HOUSTON (AP) — Matt Schaub got Houston's offense out of its rut on Saturday, leading three long field goal drives for a 9-7 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals after a lopsided opening half of their wild-card playoff rerun.
The Pro Bowl quarterback also made a mistake that kept the Bengals in an otherwise one-sided game. His sideline pass was intercepted by Leon Hall and returned for a 21-yard touchdown, the cornerback's second score in three games.
Given how much the Texans dominated the half, the Bengals were fortunate to be so close. Houston piled up 250 yards and held the ball for nearly 23 minutes, but couldn't get into the end zone.
Andy Dalton had a horrid time in the half, completing 4 of 10 passes for 3 yards. With J.J. Watt's sack added in, the Bengals had minus-6 yards passing and only 53 yards overall.
Shayne Graham kicked field goals of 48, 27 and 22 yards, and Hall's interception return kept the Bengals in it.
For the second season in a row, the Bengals opened the playoffs at Houston looking for their first playoff win since 1990, a 21-year drought that was tied for ninth-longest in NFL history. They lost 31-10 last season, with the then-rookie Dalton throwing three interceptions.
The main difference in this one: Schaub was back in charge for Houston. Rookie T.J. Yates filled in after Schaub hurt his foot last season, got the Texans a win in their first-ever playoff game, but couldn't take then any farther.
Their franchise quarterback started 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.
It became a pattern — move the ball down the field, settle for three points. The fans started booing the familiar, come-up-short endings.
And Schaub did the one thing he wanted to avoid: Let Cincinnati's high-scoring defense get its hands on the ball. Hall anticipated Schaub's throw, stepped in front and returned it untouched for the defense's fourth touchdown in the last four games.
It was the first interception return for a touchdown against the Texans this season.
The Bengals also ended the season by hitting a wall on offense — one touchdown in the last two games.
A lot was on 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 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. In the first half on Saturday, he wasn't even close.
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 kept them in it again in the opening half.
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