy Dalton’s pass attempts, once wagging his finger at the second-year quarterback after the play.
“I think it was a full defensive effort, everybody was flying around and we were getting off the field on third downs,” Watt said.
On defense, the Texans smothered Dalton and the Bengals (10-7) early. Cincinnati’s second drive ended when Connor Barwin tackled BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a 6-yard loss and Watt followed with a sack of Dalton.
Houston’s offense had the ball for almost 39 minutes as it ate up the clock with a season-high 32 carries from Foster.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage, and any time we do that it’s going to be hard to beat us,” Foster said.
The Texans had trouble finishing drives and managed three field goals in the first half. Houston struck first after halftime, with Foster scoring the game’s only offensive touchdown to make it 16-7.
Schaub, who missed last season’s playoffs with a foot injury, had an interception returned for a touchdown by Leon Hall before halftime.
“It was never easy,” Schaub said. “Cincinnati is a great team. I made a turnover and gave them points. We just had to rally around each other and we did that.”