Ron Dayne celebrates after finding the end zone in the Texans 42-28 win over the Jaguars.
With their dynamic duo of running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jacksonville Jaguars don't get topped in the ground game very often. But with the two key cogs of the NFL's second-ranked rushing offense sitting the game out, the Texans' own backfield pairing of Ron Dayne and Darius Walker stole the show in Sunday's season finale.
Dayne and Walker combined for 174 yards on the ground and three touchdowns, pacing a Texans' offensive explosion that propelled the team to a 42-28 win over the Jaguars and a franchise-best eight-win finish to the year.
"In a game like this, the last game of the season and the mindset with both teams, usually the most physical team and the team that plays the hardest finds a way to win," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's what we did in running the football. So they did a heck of a job there."
Dayne put Houston's first touchdown on the board with a two-yard push into the end zone after André Davis' recovery of a muffed punt gave the Texans the ball on Jacksonville's six-yard line. Dayne would find paydirt again in the second half, scoring on a 12-yard run off the left tackle. Dayne finished the game with 88 yards on 21 attempts for a 4.2 yards per carry average.
With his performance against the Jaguars, Dayne also eclipsed his previous season high for rushing yards, finishing the season with 773 yards. His previous best came in his rookie season, when he ran for 770 yards with the New York Giants in 2000. The bruising running back, however, was more pleased with the game's final score than any personal marks he set in the process.
"I don't even worry about that too much," Dayne said. "It feels good just to be able to get a win and get out of here and not be losers. (It's about) being on a good track and it gives you a good start for next season, winning the last game."
Dayne's backfield mate, rookie Darius Walker, also had a banner day, rushing for a career-best 86 yards on 10 carries. Walker flashed his ability during the fourth quarter's first drive, ripping off 49 yards on four consecutive carries. Two plays after ripping off the Texans' longest carry of the season, a 41-yard run down the left sideline, Walker went around the right end from four yards out and dove toward the front right pylon of the end zone for a touchdown to put the Texans up 42-21.
Although Walker touched the ball against the marker and the play was ruled a touchdown on the field, a challenge by Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio reversed the play. Still, Walker wouldn't be denied, and he scored on a one-yard touchdown the next play to give him his first career score.
"Everybody was like, 'Darius, you've got to get it. We're not leaving this field until you get it in,'" Walker said. "So I had to do it for myself and my guys. I don't think they would have let me into the locker room unless I had scored a touchdown."
Walker's persistence and work throughout the season allowed the undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame to weather the disappointment of being cut twice by the Texans before the start of the season before being resigned in September and spending nearly three months on the team's practice squad. The road to an NFL roster spot hasn't been easy for Walker, but the rookie's emergence over the team's final three games and his strong performance in the finale left him all smiles in the locker room.
"It really was an enjoyable experience today," Walker said. "I love my guys—I really have to give kudos to the offensive line today. They played a great game, opening holes for me and Ronnie and protecting Sage. It just feels really good."
And with the potential for Walker to earn playing time next season already on the line, Kubiak took note of his young running back's play against one of the NFL's top rushing defenses.
"I think that Darius has shown that he has the ability to play in this league, but with Darius it's really just about his growth," Kubiak said. "I think that a lot of things have come easy for Darius and this is hard, and Darius is learning what hard is all about.
"If he responds to the hard part, I think you're going to see him just keep getting better—I really think you will."