The good news for the Houston Texans is that they won their wild card playoff game against the Bengals. The bad news is that now they have to return to New England, five weeks after they were blown out there — and having done nothing to suggest they can beat the Patriots this time.
Yes, the Texans deserve credit for winning a playoff game, and a few players on the Texans — notably defensive lineman J.J. Watt and running back Arian Foster — deserve a lot of credit. But this game was often ugly, and the Texans didn’t look like a team that’s likely to go to New England and beat the Patriots.
Watt was his usual disruptive self at the line of scrimmage, recording one sack after leading the league with 20.5 in the regular season, and forcing the Bengals to double him all game — and sometimes making plays even when he was doubled. Watt was widely regarded as the best defensive player in the NFL during the regular season, and he’s a force in the postseason as well.
The Texans’ defense was aided by awful play calling from the Bengals in the first half: Receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals’ best offensive player, never even had a pass thrown his way until midway through the third quarter. Green ended up having an excellent second half once Cincinnati started getting him the ball, and he got open in the end zone on a deep ball that could have given the Bengals a game-sealing touchdown, but Andy Dalton overthrew Green, and after that the Bengals had dug too big a hole for themselves to recover.
Houston’s offense was led by Foster, who had an outstanding game, and by strong play from the offensive line. Quarterback Matt Schaub, however, was skittish throughout the game, and Schaub misfiring was the biggest reason the Texans had to settle for field goals on four drives. He’ll have to be better next weekend for the Texans to have any chance of beating the Patriots.
In fact, the Texans as a team will have to be much better next weekend to have any chance of beating the Patriots. On December 10, the Patriots beat the Texans 42-14. On January 13, the Texans will have to be better than they were on Saturday if they want to avoid the same fate.