Any questions the Texans had about their team entering the season opener Sunday were answered in approximately three hours in a 20-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Reliant Stadium.
Yes, the Texans' offense is much improved with quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Ahman Green and upstart rookie wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Schaub rebounded from an early interception to pass for 225 yards and a 77-yard touchdown to Andre Johnson, while Green bruised his way for 73 rushing yards and 23 receiving yards.
But it was the Texans' defense, and defensive end Mario Williams in particular, that really made a statement in front of the 70,080 Liberty White-clad fans. Williams returned a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown and had a game-high two sacks, while the unit as a whole collected four turnovers (two fumble recoveries, two interceptions).
Perhaps the defense's greatest achievement Sunday was holding running back Larry Johnson to 43 rushing yards and no touchdowns.
"I think that you always worry as a coach when you go out there on opening day of how you're going to play for four quarters," coach Gary Kubiak said following the win. "And we preached to our players this week that whenever we got to the fourth quarter that was unchartered waters for everybody in this league this week. Nobody has played that long. So we told them they were ready to do that.
"They've been practicing at 12 (p.m.). We changed our routine around so we were practicing in the heat at noon. And I think our football team showed it was pretty well-conditioned. We played for four quarters. We were aggressive. We were playing as a group. It's about a team for us - it's not one guy."
The Chiefs started strong early, but rookie Justin Medlock missed a 30-yard field goal attempt, which swung the momentum back in Houston's favor with 5:49 left in the first quarter.
On the third play from scrimmage, Jones caught his first ball for a 26-yard gain to give the Texans' offense a new set of downs near midfield. Green proceeded to gain 14 yards on the next three carries, and Johnson caught a 15-yard ball on a dart from Schaub for a first down at the Kansas City 25. Two plays later, Schaub's pass to Johnson in the left corner of the end zone was intercepted by safety Jarrad Page.
Early in the second quarter, Huard mishandled an errant third down snap out of shotgun formation, but recovered on the Kansas City 13, leading to the Chiefs' first punt of the game. After Jones' two-yard return, the Texans began their drive at their 26-yard line following a 10-yard penalty on safety C.C. Brown for an illegal block to the back.
An eight-yard loss on a first down sack led to another punt, but linebacker DeMeco Ryans forcred a fumble on returner Eddie Drummond to give the Texans' offense possession on the Chiefs' 29-yard line after linebacker Charlie Anderson's recovery. Green caught a 12-yard screen pass and rushed for six more yards on two carries before Kris Brown nailed a 26-yard field goal to give Houston a 3-0 lead with 7:33 left before halftime.
The offense returned to the field less than two minutes later after another three-and-out series by the Chiefs. On the first play from scrimmage, Schaub found Johnson open on a play action fake for a 77-yard touchdown, the longest in both players' careers. Brown's extra point gave the Texans a 10-0 lead.
"We've been working on that play for a while," Johnson said. "It never opened up like that (before).
"The way we talked about (that play) on the sideline was the way it all played out...I knew once I got inside of (the defender), it was all over."
On Kansas City's final drive of the first half, Huard's pass intended for wide receiver Jeff Webb was intercepted by cornerback Dunta Robinson, who was tackled for a four-yard loss at the Houston 43 with 14 seconds remaining on the clock. Green's 18-yard rush ended the first half of play.
Williams started fast in the second half by returning a fumble caused by cornerback Jamar Fletcher 38 yards for a touchdown on Kansas City's opening drive. It was the Texans' first defensive touchdown since Anthony Maddox's 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown on Dec. 31, 2006 against the Cleveland Browns. Brown's extra point gave Houston a 17-0 lead.
On the Chiefs' following drive, Williams forced a punt when he sacked Huard for a seven-yard loss at the Kansas City 16.
Schaub's 19-yard pass to Johnson and seven-yard completion to Jones gave Houston a first down at the Chiefs' 24-yard line. But later, Johnson fumbled after a four-yard catch, and linebacker Donnie Edwards recovered at the Kansas City 28 with 6:56 left in the third quarter for the Texans' first giveaway.
The Chiefs capitalized with an 11-play, 63-yard drive. Huard's 25-yard completion to rookie Dwayne Bowe to the Houston 11 put the offense in prime scoring position, but Williams sacked Huard for a six-yard loss that helped force Kansas City to kick a 27-yard field goal.
Leading 17-3 with 26 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Texans' offense started its second drive of the second half from the 25-yard line. Green and running back Ron Dayne combined for 28 net rushing yards to carry the offense on a 15-play, 65-yard drive over 10:26. Brown's 28-yard field goal gave Houston a 20-3 advantage with 5:00 left in the game.
The Texans' defense continued to apply pressure. Defensive end N.D. Kalu sacked Huard for an eight-yard loss, and four plays later defensive tackle Travis Johnson intercepted Huard's attempt at a screen pass at the Kansas City 49 with 3:20 remaining on the game clock for the Texans' fourth takeaway.
Schaub led the offense 11 yards on five plays, running out the remainder of the game to help the Texans to their first win of the season.
- Chiefs wide receiver Eddie Kennison left the game after Kansas City's first play from scrimmage with a right hamstring injury.
- Starting strong safety Jason Simmons was carted off the field midway through the second quarter with a torn left patella tendon. He will miss the remainder of the season.
"I just was going to avoid a lineman and put my foot in the ground and it just gave way," Simmons said of the injury. "Nothing more to it, just a freak accident.
"I was so upset. You finally get your chance, you wait to start my whole career, but I never could question God's timing, so I'm fine."
- Kubiak spoke about other injuries after the game.
"Travis Johnson had an ankle sprain. He'll be fine," Kubiak said. "Vonta Leach has back spasms. He'll be fine. And the one we talked about in the locker room while ago is that N.D. Kalu cracked a couple bones in his hand. Came in and casted up and went out there an played his tail off in the fourth quarter. So he'll be working with a cast.