Saints roll, playoff newcomer Texans advance

Posted Jan. 08, 2012, at 5:47 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints picked up right where they left off in the regular season: piling up points and yards in record-breaking fashion.

Brees threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns, and New Orleans used a strong second half to roll to a 45-28 NFC wild-card victory over the Detroit Lions on Saturday night. It marked the third straight game the Saints scored 45 points.

New Orleans broke the postseason mark for total yards with 626, beating the record set 49 years ago.

“We were pulling out all the stops,” Brees said. “We play aggressive. We’re not going to apologize for that. That gives guys in the huddle a lot of confidence. We’re not going to pull the reins back. It’s pedal to the medal.”

Earlier Saturday, the Houston Texans posted the first postseason win in franchise history — in their first playoff game — by routing the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10.

Next up: the Baltimore Ravens.

“This team believes,” running back Arian Foster said. “I’ve never been around a team like this before. We don’t need anyone else to believe.”

At New Orleans, Brees was 33 of 43 while throwing for the most yards in a regulation playoff game.

“We just focus on winning. We’re not focused on yards and records,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I’m serious when I say that.”

Brees had plenty of help from an offense that set an NFL record for yards from scrimmage this season (7,474). The Saints (14-3) will travel to San Francisco (13-3) for next Saturday’s second-round game.

Matthew Stafford threw for 380 yards and three TDs for the Lions (10-7), who simply could not keep pace in their first playoff appearance since the 1999 season. They have lost seven straight postseason games.

All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson had 12 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns in his playoff debut for Detroit, as the teams combined for 1,038 yards, tying an NFL playoff record set by Buffalo and Miami on Dec. 30, 1995.

At Houston, rookie J.J. Watt returned the first of rookie Andy Dalton’s three interceptions 29 yards for a score that broke a 10-all tie with 52 seconds left in the half.

As the game’s final seconds ticked away, Houston coach Gary Kubiak walked down the sideline, a broad smile on his face, and smacked hands with players and assistant coaches.

“As soon as we settled down and got in the groove,” Foster said, “we did what we do best.”

After watching the playoffs from home for nine seasons, the AFC South champion Texans (11-6) are postseason newcomers no more. They’ll take on the AFC North champion Ravens (12-4) in Baltimore next Sunday.

Third-string quarterback T.J. Yates, a rookie pressed into action when Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart were lost for the season with injuries, threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson. Foster followed with his second touchdown of the game, a 42-yard run in the fourth quarter, to finish off the Bengals (9-8).

Foster also scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter to tie it at 7, and finished with 153 yards on 24 carries.

“The way we ran the ball today,” Yates said, “it will be hard to stop us in the playoffs.”

At East Rutherford, N.J., Eli Manning and the Giants are coming off big wins over the rival Jets and Cowboys to reach the playoffs after missing out the last two years and putting coach Tom Coughlin’s job in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the Falcons are in the playoffs for the second straight year and third time in four seasons. But that experience hasn’t led to success as quarterback Matt Ryan has failed to lead the team to a victory.

“Yeah, it’s about time we won,” Falcons receiver Roddy White said.

Manning, who was the Super Bowl MVP four years ago, is among a small core group remaining from the franchise’s third championship team.

“We have a lot of guys on this team that haven’t been in the playoffs before,” Manning said. “It’s a new year. We have different players. It’s a new team. It’s a new environment. We know what’s ahead of us and we can’t start looking too far up there.”

The key for the Giants will be slowing Michael Turner, who rushed for 1,340 yards, and Ryan, who threw for a career-best 4,177 yards and 29 touchdowns. White is Ryan’s top target, catching an NFC-leading 100 passes for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns.

“I think we match up pretty well,” White said. “They’ve given up 71 explosive plays, so we’ve got to go up there and get some. That’s what we’re looking to do and exploit those guys in different aspects with mismatches.”

At Denver, Tim Tebow is looking to bounce back from a rough stretch with his first playoff appearance for the Broncos.

One of the NFL’s most intriguing stories, Tebow won seven of his first eight starts before losing his last three while completing just 30 of 73 passes with one touchdown, four interceptions and 10 sacks to go with three lost fumbles.

“The kid does have some special qualities and he rises to the challenge on the big stage, and that’s what the playoffs are all about,” said former Broncos safety John Lynch, now a Fox Sports analyst. “Here’s his opportunity.”

Well, not if the Steelers have any say. Despite having four more wins than the Broncos, they find themselves on the road after having to settle for a wild-card spot.

Pittsburgh is considered a heavy favorite despite running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee) being out for the year and All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) possibly sidelined for the game. The Steelers’ top tackler, safety Ryan Clark, is sitting out as a precaution because of a blood disorder that’s exacerbated by altitude.

A sprained left ankle won’t keep Ben Roethlisberger on the sideline, though.

”Every year, it’s something,” said Doug Legursky, who would replace Pouncey — as he did in the Super Bowl last year. “As long as you stay focused on what you need to do to get the job done, that won’t be a problem.”

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