Rookie quarterback Tom Savage threw his first NFL touchdown and two-point conversion to give the Texans an 18-17 last-minute win over the Denver Broncos on the road.
"At the end of the day there, he led us on a nice little drive," head coach Bill O'Brien said of Savage. "Like I just told the team, preseason or no preseason, it's always good to win especially against a really good football team. It was good for that unit there on offense to finish it off like that."
The Houston Texans capped off a week of practicing against the Denver Broncos with a Week 3 preseason game that saw little playing time from starters. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Peyton Manning played the first two quarters, while J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing left before the end of the first quarter. Arian Foster did not dress for the game.
Fitzpatrick completed 10-of-17 passes for 80 yards in the first half. Case Keenum, who took over in the third quarter, was 11-of-18 for 74 yard. Tom Savage entered with 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter and threw 5-of-6 for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Tight end Ryan Griffin led in receiving yards with five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Rookie Alfred Blue led the team in rushing with nine carries for 27 yards while Jonathan Grimes scored Houston's first touchdown of the day on a one-yard run. Andre Johnson made his first appearance of the preseason, starting and catching three passes for 18 yards.
J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing started for the Texans defense, but not long enough to stop Peyton Manning from driving down the field to score on back-to-back drives to end the first half. Manning completed 21-of-27 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception on the day.
"I thought the practices that we had against them were helpful to us, going against good players," Manning said of the Texans defense after the game. "They have excellent players. Of course, going against their defense is a great test. I thought we learned a lot about our offense and different situations during the week, and we'll learn a lot from this film as well."
Watt donned a baseball cap after playing just one series. Cushing, who made his first appearance in ten months, left after two drives. A.J. Bouye and Eddie Pleasant each had an interception on the day. Ricardo Mathews and Whitney Mercilus each recorded a sack on Manning, and Brock Osweiler, respectively.
Houston won the coin toss and deferred. Manning was held to a field goal on his opening drive with Watt and Cushing on the opposite side of the ball. Matt Prater's 32-yarder gave the Broncos the early lead 3-0 following a 13-play, 66-yard drive.
Fitzpatrick targeted Andre Johnson three times during the Texans' first offensive series. Johnson caught two passes for nine and six yards, consecutively, but it wasn't enough to get within scoring range.
The Texans defense held Manning to just one first down on the Broncos' second possession and forced a turnover on the third. Early in the second quarter, cornerback A.J. Bouye intercepted Manning on a pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders, giving the Texans the ball at Houston's 43-yard line. Grimes had back-to-back runs for gains of 9 and 24 yards. On fourth-and-1, Alfred Blue's 4-yard gain kept the drive alive. Grimes scored a one-yard touchdown run on the following play to give Houston its first lead of the day, 7-3, with 8:23 remaining in the second quarter.
On his next drive, Manning drove Prater missed a 49-yard field goal with 2:05 left in the second quarter.
It was still plenty of time for Manning to find the endzone. Twice.
Following two three-and-outs by Fitzpatrick and the offense, Manning took over and ran the two-minute drill with the same result, touchdown passes to Sanders. Manning connected with Sanders on a 67-yard touchdown pass to end a drive that lasted 0:34. Denver led 10-7 with 1:07 remaining in the second quarter.
The Broncos regained possession with 0:30 left and Manning threw a deep right pass to Sanders, scoring on a 29-yard touchdown.
The final drive of the first half wasn't without drama. D.J. Swearinger's hit on Wes Welker drew a flag for unnecessary roughness. Manning found the endzone on the next play and had words for Swearinger, drawing a taunting penalty on the Broncos.
"Physical football, I think we played physical," Swearinger said. "My hit was a physical hit and besides two minutes of the game our defense played very well; we forced turnovers in the second half, they had some drives that we had them short, we just have to fix those two minutes."
Houston trailed at halftime, 17-7.
Case Keenum started under center in the third quarter and went 7-of-10 for 46 yards on his first drive. He marched the Texans offense down the field on an 18-play, 74-yard drive that ended in a field goal. Randy Bullock's 24-yarder put the Houston within one score again, down 17-10 in the third quarter.
Brock Osweiler took over at quarterback for the Broncos. Rookies Louis Nix III and Jeoffrey Pagan entered the game on the defensive line.
On the final play of the third quarter, Eddie Pleasant intercepted Osweiler on a tipped pass intended for Cody Latimer. Pleasant's 10-yard return gave the Keenum and the Texans possession on Denver's 44-yard line but they were unable to convert on the turnover.
Savage entered the game with 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter and earned his first career NFL touchdown. He efficiently marched the offense down the field with completions to Alec Lemon and a pair of throws to Travis Labhart, the second being a 15-yarder on fourth-and-3. Two plays later, Savage found Griffin for a 34-yard touchdown on a short pass to end a 9-play, 74-yard drive that lasted just 3:26.
"We were running seams, I think," Griffin said. "The ends ran right by me and Tom did a great job of putting the ball right on me. I had time to get by the safety."
The Texans, trailing by one, went for the two-point conversion to avoid overtime. After taking a timeout, Savage connected with Labhart on the conversion, giving the Texans a 18-17 lead with 0:59 remaining.
"I think it's just a play that's called and I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time," Labhart said of the two-point play. "It was a good play call and Tom did a good job leading us down the field. It was everybody, not just that one play. Griff (Griffin) got us in the endzone and the o-line protected so it was a real fun last drive."
With the win, the Texans are 2-1 in the preseason heading into a short week. Houston will host the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, August 28 to close out the preseason.