HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – When you consider all the Houston Texans have had to overcome just making the playoffs for the first time was a major step forward for the franchise this season.
Let’s just say now there has been a reassessment of expectations.
These Texans aren’t satisfied just being in the playoffs. They are here to make a statement and they certainly made a bold one during their stunning 31-10 first-round win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday in front of a Reliant Stadium record crowd of 71,725.
Finally, a city that has been long starving for football success for nearly 20 years – transcending both the latter years of the Oilers and the first 10 years of the Texans – has something it can stick its collective chest out about.
We will worry about the impending second round matchup at the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow.
“I’m just elated, I’m just excited, happy to bring this city a playoff win,” running back Arian Foster said. “It’s been thirsty for a playoff win for years and to be a part of that it just feels so good. You can feel the energy and buzz throughout the city.”
That has everything to do with what this team has delivered on after nine previous seasons of promises and near misses. The Texans entered into their first playoff campaign under some circumstances that would have crushed most teams – having to turn their third string rookie quarterback and entering the postseason on a three-game losing streak.
But none of it seemed to matter Saturday as the Texans pummeled the same Cincinnati team that they needed every second on the clock to escape with a win against a few weeks ago.
This one was special to receiver Andre Johnson who vowed to deliver the franchise to the playoffs when he first came aboard as a rookie in 2003. It’s even more special to owner Bob McNair who has worked tirelessly and provided the resources to bring winning football back to Houston.
“This is our greatest achievement,” McNair said. “Of course it’s just one step along the way. We’ve got a lot more work to do but still this is the furthest we’ve been before and I’m just real proud of this team.
“I think the way they have played under these circumstances … “
What we saw Saturday was a team that showed just how dominant it can be when all the collective parts are playing together as they should.
The offense, with rookie quarterback T.J. Yates doing his best Matt Schaub impression, managed the game well and got the ball into the hands of his top playmakers tight end Owen Daniels, Johnson and Foster and allowed them to take over.
After a rocky start in which he was temporarily benched after he fumbled and recovered the ball on the first play of the game and then jumped off sides the next, Foster recovered and showed why his instincts are unparalleled in the NFL. He picked up chunks of yards on precise cutbacks and his ability to leave defenders grasping for air en route to gaining 153 yards and scoring two touchdowns on 24 carries.
Then there was Johnson, who shook nearly three months of hamstring injuries to help deliver on his promise to the franchise with five receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown. His biggest play of the game came on a double move juke of Cincinnati cornerback Pacman Jones that went for a 40-yard touchdown reception that made the score 24-10 late in the third quarter.
But there was probably no individual player who had a bigger impact on Saturday’s outcome that rookie defensive end J.J. Watt. He made the game-changing play in the final 52 seconds of the first half when he jumped up at the line of scrimmage and intercepted a pass from Katy native Andy Dalton and raced 29 yards for a pick six that broke a 10-10 tie and for all intents and purposes broke the Bengals, too.
“That was the most tremendous play I’ve seen in my entire time in the NFL, not just this season but all along,” said cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who did his part by shutting down rookie receiver A.J. Green in the second half and then coming up with an interception early in the fourth quarter. “I think it kind of feeds off each other with the offense going out and pounding the rock and controlling the line of scrimmage up front and the defense controlling the line of scrimmage and playing exciting. It goes hand and hand and they were feeding off each other.”
What it all served to do is make for a miserable night for Dalton, who found himself having to playing from behind the entire second half.
That allowed for unmerciful pressure from the front Texans defensive front of nose tackle Earl Mitchell, defensive end Antonio Smith, outside linebacker Brooks Reed and Watt, who combined to sack the former TCU star four times.
There were times the youngster just seemed out of sorts as defensive coordinator Wade Phillips freely dialed up pressure from directions and angles.
“It was exciting because it came from so many different guys,” said Watt, who got revenge on Dalton for last year’s Rose Bowl when the Horned Frogs stunned Wisconsin. “Our DBs were making plays on the backend and then our defensive front there were guys getting to him every single pay. Once you get a quarterback rattled it’s tough for him to get unrattled.
“That interception was nice and then we kept coming and kept coming. Antonio with a sack, Earl with a sack, J. Joe with the pick. It was nonstop. It’s a lot of fun when you play a game like that and then when your offense is rolling like our was rolling today.”