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The way the 2005 season has gone for both the Texans and Rams we should have expected something surreal Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
But this? It was truly the theater of the absurd. And for the Texans, the ending was all too familiar.
In by far its best performance of the season, Houston's offense staked the Texans to a huge lead. But their defense let it slip away. The result was a 33-27 overtime loss to the Rams, by far the most disheartening loss of a most disheartening season.
The Texans dropped to 1-10 and 0-3 all-time in overtime. The Rams improved to 5-6.
Quarterback David Carr threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns, both season highs. Wide receiver Andre Johnson had a monster game with 12 catches for 159 yards and one of those touchdowns. That duo helped the Texans build a 24-3 halftime lead. But the Texans allowed Rams rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick, subbing for the injured Jamie Martin, to throw for 310 yards and three touchdowns -- the last a 56-yarder to wide receiver Kevin Curtis that ended the game.
St. Louis scored 10 points in the final 26 seconds of the game to force the extra session as Fitzpatrick hit wide receiver Isaac Bruce on a 43-yard scoring strike on 4th and 6. Fellow wideout Torry Holt recovered the ensuing onside kick, positioning Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins for a 47-yard field goal that tied the game.
"Obviously we're disappointed with the way the game turned out," head coach Dom Capers said. "We just did not execute at crunch time."
Center Steve McKinney was a little more descriptive.
"Words can't even describe how sick I feel right now," he said. "I am just disgusted."
In all, the Texans racked up 412 total yards, the second-most in club history. But the defense, despite registering a team-record seven sacks, yielded 429 yards -- 312 of those after intermission.
After the two teams traded punts to open the contest, Carr found wide receiver Andre Johnson down the left sideline for 33 yards, setting the Texans up at the Rams 43. Two plays later, running back Domanick Davis raced 13 yards before Carr hit Johnson again for 11 yards, getting Houston into the red zone.
After running back Jonathan Wells rumbled 10 yards to set up first and goal, Carr and Johnson hooked up for a five-yard touchdown pass -- Johnson's first of the season. The Texans had a 7-0 lead.
Linebacker DaShon Polk (who would finish with a career-high 2.5 sacks) dropped Martin on the ensuing possession, forcing another Rams punt. Houston took over at its own 33. Carr converted a 3rd and 6 with a 10-yard scramble up the middle, taking the ball across midfield. He followed that up with a 12-yard run on a rollout, setting the Texans up at the Rams 31.
Three plays later, Carr made one of his best throws of the season, fending off a blitz and lofting a pass to Davis, who scampered 30 yards for a touchdown and Houston's biggest lead of the season. It also marked the first time since Thanksgiving weekend of last year (Nov. 28 against Tennessee) that Carr had multiple touchdown passes.
Martin didn't return (concussion), forcing Harvard rookie Fitzpatrick into the lineup at quarterback. The Rams promptly went three-and-out, relinquishing the ball back to the Texans. Carr then converted another third down with a 19-yard toss to Wells before hitting Johnson on a slant for 12 yards to the Rams 24.
But a sack killed the drive and the Texans settled for a 39-yard field goal from Kris Brown to push the lead to 17-0.
But Fitzpatrick got his sea legs on the next series, hitting wide receiver Isaac Bruce for 20 yards before finding Bruce again for 17 yards to the Texans 29. Fitzpatrick then scrambled for 10 yards and St. Louis was in the red zone for the first time as the clock ticked down to the two-minute warning.
But left tackle Orlando Pace left with a hamstring injury and the Texans responded with pocket pressure on three consecutive snaps, forcing the Rams to settle for a 37-yard field goal. Houston's lead was back to two touchdowns.
The Texans then got a huge break, the kind that have seemingly gone against them all season. Wide receiver Jerome Mathis fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Rams recovered near the 30-yard line. But St. Louis was flagged for being offsides, negating the play. Wilkins then tried a pooch kick, which Wells returned 40 yards to the Rams 29 with 45 seconds left in the half.
Two completions to Johnson put the ball at the eight-yard line. Two plays later, Carr rolled out to his left and fired a bullet to wide receiver Corey Bradford in the end zone. The Texans' lead was 24-3.
"I think our offense came out with a different attitude today," Johnson said. "We went out and moved the ball pretty well. But it really doesn't matter if you don't win."
St. Louis marched into Texans territory to open the second half, eventually deciding to go for it on 4th and 6 from the 30-yard line. Fitzpatrick lofted a pass that was intercepted by free safety Marcus Coleman. But Coleman fumbled on the return and Rams running back Steven Jackson recovered at the Texans 21. Three plays later, Fitzpatrick found wide receiver Torry Holt in the back of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. Houston's lead was cut back to 14.
On the ensuing drive, Carr took a severe hit from Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, resulting in a personal foul that pushed the ball across midfield. Carr then hit a diving Johnson for a nine-yard gain, pushing the third-year wideout across the 100-yard mark. It was Johnson's (and the Texans') first 100-yard game of the season and the eighth of his career.
But the drive stalled at the Rams 28 and Brown pushed a 46-yard field goal attempt to the left. St. Louis took over at the 36-yard line. After Fitzpatrick hit Holt for 13 yards, linebacker Morlon Greenwood got his second sack of the game and the Rams were forced to punt, giving Houston the ball back at its own 28.
Then it was back to Johnson. He caught consecutive passes of seven and 19 yards to move the ball to the Rams 41. Gaffney followed with an acrobatic grab along the left sideline at the 15-yard line.
But three plays later, Carr fired a ball that ricocheted off Davis and Tinoisamosa made a diving interception, thwarting the drive and giving the Rams some life at their own 23. St. Louis marched down the field, aided by both a 35-yard pass interference penalty and a roughing the passer penalty. Jackson eventually pounded it in from a yard out on fourth and goal, cutting the Texans' lead to seven points with 6:37 left.
But Carr answered with a 21-yard strike to Johnson, giving the Texans some breathing room. Then the Texans started killing some clock. Davis and Carr helped move the chains to the 17-yard line, where Brown came in on 4th and 3 to attempt a 35-yard field goal. He nailed it and Houston had a 10-point lead with 2:49 remaining.
But the Rams didn't give in as Kirkpatrick lofted a 43-yard touchdown pass to Bruce on 4th and 6, cutting the lead back to seven with 26 seconds remaining. Holt then recovered the onside kick at the Texans 48. Fitzpatrick promptly hit Holt across the middle to the 29-yard line. Nine seconds remained and Wilkins came on to hit a 47-yard field goal. The game was inexplicably tied.
The Texans won the coin toss and took over at their own 20. Carr rolled out to his left and hit tight end Marcellus Rivers for 13 yards to start the drive. After fellow tight end Mark Bruener caught a three-yard pass, Davis scampered 12 yards to the Texans 48.
But the drive stalled there and the Texans had to punt. St. Louis took over at its 10. Fitzpatrick hit Holt 11 yards to convert a third down and then found Holt again for 19 yards to the Rams 44. Next up? The final dagger.
Fitzpatrick hit Curtis on a quick out. It was Curtis' first catch of the game. Fifty-six yards later it was his first touchdown catch of the game, handing the Texans their 10th loss in 11 games.