Texans 31, Bengals 10
The largest crowd to ever watch a Houston Texans game — 71,725 maniacs strong — stayed standing at their seats after the clock hit 00:00. You don't walk away from this type of night. You stay there and savor it for all it's worth, delight in every moment.
Texans 31, Cincinnati Bengals 10.
Houston came into this game carrying plenty of doubts, uncertainty built off a three-game losing streak to close the regular season (meaningless or not), a slow start on Saturday and the shadow of a season's worth of injuries. But doubt's gone now — effectively punched in the mouth in the biggest game in franchise history. To the roaring approval of all those fans.
"I've played in national championship games in college," Texans nose tackle Shaun Cody said of his time at USC. "And I've never played in an environment quite like that. That was unbelievable."
Rookie defensive end J.J. Watt changed the game with an unbelievable interception, but the longest-tenured Houston Texan put it away. Andre Johnson scored the cushioning touchdown, putting Houston up by two touchdowns late in the third quarter.
"When Andre scored that touchdown, I wanted to run up and down the field," tight end Owen Daniels said. "That was something. Dre doing it . . . that meant a lot to everybody."
That touchdown came on a 40-yard pass from rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, one of the good throws on a wildly inconsistent day for the not-so-long-ago third stringer. But when you have a Bulls on Parade defense led by a rookie who never stops moving and best running back in the NFL (Arian Foster's line: 153 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries), who needs an elite quarterback?
"I've played in national championship games in college," nose tackle Shaun Cody said of his time at USC. "And I've never played in an environment quite like that. That was unbelievable."
Houston (11-6) rolls on to Baltimore to play the 12-4 Ravens for a berth in the AFC Championship Game in the early game next Sunday, Jan. 15. And with the way the Texans took over this game — ripping off 24 unanswered points after Cincinnati took a 10-7 lead — it's hard not to think of the AFC South champs as a serious threat again.
Just ask Andy Dalton, the red-headed rookie from Katy who'd never lost at Reliant before. Of course, he'd never played Watt, Antonio Smith, Johnathan Joseph and the rest of these Bulls on Parade in the playoffs before either. The Texans intercept Dalton three times, sack him four more, turn his homecoming into something out of a Tim Burton movie.
Did you really think Johnson was going to let the Texans lose?
In a game when Yates could complete only 11 passes, the lifeline wideout caught five of them, accounting for 90 of the 159 yards Houston gained through the air. While providing several boatloads of inspiration.
When it was over, Johnson ran out onto the middle of the field, pumping his fist, trying to soak it all in too, just like those fans. One step down, two more from the Super Bowl.
Who's doubting now?