HOUSTON – Andre Johnson hugged his coach at the end of Houston’s first playoff victory – a moment a decade in the making.
“It was a lot of fun,” the Texans’ star receiver said. “This is something not just for me, but for the whole organization. It’s special for me, because I said on the day I was drafted here (in 2003) that I wanted to be a part of that.”
Johnson has been the face of this 10-year-old franchise, and he scored on a 40-yard pass that powered the Texans to a 31-10 victory over the bumbling Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday in an AFC playoff game.
Johnson had plenty of help, too, from rookies J.J. Watt and T.J. Yates to running back Arian Foster’s two TDs and 153 yards.
Watt came through with a leaping interception return for a touchdown late in the first half, Yates threw a pinpoint pass to Johnson in the third quarter and Foster followed with his second touchdown – a 42-yard run in the fourth quarter – to finish off the Bengals (9-8).
Houston will play at Baltimore (12-4) next Sunday, a rematch of a regular-season game won by the Ravens.
The Bengals were in the playoffs for the third time in seven seasons, but haven’t advanced since beating the Houston Oilers following the 1990 season. They were done in this time by mistakes and a lack of pass protection.
Watt returned the first of rookie Andy Dalton’s three interceptions 29 yards for a score that broke a 10-all tie with 52 seconds left in the half. It sent the full house of 71,725 fans at Reliant Stadium into a tizzy, and the Texans into the locker room with all the momentum.
Dalton was 24 of 42 for 257 yards, while Yates was 11 of 20 for 159 yards in the first playoff game in the Super Bowl era matching two rookie quarterbacks. Foster scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter.
The Texans’ second-ranked defense had its best performance in several weeks, sacking Dalton four times. Houston also forced four turnovers.
“We got back to our type of football,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said, “and that was the key.”
Houston used six draft picks on defensive players. The Texans took Watt with the 11th overall pick, a cornerstone for the reconstruction of the defense. He started all 16 games and led the team with 13 tackles for loss.
But he’d never picked off a pass.
Watt saw this one coming, measuring his jump when Dalton dropped back and snatching the ball with both hands. He sprinted to the end zone as the capacity crowd erupted, and he raised both hands after reaching the end zone.
“I was really just trying to put my hands up and get in the way of the passing lane,” the 6-foot-5 Watt said. “It happened to kind of stick. I realized I had the ball so I just ran to the end zone just trying not to fall down.”
Watt became the sixth defensive linemen to return an interception for a touchdown in postseason history – excluding the Super Bowl – and the first rookie to do it.
“It changed the momentum of the game,” Houston linebacker Brian Cushing said.
Dalton rolled his eyes and shook his head as he walked to the Cincinnati bench and watched the replay on the giant scoreboard.
It was just Dalton’s second interception in his last seven games.