HOUSTON -- With positive momentum long since departed and home-field advantage lost during a forgettable December, the Texans sought a fresh start on Saturday, something to erase the stench of their collapse.
While their offense, led by six Pro Bowl selections, failed to deliver convincingly, the Texans welcomed the timely return of their dominating defense and outlasted the Bengals for a second consecutive postseason, winning 19-13 in an AFC Wild Card Playoff Game at Reliant Stadium.
The Texans (13-4) amassed 420 yards, including 140 yards on 32 carries from running back Arian Foster, yet settled for four Shayne Graham field goals. Quarterback Matt Schaub earned his first postseason win despite an uneven performance, passing for 262 yards. An offensive line featuring three Pro Bowl selections won its battle with the Bengals' celebrated defensive front led by standout tackle Geno Atkins.
"We had a rough patch for about a month," said Texans center Chris Myers, a Pro Bowl pick along with left guard Wade Smith and left tackle Duane Brown. "As long as we're confident in what we're doing and everyone is communicating, I think that's the biggest thing."
Atkins and ends Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers combined for 33 sacks and led the Bengals' resurgence from a 3-5 start. But the Texans negated the Bengals in the trenches and compiled 158 rushing yards on 39 attempts. Their commitment to the ground game provided stability in support of Schaub, who struggled down the stretch in the regular season and merely managed this victory.
The Texans' defense sought to rebuild its confidence as well, and the unit performed exceptionally throughout, limiting the Bengals to 198 yards and a pair of Josh Brown field goals. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton completed just 14 of 30 passes for 127 yards with an interception as the Bengals (10-7) finished 0-for-9 on third downs.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, produced five tackles, including two for lost yardage, two quarterback hits, two deflected passes and one sack. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph returned his third-quarter interception of Dalton 14 yards to the Bengals 26, setting up the final Graham field goal early in the fourth.
"We didn't make enough plays and put ourselves in third-and-long situations, and that's always tough against a good defense," Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis said. "Everyone has to look at himself in the mirror. We all probably had a handful of plays that we wish we could have back. That's how it always is (following a loss)."
The Texans failed to reverse the trend of their sagging offense, a unit that produced twice as many field goals (10) as touchdowns during a 1-3 stretch that followed an 11-1 burst to the best record in the league.
Houston settled for field goals on its first three scoring drives, including following red-zone penetrations early in the second quarter and after the Bengals grabbed a 7-6 lead when Leon Hall turned a poorly thrown Schaub pass intended for James Casey into a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown. The Texans responded immediately to the deficit, covering 76 yards in 13 plays to set up Graham for a 22-yarder.
But after bogging down at the Cincinnati 9-yard line en route to doubling their 3-0 lead early in the second, the Texans stalled at the Bengals 4 prior to surging ahead 9-7. It wasn't until Foster plunged in from the 1-yard line with 10:31 left in the third quarter that the Texans found the end zone. That proved to be their lone touchdown of the day.
That tally proved sufficient. While the Bengals can hang their hat on their red-zone defense, they fell short and watched their season end in Houston for a second time in as many postseasons. The Texans, meanwhile, turned their attention to a rematch with the Patriots, who sent them into their spiral with a 42-14 win in New England on Dec. 10.
"We gave up that one touchdown that we'd like to have back or it might be a different outcome in the locker room," Geathers said. "They outplayed us, and we just have to learn from this."
Said Watt of the Patriots: "Obviously we didn't play as well as we can play the last time we were there. They're a very good football team. Nobody said the road to the Super Bowl was easy. We're going to have to go on the road in a tough environment against a very good football team and play our best ball."
NOTES: With his 48-yard field goal in the first quarter, Texans kicker Shayne Graham set a personal postseason mark. His previous long was a 35-yard field goal against the Jets as a member of the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Playoff on Jan. 16, 2011. Graham added field goals of 27, 22 and 24 yards. ... With his 140 rushing yards, Foster became the first player in NFL history to eclipse 100 yards in his first three postseason games. Foster has rushed for 425 yards and four touchdowns on 83 attempts in his postseason career. ... After claiming the first three meetings with the Texans, the Bengals have dropped five consecutive games to Houston, including back-to-back postseason setbacks. The Bengals lost 31-10 in an AFC Wild Card Game last season.