Ryan Mallett looked every bit the part of a starting quarterback in the Texans 23-7 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Mallett led the Texans, who never trailed in their Week 11 win, and threw touchdown passes to J.J. Watt and Garrett Graham in the first half.
"The last time I was around him was when he was a rookie," head coach Bill O'Brien said of Mallett. "He grew up playing football since he was a little kid. He understands football and he understands the system. It's only one game and I'm sure there are some mistakes that we have to correct, but it's a good start for him."
Despite near-freezing temperatures on the road at FirstEnergy Field and without the Texans star running back, Arian Foster, Mallett pulled out his first NFL win in as many starts. Mallett finished the day 20-of-30 for 211 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and a 95.3 passer rating.
"I played alright," Mallett said after the game. "We ran the ball well. Those guys up front, they played their butts off. We had about 250 rushing yards and no sacks. Thos guys really took control of the game. They really got us going."
Rookie running back Alfred Blue, in for Foster who was ruled out with a groin injury, rushed for his first-career 100-yard game. Blue had 36 carries for 156 yards in his second start of the year.
"It was great to get our tempo up and keep the defense off balance," Blue said. "They don't really know what's coming at them and they can't get lined up. The tempo hleps the offense keep them (Browns defense) off balance."
Andre Johnson led the receivers with seven catches for 68 yards.
Randy Bullock was the lone scorer of the second half at FirstEnergy Field. Bullock, who missed his first attempt from 52 yards, successfully added 3-of-4 field goals from 46, 37, and 50 yards, consecutively.
Watt and the Texans defense did their part to help out Mallett. Watt, now with four touchdowns in 2014, had one sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a sack on Cleveland's Brian Hoyer. Linebacker Mike Mohamed intercepted Hoyer late in the game to set up the Texans final score and seal the win.
Mallett threw his first career touchdown pass to Watt, lined up as an eligible receiver in a goal-line package. On Houston's second offensive series, Watt entered the game and caught a 2-yard score to give the Texans an early 7-0 lead with 7:09 left in the first quarter.
"I knew I was close but I could tell when I was going down that it was going to be my knee, not my feet," Watt said. "At that point, I was just worried about catching the ball and hopefully staying in."
On the Texans next possession, Mallett aimed for another touchdown. However, his pass, intended for DeAndre Hopkins, was tipped and intercepted by Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Cleveland took over on Houston's 20-yard line but was unable to convert the turnover into points.
Following a roughing the kicker penalty by Watt, the Browns gained an extra 15 yards and started on their 38-yard line. After a seven-play, 62-yard drive, Cleveland tied the score 7-7 on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Hoyer to Andrew Hawkins.
With just over three minutes left in the first half, Cushing forced a fumble on Hoyer and Watt recovered for the Texans.
Mallett scored his second touchdown of the day with 0:23 remaining in the second quarter following Watt's fumble recovery. He threw two consecutive completions to tight end Garrett Graham, the second a 20-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field to end a nine-play, 78-yard drive.
The Texans took a 14-7 lead at halftime.
After missing a 52-yarder wide right early in the second half, Randy Bullock kicked a 46-yard field goal. Houston extended its lead to two scores, 17-7, with 5:16 left in the third quarter.
Mallett converted on fourth-and-3 on a 10-yard pass to Andre Johnson, setting Bullock up for a 37-yard field goal six plays later. With 9:47 remaining in the game, the Texans led 20-7.
Houston's defense kept the Browns offense scoreless in the second half and stepped up to seal the game with a Mike Mohamed interception on Hoyer. Mohamed's pick set up a 50-yard field goal by Bullock with 2:52 left in the fourth quarter. Houston sealed the victory, winning 23-7 with Bullock's third kick.
"We tackled their space players very well, and we got some pressure on Brian (Hoyer) and made it difficult for him at times," O'Brien said. "I think the defense played a hell of a game."
Hoyer, facing his former teammate Mallett, completed 20-of-50 for 330 yards for one touchdown, one interception, and a passer rating of 61.2.
The Texans defeated the Browns 23-7 and improve to a 5-5 record on the season. Houston returns to NRG Stadium in Week 12 to host the Cincinnati Bengals.