HOUSTON - He didn’t want to call them jitters.
“Jitters is a bad word,’’ Arian Foster said.
There was a record crowd of 71,725 jammed into Reliant Stadium. It was the first playoff game in the Houston Texans’ 10-year history. It had been nearly 18 years since the city had seen a playoff game.
But they weren’t jitters or nerves.
“I think it was just excitement,’’ Foster said. “I just wanted to go.’’
Texans coach Gary Kubiak called Foster’s number on the first play from scrimmage, and he busted through the middle of the line but nearly lost the football because he was so amped up.
The second play, he jumped offsides.
“I was worried about him a little bit,’’ Kubiak said.
Ultimately, Foster calmed down and led the Texans to a 31-10 win over the Bengals in an AFC wild-card game.
“To play under these lights under these circumstances with this much on the line, it’s a beautiful feeling, it’s hard to describe,’’ Foster said. “You feel like you were meant for it.’’
Once he settled down, Foster ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns, his 42-yard fourth-quarter run all but sealed the win and set up a divisional round matchup with the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday.
The win helped the city forget that nearly a quarter-century had passed since Houston had experienced a playoff win.
Kubiak, a Houston native, said there wasn’t enough time to explain what the victory meant.
“I grew up right down the road in the Heights,’’ he said. “It’s a special day. I was sitting in my office all day today leading up to the game and looking outside thinking, ‘[Wow], the Texans are in a playoff game.’ It felt good.’’
The Texans were preseason darlings but a minefield of injuries made their regular season difficult. Foster had hamstring issues. So did wideout Andre Johnson. They lost linebacker Mario Williams (pectoral) and quarterback Matt Schaub (Lisfranc) to injuries.
They backed into the playoffs with three straight losses to end the regular season, but their defense - the team’s backbone throughout the year - remained strong.
The Texans constantly harassed Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, sacking him four times and forcing him into three interceptions.
The play that changed the complexion of the game came in the second quarter when Dalton was looking for A.J. Green. As soon as he let it go, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt snatched it out of the air at the line of scrimmage and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown that gave the Texans a 17-10 lead.
“I was really just trying to put my hands up and get in the way of the passing lane, and it happened to kind of stick,’’ Watt said.
The Texans went on to score 21 unanswered points. They had 20 giveaways during the regular season, but were turnover free yesterday.
“We played the football that we had played when we were winning, and that’s what we were after,’’ Kubiak said. “I told the guys, I thought we really needed to go through our last three weeks . . . we needed to be kind of humbled if we’re going to win this month.’’
When rookie quarterback T.J. Yates replaced Schaub, the downgrade was obvious. In six games, Yates had three touchdowns and three picks and fumbled the ball four times. But yesterday, he was steady - 11 of 20 for 159 yards and a 40-yard touchdown to Johnson.
“The kid does a great job of hiding everything,’’ Johnson said. “If he’s nervous, he doesn’t show it.’’
For Johnson, the win was particularly sweet. The wide receiver, who was drafted by the Texans in 2003, missed nine games this season because of the balky hamstring.
“I’m just glad the hamstrings didn’t talk to me today,’’ said Johnson, who had five receptions for 90 yards and the touchdown.
Then, he considered what the victory meant to the franchise.
“This is something our whole organization’s been waiting on,’’ Johnson said. “Especially me, because I said the day I was drafted, I wanted to be a part of that. So, it’s a very special feeling. This is probably the most I smiled in a long time.’’