Offense sputters versus Jets

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RB Steve Slaton and the Texans were all thumbs on Sunday

The defense was supposed to be the weak link in the Texans' arsenal this season and they did take some lumps against the Jets and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, playing his first pro game.

But who would have thought that the offense, ranked third in the NFL last season and loaded with talent again this season, would have laid a goose-egg on the Reliant Stadium floor on opening day?

The players were as perplexed as fans.

"You work for six months for this first game, all offseason to prepare for this game, and to come out and play like that is upsetting," running back Steve Slaton said. "But now, we've got another week to worry about."

Slaton, a rookie sensation a year ago, was boxed in with only 19 yards on nine carries. Andre Johnson, the NFL's leading receiver in catches and yards last season, caught four balls for 35 yards. The Texans managed a meager 183 total offensive yards, a sad comparison with last year's 382.1 yards per game.

"If you'd told me this would happen yesterday it would have been very shocking, but look at the bright side, it's only one game, we have 15 to go," fullback Vonta Leach said. "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Everybody is ready to come in here tomorrow and look at the tape and see what went wrong and then get to Tennessee."

The Texans felt they were ready to compete for the playoffs with their offense. If just the defense could hold up, they had a shot.

The Texans' offense was shut out. Quarterback Matt Schaub was outgunned by Sanchez. Schaub hit 18-of-33 passes for 166 yards. Sanchez moved well in the pocket and had pin-point passes on the run. He completed 18-of-31 passes for 272 yards.

Head coach Gary Kubiak was displeased with the pattern he sees with the Texans' running game.

"Well, I've been concerned about it because we played this game a lot like we played New Orleans and Minnesota," Kubiak said. "We played the games the same way. When you walked off the field, we were totally out of whack as far as what we want to be. Our football team can't go out there and three-to-one throw the football."

It was the Jets' day. After the final gun, Sanchez tossed the ball to a ref and then asked for it back, a fitting reminder of his first pro game.

There were few moments of joy for the Texans on either side of the ball.

Midway in the second quarter, the Texans seemed to be breaking out. They drove to the New York 35. Schaub launched an 18-yard completion to Slaton, who fumbled it away, and the Jets took it the other way for a score.

{QUOTE}"I hurt my team," Slaton said. "I pride myself in being able to hold onto the ball. Letting it go on the 15 when we were so close to scoring, it was a big blow to the team. At the end, he put his helmet on the ball and I didn't see him. That's how you swarm tackle."

The Texans showed desperation in the third quarter when they moved to their own 49 as an overcast day outside gave way to sunshine beaming through glass partitions of Reliant Stadium. The sun didn't help. Schaub's pass to Owen Daniels over the middle on fourth-and-two was smartly batted away by Jets safety Eric Smith.

"A lot of credit has to go to them, the way they came after us, but we had plays spread out over the game where it was hard to convert in those situations," Schaub said.

Dominique Barber's 48-yard interception return for a touchdown was Houston's only score. Still, it didn't ignite the offense. On the next offensive drive, Schaub got the Texans to the New York 38 and threw an interception, his first in 203 pass attempts at Reliant Stadium.

"When we did move the ball, we had a big turnover," Johnson said. "It looked like we were going into score and we had the turnover. We can't have those things happen. When those things happen, you get beat. We talk about starting the season a certain and the way we started today is unacceptable."

By the fourth quarter, the Texans' defense was dragging from too much time on the field.

"We couldn't help out the defense," Daniels said. "We didn't have 200 yards of offense and that definitely hurt. That could have been a momentum swing (Slaton's fumble) for us and instead it went the other way. We had other opportunities out there to make plays and we didn't do it."

Johnson has seen double coverage much of his career. This time, he couldn't shake free.

"I saw a lot of double coverage today and that was pretty much it," Johnson said. "You don't know how it's going to be when you go out there. It turned out the way it turned out. There's nothing we can do about it now but move on."

The Texans were left uncertain of their running game.

"I'm not going to say the guys didn't show up to play," Leach said. "They just outplayed us. It was a combination of what they were doing and what we weren't doing. They brought some good blitzes on us and we missed a few opportunities that we did have."

Schaub expects the offense to get its running game fixed.

"You just have to keep working at it and plugging away with it," Schaub said. "Eventually, you'll get the big ones."

It just didn't happen this Sunday.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky., Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro teams.

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