HOUSTON — Andy Dalton rolled his eyes and shook his head. The Bengals rookie QB couldn't believe the play J.J. Watt made that turned the game around for the Texans.
The 6-5 defensive end fought off a blocker, leaped in front of Dalton's pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. It gave Houston the lead just before halftime, and the Texans never looked back in a 31-10 victory in the AFC wild-card game Saturday.
"He jumped up and made a play," said Dalton, who had thrown just one interception over his past six games. "It was a great job on his part."
It was the first interception of the season for the rookie Watt.
"It changed the momentum of the game," Houston LB Brian Cushing said.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Chris Crocker sat at his locker after the game with a stunned look. He was numb. The Bengals' nine-year safety could do nothing but look back and think about what could have been.
With Houston leading 17-10 and 2:39 left in the third quarter, Crocker had a chance to even the score for the Bengals. He read the route of TE Owen Daniels perfectly, sized up QB T.J. Yates' throw and broke for the ball in the air near midfield.
But instead of a 17-17 game, Crocker dropped the ball. Three plays later Yates and Andre Johnson connected for a 40-yard touchdown that increased Houston's lead to 24-10.
One play doesn't win or lose a game, but Crocker's drop denied the Bengals a chance to turn momentum their way.
"I catch that ball and it's a tie ball game," Crocker said. "I can't explain how bad I feel because that's a touchdown. I just dropped it. It hit me right in the hands."
Yates was grateful for the second opportunity.
"That was a misread by me, and he did a good job of jumping the route," he said. "I got lucky that he dropped it. It was a poor decision by me, but we did a good job of coming right back, moving the ball down the field and Andre doing a good job of getting in the end zone for us."
Good skid: The Texans rallied past the Bengals on Dec. 11 in Cincinnati to clinch their playoff berth. But they lost their next three games to finish the regular season.
Johnson said the losing streak proved beneficial.
"Everybody was riding high. The city was going crazy. We were in the playoffs for the first time," Johnson said. "Over those last three weeks, that brought us back down to reality and let us know what we needed to do."
Houston legend: Bum Phillips, who coached the Houston Oilers from 1975-80 and led them to three playoff berths, led the Texans out of their tunnel before the game. Phillips, 88, the father of Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, wore his trademark cowboy hat, a black shirt and blue jeans and tipped his hat to the cheering fans.
Miscellany: Bengals S Taylor Mays sat with the hamstring injury that kept him out of the regular-season finale. … Jeff Garcia, signed Dec. 7 by the Texans to be the third-string quarterback, was inactive. … Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, watched the game from a suite with commissioner Roger Goodell. … Goodell chatted with fans on the field about 30 minutes before kickoff.