It was an 18-0 win that started with a near-perfect string of 18 offensive snaps.
If only the players battling for Sunday's PGA Championship were as fortunate with their 18.
Last night the Texans buried the Cowboys in all three phases. Special teams play was solid on both ends, while the defense pitched a shutout and forced four turnovers. But it was the first-team offense that served as the catalyst for Houston's first preseason home win.
The first drive was 10 plays covering 59 yards. It ended with a 35-yard field goal by Kris Brown. The second drive was even more impressive – eight plays for 75 yards and the game's lone touchdown.
"We have an enormous amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball," tight end Mark Bruener said. "I really think we have some great strategies here as long as we continue to work hard."
It started innocently enough. The Cowboys, ranked first in the NFL in total defense last season, stopped running back Tony Hollings for a one-yard loss. But on the next snap, Hollings found a huge hole along the left side and used his speed to scamper outside for a 14-yard gain.
Dallas now had to respect the run. And that, David Carr will tell you, is a quarterback's best friend.
"If you can run the ball, and you can threaten people running the football, then your play-action pass works," head coach Dom Capers said Sunday. "David's doing a better job of play-faking on the pass and I think we're creating more of a threat running the ball."
Two plays later, Carr faked the handoff and rolled left. The Cowboys bit. And there was Bruener wide open down the field. Carr hit the veteran tight end for what would be a 27-yard gain, thanks to Bruener taking a few Dallas defenders for an extended ride.
"David did a real nice job on the bootleg and Mark did a nice job running after the catch," Capers said.
The Texans were in business at the Cowboys 37. Hollings ran for five yards on first down, forcing Dallas to again direct its attention to the backfield. On the next snap, Carr whipped a quick pass to wide receiver Derick Armstrong for seven yards and a first down.
"If you're running the football, the defense wants to come up and stop the run and it gives you one-on-one coverage outside," Capers said. "You saw that a few times last night when we threw the ball quick out to our wide receivers. We've got enough speed there where we can make plays."
A false start penalty on the ensuing set of snaps slowed Houston's momentum a bit. On 3rd and 13 from the Cowboys 28, Carr hit wide receiver Andre Johnson across the middle for 10 yards, giving Brown an easier try.
The Texans got the ball back at their own 25 with 4:08 left in the first quarter. Two runs by Hollings set up a 3rd and 4. Carr lined up in the shotgun and couldn't find anyone open off the snap. So he took off.
"On that 3rd and 4 situation, David tucked the ball and ran for the first down," Capers said. "As long as he's smart, and doesn't try to run like a fullback, he can be a real weapon doing that. I think you saw his athletic ability show up last night in a couple of situations."
The run went for 10 yards and, yes, Carr did go down before anybody in blue could expedite his descent. The Texans had a new set of downs. And two snaps later came a play that had a little bit of everything.
Cowboys strong safety Roy Williams blitzed and appeared to have a clear path to Carr. But the third-year quarterback saw him and quickly dumped the ball off to Hollings, who got a bone-crushing block from guard Fred Weary and headed for daylight.
Hollings ran 35 yards to the Cowboys 23, but cornerback Pete Hunter jarred the ball loose from him. But there was Bruener, trailing the play and making a heads-up recovery at the 27-yard line.
"We faced a blitz and maybe our first year we would have tried to block it," Carr said. "But we wouldn't have got the screen off. We ended up running right into the screen for the big play Tony Hollings had. Our team is just taking extra steps now and it's kind of exciting."
Running back Jonathan Wells and Hollings combined for 10 yards on the next two plays to end the first quarter. Again, nothing major but the Texans were asserting themselves on the ground. And Capers knew it.
"If you can't run the ball, you can't do those other things," Capers said. "By running the football, it helps the play action pass. And the screens prevent people from just pinning their ears back and getting up the field.
"David is excellent at running with the ball and then throwing it. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense."
It showed on the first play of the second quarter. On 2nd and 4 from the Cowboys 12, Carr couldn't find his initial receiver but rolled to his right to buy some time. And rolled, and rolled, and rolled… Meanwhile, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney saw his quarterback was in trouble and improvised.
Gaffney sprinted to the front left corner of the end zone. Carr fired the ball. In truth, the Cowboys couldn't have defended the play much better. They flushed Carr out of the pocket and stuck with Gaffney. But the result was still a 12-yard touchdown pass.
Would those set of circumstances resulted in a touchdown the past two seasons? Nobody knows that answer. But Capers is just glad that, as his club heads into its third season, more and more the players are finding the answers.
"I think it is a sign of maturity," Capers said. "It was an adjustment and David bought enough time where he could throw it right where he needed to throw it. And he threw it right on the numbers.
"Those are the kind of capabilities that we'll have. The more playmakers you
have on the field, the better your chances are."
And the chance for more perhaps celebrations for Texans fans at the proverbial 19th hole.