HOUSTON — The Texans had their moments in 2012, starting off 11-1. They struggled down the stretch while losing homefield advantage in the playoffs. Saturday, they regained their swagger.
Matt Schaub made his first postseason start a successful one when Arian Foster's 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter helped Houston to a 19-13 AFC wild-card win over Cincinnati.
"The whole stadium knew we had to line up and run the ball, and boy, he was at his best there at the end," coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's become a fine, fine player, and it just seems like the bigger it gets, the better Arian gets."
The Texans (13-4) move on to the second round Jan. 13, when they visit the Patriots, who beat them 42-14 in Week 14. This time they're 9½-point underdogs.
"It's one step," defensive end J.J. Watt said of the win. "We know what it means, and we have bigger goals than that."
He's glad the team got back on track this week but knows Houston will have to play better to beat the Patriots.
"They know what they're doing in the playoffs," Watt said. "They've been here many times before. They know what it takes, so it's going to take everything we have, and we're really excited about the challenge."
Foster said he isn't planning to watch too much film of Houston's loss to the Patriots.
"They're a new team, we're a new team," Foster said. "Anytime you play a team twice in a season … you have to attack it differently. It's a different mentality. Different things are at stake."
Shayne Graham kicked four field goals for the Texans, and Foster finished with 140 yards and became the first NFL player to have 100-yard games in each of his first three playoff games.
Watt had a sack and swatted away two of Andy Dalton's passes, once wagging his finger at the Bengals quarterback after the play.
"I think it was a full defensive effort, everybody was flying around and we were getting off the field on third downs," Watt said.
The Texans defense smothered Dalton and the Bengals early. Cincinnati's second drive ended when Connor Barwin tackled BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a 6-yard loss and Watt followed with a sack of Dalton.
Houston's offense had the ball for almost 39 minutes behind Foster's season-high 32 carries.
"We controlled the line of scrimmage, and any time we do that, it's going to be hard to beat us," Foster said.
Schaub had an interception returned for a score by cornerback Leon Hall before halftime but finished 29-of-38 for 262 yards. Dalton was 14-of-30 for 127 yards.
"The offense didn't play as well as it could have," Dalton said. "You can always look back and say, 'What if?' "