The Texans lost another heartbreaker on Sunday, dropping a 35-27 decision to the undefeated Indianapolis Colts at Reliant Stadium.
Another close loss: The loss was the Texans' fifth of the season by eight points or less. They've now lost two games at the one-yard line, two games on missed last-second field goals and a game in which they led by 17 points in the second quarter.
In the last three weeks, they have lost to the Colts, Titans and Colts by a combined 14 points. Three weeks ago at Indianapolis, the Texans led 17-13 in the fourth quarter but fell 20-17. This time around, they didn't trail until Dallas Clark scored a go-ahead touchdown with 8:24 left in the game.
"I'm very confident in the team," said wide receiver Andre Johnson, who had five catches for 67 yards. "It's just about us getting over this hump. It's like we are at this hill and we keep getting to the top and we just keep rolling back down. Somehow, we've just got to find a way to get over it…
"If you look at some of the games we lost this year it's crazy. It's a very tough feeling, but I think in the long run, it's going to make us better."
Penalties aplenty: The Texans drew 10 penalties for a franchise-high 129 yards. The previous mark was 127 penalty yards last season at Tennessee.
Of the four 100-yard penalty games in Texans history, two came against the Colts this season. In Week 9 at Indianapolis, the Texans were penalized 13 times for 103 yards. The Colts were penalized seven times for 65 yards in their two 2009 games against Houston.
"Me personally, I just think that sometimes you have to let the players be players, let that decide the game," said defensive end Antonio Smith, who was flagged for two 15-yard penalties on Sunday.
Reeves PI call: The biggest and most controversial penalty on Sunday was a 43-yard pass interference call on cornerback Jacques Reeves in the third quarter. It came on the third play from scrimmage of the second half.
Peyton Manning heaved a deep pass over the middle for receiver Pierre Garcon. Reeves was running stride-for-stride with him, making little-to-no contact and looking at the ball, and the pass sailed several yards past them for an incompletion.
The back judge, standing a few yards away with a clear view of the play, threw a penalty flag. The call moved the Colts all the way from their own 38-yard line to the Texans' 19 just 53 seconds into the second half. It was the Colts' longest play of the game.
Then, on third-and-goal from the eight, rookie cornerback Glover Quin was flagged for pass interference in the end zone on a pass intended for Austin Collie. Three few plays later, Manning hit Reggie Wayne for a four-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal. It was the start of a 28-0 run by the Colts.
"I'm not going to say (the calls) are questionable – I'm not even going to really touch base one that," defensive end Mario Williams said. "But definitely, there were some times where clearly, even the receiver gave up on the ball. It was still called. But that was the call they made, that's the call that we got, so we had to go with it."
Pressuring Manning: The Texans sacked Manning twice and swarmed him for much of the game. Rookie Connor Barwin sacked Manning in the first quarter. Williams got to him in the third. Smith and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye pressured Manning on his interception to Brian Cushing early in the second quarter.
Rookie cornerback Brice McCain also picked off Manning near the end of the first half. Manning finished with 244 passing yards, his second-lowest output of the season.
"To do what we did, we definitely know the biggest thing was to get after Peyton to get him moving a little bit," Williams said. "We did that but still came out short."
Kubiak takes blame: Aside from the Week 6 victory at Cincinnati, the Texans have struggled to put together a consistent 60 minutes of football this season. That was true again on Sunday, when they gained 242 yards in the first half. They had 154 yards in the second half, but they picked up only three first downs and 52 yards before the Colts rallied to take a 21-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
The Texans also turned the ball over three times in the second half, resulting in 14 points for the Colts.
After the game, Kubiak took the blame for the Texans' inconsistency. Quarterback Matt Schaub chalked those words up to a coach trying to protect his players.
"That's just the type of coach he is, and he takes a lot of heat when he shouldn't," Schaub said. "That's on us as players. That game out there, we were set up to win that game and play well and we just didn't do it. We hurt ourselves all day, especially in the second half."
Finding his stroke: Kris Brown overcame his struggles in the last two games to make both of his field goal attempts on Sunday. Brown sent the ball through the uprights on field goals from 35 and 33 yards in the second quarter.
The only kicker in Texans history, Brown had gone two-of-five in the previous two games. Among his three misses were two potential game-tying field goals in consecutive 20-17 losses to the Colts and Titans, respectively.
Dual threat: The Texans averaged 5.1 yards per carry and gained 122 rushing yards against the Colts. The tandem of running backs Steve Slaton and Chris Brown helped the Texans to control the first half, picking up 81 yards on 16 carries.
Brown, who struggled in short-yardage situations earlier in the season, gained 76 yards from scrimmage and scored on a five-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter. Slaton, who has seven fumbles this season, protected the ball and gained 106 total yards.
"I thought the first half, up front, we did a good job," Kubiak said. "This team plays us to throw the ball with some of their coverages. I thought that I saw some good things out of Chris and Steve last week, and obviously it got better this week, so I just think there's room to get better."
Another big game: The Texans lost the game, but Cushing added to his defensive rookie of the year candidacy on Sunday. Cushing recorded his third interception of the season, picking off Manning in the second quarter to set up the Texans for a short field goal.
The rookie first-round draft pick from USC finished with a game-high 11 tackles. It's the fifth consecutive game and ninth time this season that he has been the Texans' leading tackler.