Preseason victories may not count for much once Week 1 of the regular season rolls around, but don't tell that to the Houston Texans, who are basking in the glow of an electric 28-16 win over the rival Dallas Cowboys Saturday night.
The victory gives the Texans intrastate bragging rights, as well as the Governor's Cup trophy and a major boost of confidence as the exhibition season comes to a close.
A Houston preseason record 70,512 fans witnessed the win at Reliant Stadium, and the crowd was buzzing from the start thanks to more jaw-dropping plays from rookie sensation Jacoby Jones, who finished with two touchdowns, 26 receiving yards and 10 rushing yards.
The third-round draft pick busted loose for a 91-yard touchdown on the first punt of the game less than two minutes after the opening kickoff. It was Jones' second punt return touchdown in as many weeks, and third touchdown of the preseason. Jones' front flip into the end zone incited the fans in attendance, and put his teammates into a frenzy.
"I was excited about the way we came out," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "You want to see the energy of the regular season in this third preseason game. I think the fact that who we were playing and the stadium helped create a great atmosphere. But, you know, our guys were really juiced up and ready to play. That's a heck of a football team, and for Jacoby to start the game the way he did gave us a lot of juice."
Quarterback Matt Schaub had another stellar outing. Finishing the game after the first drive of the third quarter, he completed 12-of-16 passes for 109 yards with touchdown passes to Andre Johnson and Jones for a 132.6 passer rating. He still has no interceptions this preseason.
Meanwhile, running back Ahman Green had a game-high 65 rushing yards, including a 46-yard sprint in the second quarter to set up Johnson's touchdown catch. Defensive end Mario Williams had four tackles, and rookies Fred Bennett and Brandon Mitchell each collected interceptions to pace the defense. Dallas gained only 57 rushing yards on 21 carries (2.7 avg.), and Williams was a big reason for that.
"We slipped Mario (Williams) to the other side for a few snaps so that people aren't just zeroed in on exactly where he's at," Kubiak said. "It looked like we did some better things - I'll have to go back and watch the film - but it looked like we were more disruptive making the quarterback move around a little bit. And I felt like we held up pretty good against their running game. They've got a heck of a running game with a big group up front."
Dallas felt the Texans' pressure immediately. On third-and-18 from the Houston 35 on the Cowboys' second drive of the game, quarterback Tony Romo fumbled the snap out of shotgun formation. As soon as Romo recovered the ball, Williams tackled him for a 14-yard loss to force the Cowboys' second consecutive punt with 5:24 left in the first quarter.
Schaub found tight end Owen Daniels open for a nine-yard pass play on first down. On third-and-six, Schaub was sacked for a seven-yard loss by blitzing linebacker Kevin Burnett, bringing punter Chad Stanley on the field. After a 32-yard punt, Dallas started its third series from the Houston 46.
Following another three-and-out, set up by cornerback Jamar Fletcher's pass deflection on third down, the Texans' offense began on its 16-yard line. Green picked up 13 yards on a short screen pass on second down, and Johnson made an eight-yard catch a play later to give Houston a first down at the 31-yard line at the end of the first quarter.
On the first snap of the second quarter, Green rushed through the middle of the Dallas defense for a 46-yard gain. Cornerback Anthony Henry was penalized for a horse-collar tackle, giving Houston a first down on the Dallas 11. Two plays later, Schaub and Johnson connected for a six-yard touchdown pass to give the Texans a 14-0 lead with 13:43 remaining in the first half.
On the ninth play of the Cowboys' following possession, Romo hit wide receiver Terrell Owens on a crossing route, and Owens hit an extra gear, avoiding three would-be tacklers for a 35-yard touchdown. Martin Gramatica's extra point missed wide right, making the score 14-6 in Houston's favor with 8:35 left in the first half.
The Cowboys' offense returned to the field with 3:58 on the clock after Matt Turk's 31-yard punt to the Dallas 22. But the drive fizzled when Romo's pass intended for Patrick Crayton sailed high on third-and-two from the Dallas 30.
Jones' 14-yard punt return put the crowd on its feet again, and gave the Texans momentum heading into their two-minute offense. Green gained seven yards on two runs to approach midfield, and wide receiver Kevin Walter hauled in a 13-yard pass to the Dallas 44. With less than a minute left in the first half, Johnson's 17-yard catch and Jones' seven-yard reception put Houston in scoring range at the 19-yard line. The precocious rookie stepped up again the next play, collecting a rising 19-yard touchdown pass from Schaub to help extend the Texans' lead to 21-6.
On the last play of the first half, linebacker Shantee Orr and rookie defensive tackle Amobi Okoye sacked Romo for an eight-yard loss.
After the Texans punted on the opening drive of the second half, Dallas mounted an 11-play, 86-yard scoring drive. Romo's 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jason Witten cut Houston's lead to 21-13 after Nick Folk's extra point. On the series, Romo completed six passes for 80 yards.
Sage Rosenfels replaced Schaub behind center when the Texans' offense returned to the field. He completed three of his first four passes for 20 yards, but his third down pass to tight end Jeb Putzier ended two yards shy of the first down marker at the Texans' 45-yard line.
Bennett put the crowd on its feet on the Cowboys' first play from scrimmage. Romo dropped back from his six-yard line and rocketed a ball toward Owens, who was matched up in single coverage with Bennett. The ball was underthrown slightly, and Bennett rose up to intercept the pass. He was tapped down by Owens for a one-yard return, giving the Houston offense possession at the Dallas 49.
Rosenfels and Putzier connected again for an eight-yard gain on third down to the Dallas 26. That set up Brown's 45-yard field goal, which missed wide right for Brown's first mishit on nine tries this preseason.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Texans appeared to collect their second takeaway of the game when linebacker Shawn Barber intercepted quarterback Brad Johnson' tipped ball. But Barber was penalized five yards for illegal contact before the pass, giving the Cowboys a first down at their 45-yard line. A 33-yard catch by tight end Tony Curtis to the Houston 11 put Dallas into scoring position, but a third down run was stuffed for a one-yard loss. Folk's 23-yard field goal made the score 21-16 with 9:04 left in the game.
The Texans responded with an 11-play drive covering 86 yards. Running back Samkon Gado's 10-yard run, and wide receiver Andre' Davis' 13-yard catch moved the offense near midfield. On third-and-three, Rosenfels' pass to Davis was broken up by cornerback Jacques Reeves, who was penalized for defensive pass interference to give Houston another set of downs.
Gado's 16-yard run to the Dallas 21 helped set up Rosenfels' 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver David Anderson, who leapt into his teammates' arms after stretching the Texans' lead to 28-16 with 2:50 remaining in the game.
A desperate attempt by Dallas to score running the two-minute drill was stopped at the Dallas 49 when Mitchell intercepted a pass intended for wide receiver Miles Austin.
Houston ran out the remainder of the game clock to secure the team's second win of the 2007 preseason. Next up for the Texans is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Aug.30 at Raymond James Stadium in the preseason finale.
- Rookie safety Brandon Harrison left the game in the second quarter after being "dinged in the head."