CINCINNATI — Bengals agony equals Texans ecstasy.
That was the case Sunday as T.J. Yates' 6-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Walter with two seconds left — and Neil Rackers' PAT kick — gave the Houston Texans a 20-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I can't even describe the feeling," said Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who then did. "It sucks for everybody. It sucks for players, coaches and fans. It's just a tough way to lose."
The Bengals (7-6) entered the game tied for the last wild-card spot in the AFC, but now they have lost four of their last five games.
"As far as the team goes, they are very disappointed, and I'm going to have to pump some air into them," Coach Marvin Lewis said. "We have to make some corrections and get back on track. Before this game, we controlled our own destiny, and now I can't tell you what is going to happen."
A few minutes after the game, the Texans were roaring in their Paul Brown Stadium locker room as they watched the New Orleans Saints finish off the Tennessee Titans 22-17. With Tennessee's loss, the Texans clinched the AFC South title.
"Everybody was huddled around the television, making sure we weren't celebrating prematurely," Yates said. "They got the job done. That was pretty cool, having everyone huddled around after the game."
Championship ballcaps were promptly distributed.
Houston's final points came from a pair of former Bengals in Walter and Rackers.
Walter, a nine-year pro, was wide open over the middle.
"I saw it pre-snap," he said. "I'm like, 'OK, let's see what these linebackers do. If they take the other routes, the middle will be wide open.' They did, and T.J. threw a great ball."
The Texans (10-3) won their seventh game in a row despite losing three fumbles and an interception.
"It was an ugly football game for us, but the end result was great for the organization," Coach Gary Kubiak said. "We did not play well we turned the ball over and did not stop the runs in the first half. It did not look like we had any chance of getting out of here with a win, but we have a young quarterback who believes in what he's doing. I'm just happy for everybody."
Yates, a fifth-round pick out of North Carolina, became Houston's starter after Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart each suffered season-ending injuries. He beat the Bengals by completing 26 of 44 passes for 300 yards and a pair of 6-yard touchdown strikes. The first TD went to Joel Dreessen.
Cincinnati's Andy Dalton went 16-for-28 for 189 yards. Included was his franchise rookie-record 18th TD, a 17-yarder to Jerome Simpson.
Except for penetrating the end zone only once in the first half, the Bengals were near-methodical in scoring on four straight possessions en route to a 16-3 halftime lead.
Mike Nugent booted field goals of 22, 47 and 49 yards.
Reggie Nelson's interception set up one field goal.
With Houston first-and-goal on the 1, Rey Maualuga forced a fumble and recovered to set up the Bengals' longest scoring drive of the season — 97 yards, 15 plays, capped by Dalton's third-down TD pass to Simpson.
Then came the madness.
With 204 yards of first-half offense, including 92 yards on 13 rushes by Cedric Benson, the Bengals found in the second half that Houston really does have the NFL's second-ranked defense.
Cincinnati was held to 81 yards in the half. Benson ran eight times for minus-1 yard.
On Cincinnati's second play, Dalton was blindsided by Connor Barwin and fumbled. Houston's Brooks Reed recovered on the Bengals' 17.
Four plays later, Yates found Dreessen open for a score to make it 16-10.
The Bengals got a 28-yard field goal from Nugent to make it 19-10, then had a chance to tack on a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Maualuga forced a Yates fumble, and Cincinnati's Gino Atkins picked up the ball and headed toward the end zone.
He didn't make it and fumbled the ball back on the 2-yard line.
Yates drove the Texans 83 yards in 13 plays, settling for a 33-yard field goal by Rackers with 5:31 left.
The Bengals punted with 2:33 left, giving Houston — with no timeouts — a final shot to go 80 yards.
The Texans did, again in 13 plays.
On third-and-15 at the Cincinnati 40, Yates scrambled for 17 yards.
With 12 seconds left, Adam Jones was called for pass interference. That gave Houston a first down at the 6.
After an incompletion, Yates found Walter all alone.
Said Hawkins: "It's just a sucky way to lose, man."