HOUSTON — The Houston Texans turned to their rookies, then to their stars to win the first playoff appearance in franchise history, a 31-10 rout of the bungling Cincinnati Bengals.
Rookie J.J. Watt’s leaping interception return for a touchdown late in the first half propelled the Texans in Saturday’s AFC wild-card game.
Third-string quarterback T.J. Yates, another first-year play pressed into action, then threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson and Arian Foster followed with his second touchdown of the game, a 42-yard run in the fourth quarter, to finish off the Bengals.
After nine seasons of missing the playoffs, the AFC South champion Texans (11-6) are heading to AFC North winner Baltimore (12-4) next Sunday.
“This is a special day,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said.
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.
“He’s been exceptional,” Kubiak said of Watt. “He’s played like a 4- or 5-year player. That was a huge play. That got us a lot of momentum going into halftime.”
Yates then hit Johnson on a TD pass late in the third quarter, and Foster added his long scoring run to close out the scoring.
Cincinnati was in the playoffs for the third time in seven seasons, but the Bengals (9-8) haven’t advanced since beating the Houston Oilers following the 1990 season.
Foster scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter to tie the score at 7, and finished with 153 yards on 24 carries.