Bengals-Texans Preview

The Associated Press

The last time the Houston Texans faced the Cincinnati Bengals, they clinched their first AFC South title for their first playoff appearance.

Houston has not won since.

After limping into the playoffs following three straight losses, the Texans host a Bengals team seeking its first postseason victory in 21 years Saturday at Reliant Stadium.

Making just his second career start after Matt Schaub (foot) and Matt Leinart (collarbone) suffered season-ending injuries in consecutive weeks, Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates led fourth-quarter scoring drives of 83 and 80 yards, respectively, in a 20-19 come-from-behind victory at Cincinnati on Dec. 11.

His game-winning 6-yard scoring pass to Kevin Walters with six seconds left extended Houston's franchise-record winning streak to seven. It also allowed the Texans (10-6) to celebrate their division title in the locker room after they watched Tennessee lose to New Orleans.

"We were very, very lucky (to defeat the Bengals)," coach Gary Kubiak told the Texans' official website on Tuesday. "We know we won't get away with that type of effort this weekend."

It would be hard to call the Texans lucky with the number of injuries they've overcome this season. Arian Foster was third in the NFL with 1,841 yards from scrimmage, but he missed two games at the beginning of the season with a hamstring injury. Houston has not had All-Pro linebacker Mario Williams (pectoral) in the lineup since October following his season-ending injury, while All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson has played just seven games due to injuries to both hamstrings.

Johnson returned in Sunday's 23-22 loss to the Titans following a three-game absence, but Yates played just one series after suffering a bruised left shoulder when he was sacked on his first snap.

Yates, though, is expected to start after backup Jake Delhomme played for the first time since being signed Nov. 29.

Kubiak also had a chance to rest many of his regulars last Sunday - including Foster and tight end Owen Daniels - with the No. 3 seed already clinched, but losing three straight was not how the Texans wanted to head into their first playoff game.

"We're ripping off the rear-view mirror,'' tight end Joel Dreessen said. "The regular season is over with, and the Texans are officially invited to the postseason. We open up at home, in one week. And that's our focus right now. It's a whole new season, and we have to play at our best.''

The Bengals (9-7) have the same approach as they enter the postseason for the third time since 2005, but are looking to advance for the first time since a 41-14 wild-card victory over the Houston Oilers on Jan. 6, 1991.

Cincinnati defeated St. Louis and Arizona following last month's loss to Houston, but it needed losses by the New York Jets and Denver last Sunday to clinch the final wild-card spot.

"It's kind of weird,'' rookie quarterback Andy Dalton said following Sunday's 24-16 loss to AFC North champion Baltimore. "Obviously we didn't get it done today, but we still have a chance.''

That chance could largely hinge on how well Dalton - a Pro Bowl first-alternate - and fellow rookie wide receiver A.J. Green can exploit the Texans' second-ranked defense.

Dalton, who missed Wednesday's practice due to the flu, threw for 189 yards and a TD last month against Houston, while Green caught five passes for 59 yards.

"(The Dec. 11 loss is) in the back of our mind," Green, the Bengals' first rookie Pro Bowler since 1981, told the team's official website. "We're just going to go out there and play our game. If we stick to our gameplan, I think we have a great chance of winning the game."

The Bengals went 0-7 against playoff teams, but six of those losses were by eight or fewer points.

"We definitely haven't played our best game yet,'' said Dalton, a Texas native who is 3-0 at Reliant Stadium, where he played twice in high school and once while at TCU. "It's what we're working for. We've got to go put it all together and just let it all out. Once we're able to do that, this team can be really good.''

However, the Bengals' run defense will have to improve after yielding a season-high 221 yards last Sunday. Foster (1,224) and rookie Ben Tate (942) lead the Texans' second-ranked running attack (153.0 per game).

"Being in a hostile environment, what we've got to do is do our best to stop the run, get the crowd out of it, cause some turnovers and get in the backfield," Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga said.

If Cincinnati can win for the first time in five playoff road games, it will play at No. 1 seed New England next weekend in the divisional round.

If Houston wins its fourth straight in this series, it will travel to second-seeded Baltimore.

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