Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 1/7/12
HOUSTON First playoff win for a Houston team since 1991. First playoff win, ever, for the Houston Texans. First time in a long time this overlooked football city announced in no uncertain terms to the rest of the country that it needs to take its franchise seriously. Never mind that, in using a phenomenal defensive outing and a mistake-free rookie quarterback to dispatch the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10 Saturday at Reliant Stadium, the Texans earned the almost certain right to get slaughtered on the road next weekend against the Baltimore Ravens. This win, with its heavy emphasis on penalties, defense, big plays and growing confidence, means many things that should last long past their showdown in Baltimore. "I'm just elated, excited, happy to bring this city a playoff win that's been thirsty for (one)," said running back Arian Foster, who ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Houstonians, again knowing what it means to win an NFL postseason game, were imbued Saturday with the kind of joy that should turn into long-term pride and serious expectations in the future. Head coach Gary Kubiak can once again stalk this city with the air of a football genius. And Wade Phillips confirmed you can be one of the NFL's best coordinators and one of its worst head coaching talents. Oh, yes, and the Texans with that gritty defense, soaring confidence and now invaluable knowledge of how it feels and what it takes to win a playoff game will get Matt Schaub back next season with a whole new sense of itself. Meaning that while 2011 was the season they arrived as a serious franchise, 2012 will be the season they should compete as serious Super Bowl contenders. "I grew up right down the road in The Heights," Kubiak said after the win. "It's a special day. I was sitting in my office all day today leading up to the game thinking holy . . . " And here he paused long enough to not finish that sentence. "The Texans are in the playoffs." Make no mistake. In moving that fact to the Texans having won a playoff game, this was a massive win beyond the obvious fact that all playoffs wins are big. "This is our great achievement," Texans owner Bob McNair said. "Of course this is only one step along the way." There is something special in winning a franchise's first ever playoff game, and in a particular team full of ambition and promise winning its first together. That knowledge will last well into next year, preparing the Texans, once their starting quarterback returns from a season-ending foot injury, for a real shot at much more than one playoff win. Like the Bengals, who failed to get their first playoff win since 1991 behind their own rookie starting quarterback, there was enough real playoff experience from Saturday's game to pay dividends going forward. Unlike the Bengals, though, the Texans get to go forward next week, taking with them momentum from a fine defensive outing and a quarterback who simply didn't lose the game for them. Houston's defense in the regular season was fourth in points allowed per game (17.4), second in yards allowed per game (285.7) and sixth in sacks (44.0). On Saturday, the defense kept on chugging. It held the Bengals to those 10 points, sacked them a season-high four times and forced three interceptions from Andy Dalton. The most impressive, and key, of those came from defensive end J.J. Watt, who in the first half plucked the ball out of the air at point-blank range and scampered 29 yards for his first touchdown of any kind since high school. "It was a very special moment," Watt said. "That play by J.J. was one of the most tremendous plays I've seen during my time in the NFL," said Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph. "It changed the momentum completely of the game," said linebacker Brian Cushing. "Going ahead like that, 17-10, really getting fans into it, the first turnover of many, it sparked a lot of excitement." Teammate after teammate stepped to the postgame podium and, asked if they were shocked at Watts' athletic and electric play, either shrugged their shoulders or laughed each agreeing its something he'd done all year in practice. But the real meaning of that moment was in the beauty of this team, having done things in practice all season long away from public eyes, executing them under the bright lights of the postseason. Watt's game-changing play was a metaphor for the Texans' game-changing moment in franchise history: A seized opportunity, believed possible but until then not executed, that showed the entire franchise that it is capable on the big stage of the things it has done day in and day out when no one was paying attention. They have shifted from the possible and hoped for to the accomplished. They won't win the Super Bowl this year. But if they do and they might sometime soon, this game will play a key role. Offensively, Yates was just 11-of-20 for 159 yards and one touchdown, a 40-yard throw to Andre Johnson. But it was the number zero as in how many picks he threw that highlighted an excellent playoff debut. There is certainly room to believe the Texans can somehow go to Baltimore and beat the Ravens next weekend, though I'm not among those who find it a remote possibility. But what's certain is this: Wade Phillips has this defense playing as well as any in the league, Schaub's return next season will turn the Texans into a powerhouse and the team winning its first and only playoff game, come what may against the Ravens, is an absolute game changer. The Houston Texans arrived in a big way Saturday, even if the real proof and the more important fruits of this victory won't arrive for many, many months. You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at foxsportsreiter@gmail.com.
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