The team had done a great job of making sure fans had plenty of excitement before the game. Native Texan and country music star entertained fans outside the stadium in Budweiser Plaza, team mascot Toro was available for photos with fans, and Texans Cheerleaders visited with fans.
Former Houston Oilers Coach Bum Phillips, father of Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips led the team out of the tunnel onto the stadium for introductions, Gospel Artist Yolanda Adams sang the National Anthem, and Walker performed the team’s unofficial theme song, “It’s Football Time in Houston” before the game, and sang some of his hits at halftime.
The fans were primed and ready. As for the Texans, they looked just like the Bengals, teams that had very few players that had been in the playoffs in their careers. As a result, both teams had a case of nerves early on. Cincy won the coin toss, but deferred to the second half. Houston went 3-and-out on their first possession. The Bengals returned the favor on their first possession. Houston then got a first down on a 20-yard pass from T.J. Yates to Andre Johnson, but the drive then stalled out and the visitors got the ball back.
After a 2-yard gain by Cedric Benson, Andy Dalton went deep for A.J. Green and Glover Quin was called for pass interference at the Texans 20. The Bengals smelled the goal line and ended the drive with a 1-yard TD run by Benson with 7:34 left in the first quarter. The drive was a 5-play, 74-yard drive that took 2:23 off the first quarter clock. Mike Nugent added the PAT and Cincinnati was ahead 7-0 and Houston fans were in shock.
Houston marched right back down the field to tie the score after an 8-yard TD run by Arian Foster and a Neil Rackers point after with 4:57 left in the first quarter. The drive was 6 plays covering 80 yards and took 2:37 off the clock. The score got the home fans loud and proud and the game was on once again.
The Bengals came back down the field and appeared to be headed down for another score when Brooks Reed sacked Dalton on a key 3rd-and-8, forcing a 50-yard Nugent field goal attempt. The kick was just wide right and Houston took back over on their 40. Unfortunately, they could do nothing with the good field position, and went 3-and-out and turned the ball right back to Cincy at their 20 after a Matt Turk punt into the end zone with 11:24 left in the first half.
The Bengals drove down to the Houston 19 before stalling out on their next possession, and with 7:09 left in the first half, Nugent kicked a 37-yard field goal, capping a 61-yard, 8-play drive that took 4:15, giving the visitors a 10-7 lead.
On the ensuing possession the Texans moved down to the Bengal 21, but on a key 3rd down, Yates was late on his release to Andre Johnson, allowing the Bengal defender to break up the pass, and Rackers came in and tied the game at 10 with a 37-yard field goal. The drive took 13 plays. The drive was 59 yards and took 5:21.
Cincy got the ball back with 1:48 left in the half and the Texans defense rose to the occasion. After a 1-yard loss on first down, rookie J.J. Watt raised his hands in the air to bat down Dalton’s second down pass and intercepted the ball. He took the pick 29-yards to the end zone with 42 seconds left in the half, and after Rackers added the point after, Houston fans were excited, as their team had a 17-10 lead.
Following a touchback on the Houston kick, the Bengals moved out to their 40 with 8 seconds left in the half and called their final time out. Dalton wanted to go deep on the last play of the half, but Watt sacked him for a 7-yard loss, sending the home team to the locker room up by a touchdown in their first ever playoff appearance.
The third quarter brought more of the beginning of the game. The Bengals went 3-and-out to on their first possession, but even though the Texans managed to work the ball out to midfield on their first possession of the half, they stalled out and Turk punted down to the 8 where Cincy took over for their second possession of the 3rd quarter.
The Bengals got a couple of first downs on their next drive, but the H’Town defense stiffened and Houston took back over on offense with 5:45 left in the 3rd quarter at their 17. Houston got going on offense, keeping the ball for 9 plays, moving 83 yards and taking 4:37 off the clock en route to their next score. Yates hit a streaking Andre Johnson who had gotten behind Adam “Pacman” Jones at the 5 and he cruised into the end zone for the TD. Rackers added the extra point and Houston had a commanding 24-10 lead with 1:08 left in the third stanza. Rabid Houston fans felt for certain they would go home victorious!
Excited by the performance of Yates and the offense, Wade Phillips’ defense rose to the occasion and forced a 4th and 3 from the Houston 47. Jonathan Joseph intercepted a Dalton desperation pass at the Houston 24 and the Texans were back on offense.
Houston ran the ball and ran the clock down, knowing if they could get a sustained drive and let the defense rest, the victory was almost guaranteed. The offense managed to run the clock down to seven and a half minutes left in the game before they were forced to punt away. Thanks to a good play by James Casey on special teams, the Bengals started at their own 9 down by two touchdowns.
On a 2nd and Dalton was intercepted by Daniel Manning at the Bengal 45, and with 7:01 left in the game, the Texans had the ball and a 14 point lead. Houston fans brought their excitement to an even higher level, realizing that barring a total collapse, Houston would be heading into the Divisional Round next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
The offense responded and excited the fans even more. On a 3rd down Arian Foster ran for a 42-yard touchdown, icing the game for the home team. Rackers added the PAT, and Houston was ahead in a blowout, 31-10. The drive was 45 yards in 3 plays and took 1:46.
The Bengals were determined to not go down without one last gasp, and put together a march down the field all the way inside the Houston 10 and the defense came up with a huge play on 4th down. Yates and the offense went back on the field, ran two more plays, and the game was over and the crowd went wild.
Team Owner Bob McNair, who suffered through nine disappointing seasons before seeing his team reach the playoffs for the first time in year ten, was elated after the win. “It was a wonderful win for us; just like coach told the guys after the game. We just went back to playing the way we have been playing earlier in the year; everybody taking care of their job and playing a clean game and that’s the kind of result we can get when we do that. It was nice to us get back on track. This is our greatest achievement. Of course this is only one step along the way. We’ve got a lot of more work to do. Still, this is the furthest we’ve been before and I’m real proud of this team. When you consider that you have your number three rookie quarterback leading your team and playing as well as he’s playing, which I think is fantastic, and for everybody to rally around him and accept him as the leader on offense is just remarkable and is just a testament to the group of guys we have on this team. Gary has been able to manage the locker room during very difficult times and that’s not easy to do. A lot of coaches lose control of the locker room. Gary never did. His players always played hard for him. We lacked some leadership on the field and our defense wasn’t playing well enough. It was obvious to me that we had to improve our defense and some of our players had to in turn step up and be leaders. They’ve done that. It has to be the happiest moment and greatest accomplishment because of what we’ve had to deal with and being able to win with all the adversity. It’s just a wonderful message for everybody.”
It was an ecstatic Coach Gary Kubiak that addressed the media after the big win. “I was really proud of our team. We played the football that we had been playing when we were winning and that’s what we were after. I told the guys I really thought we kind of needed to go through our last three weeks. And I didn’t mean losing games, but needed to kind of be humbled from the standpoint of what we’re not going to be able to get away with if we’re going to win during this month. I think it really helped us. We came back, we played error-free football, from the turnover standpoint, got turnovers and ended up running the ball well before the day was over. So, it was the key to us winning.”
The Texans will now travel to Baltimore for the early AFC Divisional Game Sunday at noon to take on the Baltimore Ravens, a team they lost to in Baltimore early in the year. They hope to keep the momentum going with a road playoff win next week. IF they can play like they did Saturday, they’ll have an excellent chance of accomplishing their next goal. GO TEXANS!