With a near-perfect performance by quarterback Matt Schaub and another return for a touchdown by Trindon Holliday, the Texans churned out a physical preseason victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday at Reliant Stadium.
The Texans' starting offense played for the entire first half. The first-team defense played seven minutes into the second quarter. Houston led 10-6 at halftime en route to a 20-9 victory over the defending NFC West champions, who benched most of their starters early in the second quarter.
"The first half of the game was basically our ones against their ones," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "It was very real. It was a very physical game, and they're a big, physical team. They took the ball downhill at us in the run game (118 rushing yards, 4.9 per carry). I think we have to tackle better. We have to hold up better against the run…
"I thought for our ones, it was a very, very good half of football for a preseason game… Good things, but a lot of things to correct before we go to New Orleans."
In his second game back from a 2011 season-ending Lisfranc injury, Schaub was 11-of-14 for 128 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 9.1 yards per pass attempt. He threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Lestar Jean in the final minute of the second quarter.
"He's been playing well," Kubiak said. "It's been a process for Matt because he had missed so much time. I think I see him getting better every day. I thought today was very comfortable. He got rid of the football and got hit a couple times but took his team right down the field and made a great play there right before the half to get us in the end zone. I think his progression is heading in the right way."
Holliday scored on an 87-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. It was the second consecutive game with a touchdown for the third-year receiver, who is making a strong case for a roster spot after returning a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown last week against the Carolina Panthers.
"We normally fair catch on the 10," Holliday said. "(Texans special teams coordinator) Joe Marciano said that the punter was going to give us a knuckle ball and it's going to be kind of low so it would be returnable. So I was just kind of waiting on it, caught it and just made something happen."
Jean had a team-high four catches for 42 yards. Pro Bowler Andre Johnson had two catches for 49 yards in his 2012 preseason debut. Running back Arian Foster had 10 carries for 46 yards (4.6 average) after carrying the ball only once in the preseason opener.
Schaub led the Texans on a seven-play, 37-yard scoring drive to start the game. Kicker Shayne Graham gave Houston a 3-0 lead with a 48-yard field goal.
The Texans sacked quarterback Alex Smith twice on the 49ers' first drive, giving them 10 sacks in the preseason. Defensive ends Tim Jamison and Antonio Smith teamed up for a sack on third-and-seven from the 26 to force a 50-yard field goal by David Akers. Jamison and outside linebacker Connor Barwin combined for a sack earlier in the drive.
Rookie Texans kicker Randy Bullock missed a 51-yard field goal wide right early in the second quarter. The Texans were in position to score because of a sensational 43-yard catch by Johnson on a play-action pass from Schaub. Schaub rolled right and heaved the ball across his body to the left for Johnson, who out-jumped two 49ers defensive backs on the play.
"It was a double move, and I saw the corner on the other side of the field," Johnson said. "He was kind of lagging behind and he saw me running across the field, so he started to pick up. But he waited to try to intercept the ball. I guess he thought the ball was just going to come and fall in his lap, but I jumped in front of him and just caught it."
The 49ers took a 6-3 lead midway through the second quarter with a 36-yard field goal by Akers. Schaub put the Texans up 10-6 with his touchdown pass to Jean in the final minute of the first half, capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive.
Quarterback T.J. Yates came in for Schaub in the third quarter and went 5-of-9 for 30 yards. He led a seven-play, 41-yard scoring drive that ended with a 49-yard field goal by Graham. The drive was keyed by a 32-yard pass interference penalty on a pass intended for rookie wide receiver Keshawn Martin, who finished the game with three catches for 36 yards.
On the 49ers' next drive, third-string quarterback Josh Johnson completed a 32-yard pass to rookie wide receiver A.J. Jenkins past cornerback Alan Ball. That set up a 55-yard field goal by Akers, which made the score 13-9.
Holliday provided the winning margin with his touchdown four minutes into the fourth quarter. He fielded a 40-yard punt by 49ers Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee at the 13-yard line and raced up the right sideline on his way to the end zone.
Rookie quarterback Case Keenum entered the game on the Texans' next possession with seven minutes left to play. The University of Houston product completed 1-of-3 passes for 20 yards. The Texans ran the final 3:47 off the clock to ice the game.