By Kristie Rieken
The Associated Press
HOUSTON — The Houston Texans were looking forward to enjoying a bye this week before beginning their work in the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed.
Instead, a terrible month in which they lost three of four games dropped the Texans to the third seed. It has them in the exact same spot as year ago, hosting the Cincinnati Bengals in a wild-card playoff game today. The Texans wasted little time this week lamenting their missed opportunities, though, instead focusing on their next task.
“Would we like to be in a different situation? Yeah, but at the same time, it’s the playoffs. It’s the start of the playoffs. Everything you’ve done up to this point, it doesn’t really matter,” Houston’s Andre Johnson said. “It only matters what you do now ... we just have to take advantage of the opportunity we have now.”
They’ll face a Cincinnati team that enters Saturday having won three in a row and seven of its last eight games. The Bengals are in the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981-82. Their last playoff win came Jan. 6, 1991 against the Oilers, the team the Texans replaced in Houston.
Cincinnati offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said he isn’t worried about the more than 20-year streak of playoff futility. He wants to focus on the improvement this young team has made.
“Last year, we did what it took to get into the playoffs when a lot of people predicted us to be 0-16,” Whitworth said. “This year, we got back in to the playoffs when a lot of people didn’t think we could. We’re here. The next step is winning a playoff game. Hopefully, we can let that be a chip on our shoulder.”
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked four times and threw three interceptions in last year’s 31-10 postseason loss to the Texans. Houston defensive end J.J. Watt returned one of those interceptions 29 yards for a touchdown that gave the Texans a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Dalton, who grew up in suburban Houston, believes he’s grown since that game and learned from the mistakes he made.
“I definitely feel like I’m a better quarterback this year,” he said. “I’ve got more control of the offense. There’s a lot more stuff that I’m doing at the line of scrimmage, and making checks and doing different things this year than I was doing last year. But that’s helped me become a better player.”
Another player who has certainly improved in Year 2 is Watt. The defensive end led the NFL with 20 1⁄2 sacks this season, has 107 tackles, including 39 for losses, 16 passes defended and has forced four fumbles.
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