Matt Schaub got Houston's offense out of its rut on Saturday, leading two long drives for a 3-0 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals after the first quarter of a wild-card playoff rerun from last season.
Shayne Graham kicked a 48-yard field goal, and Schaub had the Texans in scoring range again as the quarter ended, a vast improvement in how Houston's offense ended the season.
For the second season in a row, the Bengals opened the playoffs at Houston looking for their first playoff win since 1990. The main difference in this one: Schaub was back in charge for Houston.
The Texans beat the Bengals 31-10 last year behind rookie T.J. Yates, who filled in after Schaub hurt his foot during the season. Yates got the Texans through that first game — their franchise-first playoff appearance — but couldn't take them any farther.
Their Pro Bowl passer was back Saturday, starting a playoff game for the first time in his career. He came into the game in a slump, with the Texans losing three of their last four games while the offense sputtered.
The Texans won the coin toss and decided to take the ball rather than defer to the second half, giving them a chance to get off to a fast start. It backfired — three plays managed 5 yards, setting up a punt.
The second time they got the ball, they got going. Schaub completed an 18-yard pass, Arian Foster had a 17-yard run and Keshawn Martin went 16 yards on a reverse, setting up Graham's field goal. The Texans were in field goal range again as the quarter ended.
The Bengals also ended the season by hitting a wall on offense — one touchdown in the last two games, half as many as the defense scored.
A lot was on quarterback Andy Dalton, who grew up in suburban Katy and had a dreadful playoff debut as a rookie last year in his hometown. He threw three interceptions, including one that J.J. Watt returned for a game-turning touchdown just before halftime.
He had to be better if the Bengals were going to end their notable playoff drought.
The Bengals hadn't won a playoff game since 1990, the longest current drought and tied for ninth-longest in NFL history. During those two lost decades, they'd been through five coaches, had 21 different quarterbacks throw a pass, and lost all three of their first-round chances to advance.
It's been so long that the last playoff win game against a team that no longer exists, at a stadium that no longer stands. They beat the Houston Oilers 41-14 at Riverfront Stadium in a first-round game in 1990.
This represented their best chance to break through.
The Bengals finished the season by winning seven of eight, tying the best closing stretch in franchise history. The offense wasn't much — Dalton threw for only four touchdowns with five interceptions in the last five games — but the defense more than made up for it with a line that had started to dominate.
The defense scored two touchdowns in the last three games and set a club record with 51 sacks. With 6-foot-7 Michael Johnson rushing in from one end with those long arms, Carlos Dunlap muscling his way in from the other side and Pro Bowl starter Geno Atkins shoving his way up the middle, the Bengals had become expert at taking the other team apart.
Schaub managed to avoid the rush in the first quarter, getting rid of the ball before they could get to him. He was 7 of 8 for 58 yards without a sack. By contrast, Watt sacked Dalton and the Bengals wound up gaining only 19 yards on two possessions.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL