HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans had their doubters this week. Nobody gives them a snowball's chance next week.
But give them this: There are worse things than going on the road to face Tom Brady.
Like being at home with a Monday tee time.
Houston lived to die another day, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 on Saturday to earn a trip to New England for a divisional playoff game next Sunday.
"Our backs were against the wall," Texans linebacker Bradie James said. "You've got to win. It's the playoffs. You win, you stay in. You lose, you go home. Very cut and dry. You can't worry about what's happened in the past. It's a credit to the leadership on the team to keep everybody positive and forging forward. So that's where we are."
The Texans could have earned a first-round bye and home field throughout the playoffs by winning two of their final four games. Instead, they went 1-3, including a 42-14 loss to the Patriots on Dec, 10 in New England.
Never has a 12-4 regular season felt so empty.
The Texans have gone from midseason favorites to facing longer Super Bowl odds than six other teams at 14-1.
The Texans, though, did what they needed to do Saturday against an inferior opponent, eliminating the Bengals for the second consecutive season.
"It was fun to go out there and prove a lot of people wrong today," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "... There was a little bit of a lapse that last month. We only needed to win two out of four games, and it looked like with the teams we were playing, we could do that. We didn't focus enough to get that job done. But everybody kind of refocused. When we do that, we're a pretty damn good team."
Houston, which averaged 27.2 points in its first 12 games but only 16.2 in its last four, could muster only one touchdown out of four red-zone possessions against the Bengals, and Matt Schaub threw a pick-six. Otherwise, the first game of the postseason was all Texans.
The Bengals were outgained 295 to 52 in the first 34:29, with Cincinnati getting only 3 passing yards in that span. The Bengals finished with 198 total yards and went 0 for 9 on third down. Former TCU star Andy Dalton went 14 for 30 for 127 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 44.7 passer rating.
"That's what we said early in the week: Let's get our swag back. Let's get it going. Let's get the mojo. Whatever it takes," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "We're in the top of the league stats in a lot of the categories. I went through that with them and said, 'Hey, you guys had a great year, and we won 12 games. You should be confident.'"
With Schaub starting his first playoff game and not playing his best football of late, the Texans leaned heavily on Arian Foster. He had 32 rushes for 140 yards and a touchdown and caught eight passes for 34 yards.
Owner Bob McNair said he wanted to plant a kiss on Foster when Foster clinched the game with a 10-yard run inside of two minutes with the Bengals out of timeouts.
"I don't think he would have got that far, man," said Foster, who became the first running back ever to rush for 100 or more yards in his first three postseason games. "Don't get me wrong, man. Bob is a good guy. I just don't want no kiss from Bob. A nice little hug will do."