Texans punch ticket for first time
CINCINNATI - Eighty yards to cover, a little more than two minutes left, no timeouts to help. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates faced his biggest challenge as he lined up for the snap.
With savvy and a scramble, he pulled it off.
Yates led the biggest drive in Texans history yesterday, one that put them in the end zone and the playoffs. He threw a 6-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left for a 20-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that sent Houston into the playoffs for the first time.
“It’s pretty crazy,’’ Yates said. “A lot of people in this organization have waited a long time for this. This is a special day for this team and this organization.’’
In the span of a few wild minutes, everything broke their way.
With their seventh straight win, the Texans (10-3) moved to the threshold of the playoffs. They hugged on the field then headed to the locker room, where they huddled around a television set and watched the final minutes of Tennessee’s game against New Orleans play out.
They needed a Titans loss to clinch the AFC South.
When time ran out on the Titans in a 22-17 setback, the Texans screamed, hugged, and donned black championship caps and white T-shirts. Injured receiver Andre Johnson, who didn’t play because of a strained hamstring, got a game ball for his part in turning the team into a winner.
“Words really can’t describe it,’’ Johnson said. “It’s something I’ve been waiting for for a long time.’’
Since their inaugural season in 2002, the Texans have been little more than a tease. They’d come close to reaching the playoffs, only to fade and fumble in the big games. They couldn’t quite get that breakthrough win.
An unlikely rookie took them the last step.
Yates, a fifth-round draft pick, got his chance when Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart suffered season-ending injuries in consecutive weeks. Making only his second start, Yates led the Texans on their biggest comeback of the season.
With everything on the line for both teams, the Bengals (7-6) couldn’t stop him.
“A rookie quarterback beat us today,’’ safety Chris Crocker said. “He did it with both his arm and his feet. I don’t even know what to say. Wow.’’
Yates scrambled 17 yards on third and 15 to keep the drive going. A pass interference penalty on Adam Jones put the ball at the 6-yard line with 12 seconds left. After an incompletion, Kevin Walter lined up wide right, cut to the middle of the field, and was uncovered at the goal line as Yates made the pass.
Offensive tackle Duane Brown ran to Yates and repeatedly slapped his helmet in celebration.
Yates went 26 of 44 for 300 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, and five sacks.
“Hey, we’re champs!’’ receiver Jacoby Jones said. “All my years I’ve been playing, I’ve never been on a team that got over the hump.’’
Only 41,202 fans - the second-smallest crowd in Paul Brown Stadium history - showed up to watch the Bengals lose for the fourth time in five games.
“Before this game, we controlled our own destiny, and now I can’t tell you what is going to happen,’’ said coach Marvin Lewis.