The Texans became winners for the first time Sunday in one of the most improbable comebacks in team history.
Trailing 27-13 early in the fourth quarter, the Texans answered with three touchdowns, a sack and an interception to collect a 34-27 win and finish the regular season with a 9-7 record – their best finish ever.
The Texans then hoped for two of the following three teams to lose: Baltimore Ravens (at Oakland), Denver Broncos (vs. Kansas City) and New York Jets (vs. Cincinnati). While the Chiefs beat the Broncos, both the Ravens and Jets won their respective games to shut out Houston from the postseason on tiebreakers.
Missing the playoffs stings, but the way the Texans finished the season with a four-game win streak leaves the team with momentum heading into the offseason.
Perhaps the most remarkable feat of the win Sunday was not the Texans' three touchdowns in the final 10 minutes, but the fact that the team overcame a missed extra point and two missed field goals by kicker Kris Brown, as well as an interception that was returned 91 yards for a touchdown.
Houston's perseverance and a combined effort by all phases of the team led the comeback. The offense scored on all three possessions of the fourth quarter. Defensively, safety Bernard Pollard's interception set up the game-winning points. On special teams, linebacker Kevin Bentley got the crowd on its feet by de-cleating wide receiver Matthew Slater on a kick return midway through the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Matt Schaub finishes the regular season as the NFL's leader in passing yards after completing 24-of-29 passes for 303 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Also, wide receiver Andre Johnson finishes with the NFL lead in receiving yards after catching six passes for 65 yards.
Another big story is the play of rookie running back Arian Foster, who pounded his way for a career-high 119 yards on 20 carries (6.0 avg.). He scored twice and rushed for 29 yards on five carries in the final five minutes of the contest.
"He ran hard, but he only goes so far as far as the six guys with the tight end included up front block for him," Schaub said of Foster. "That's a stout group up front much like Miami was, but we were able to open up some holes, and (Arian) fought for every single yard."
Houston took the early lead when Schaub found tight end Joel Dreessen for a 25-yard touchdown on the game's opening drive.
The Patriots, who included five starters on their inactive list, lost another starter on their opening series when Pro Bowl wideout Wes Welker injured his left knee on a 12-yard reception and did not return.
With 5:29 left in the first quarter, the Patriots' offense returned to the field starting from their 37-yard line. Quarterback Tom Brady drove the offense 63 yards on nine plays before running back Fred Taylor scored on a four-yard touchdown run.
Fullback Vonta Leach's 26-yard catch gave the Texans a first down near midfield in the second quarter. Foster's 13-yard run and Jacoby Jones' 14-yard catch put Houston in scoring range at the 23-yard line. A 10-yard personal foul for unnecessary roughness on safety James Sanders for a late hit on wide receiver David Anderson moved the offense to the nine-yard line. On fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line, Schaub's pass to wide receiver Andre Johnson sailed out of bounds.
On the next play, linebacker Zac Diles forced a fumble on running back Fred Taylor that Pollard recovered in the end zone. Brown missed the extra point, making the score 13-10 with 4:41 left before halftime. Rookie quarterback Brian Hoyer replaced Brady on that series.
Tied 13-13 after Gostkowski's second field goal of the game, the Texans had one more chance to take the lead before halftime, but Brown's 56-yard attempt missed wide right.
In the third quarter, the Texans dodged a bullet when running back Ryan Moats' fumble was recovered by Jones at the Patriots' 26-yard line after a 15-yard gain. A few plays later, Schaub's pass deflected off Jones and was intercepted by rookie Darius Butler, who returned the ball 91 yards for a score.
Schaub led the offense back into scoring range to the New England 20, but Brown missed a 38-yard attempt wide right to leave the score 20-13 with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
The Patriots responded with a nine-play, 72-yard drive that Taylor finished with an 11-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
Houston kept fighting and cut the score to 27-20 on Jones' tip-toeing eight-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone. Schaub completed four passes for 50 yards on the drive, and a 26-yard pass interference penalty on Butler moved the Texans to the Patriots' three-yard line.
Jones finished with a season-high five catches for 65 yards.
"He makes mistakes but he's capable of making big plays," Kubiak said. "I just like that nothing bothers him."
The momentum picked up when defensive end Mario Williams sacked Brady for a four-yard loss on third down to force a punt, which Jones returned 31 yards to the New England 34.
On third-and-12, Schaub rifled a sideline pass to Johnson, who ran out of bounds at the Patriots' 11-yard line for a 15-yard gain. André Davis' 10-yard catch set up Foster's touchdown run that evened the score 27-27 after Brown's extra point.
On the next series, Pollard intercepted Brady, who was hit by Williams as he threw a pass intended for Sam Aiken. Pollard was tackled by running back Sammy Morris at the New England 28 after a 15-yard return.
"He seemed to be at his best there at the end when it mattered most," Kubiak said of Williams.
Foster continued pounding the ball on New England, gaining 25 yards on three consecutive carries. He scored on the next carry as the offensive line pushed a pile of Patriots into the end zone. Brown's extra point gave Houston a 34-27 lead with 1:54 left in the game.
Hoyer replaced Brady on the Patriots' final drive and completed his first two passes for 20 yards. Houston was penalized five yards for having 12 men on the field. A play later, Williams was dragged down as he rushed the passer, which drew a 10-yard flag and negated a long completion. Following a 12-yard rush, Hoyer's pass to Julian Edelman fell incomplete, setting up fourth-and-three at the Houston 34. The fourth down pass to Edelman was wide, giving the Texans possession with 14 seconds on the clock.
Injuries: Texans wide receiver David Anderson left the game in the first half after getting knocked down in the end zone. He did not return to the game.
The Patriots lost Pro Bowl wideout Wes Welker on their opening drive with a knee injury. He did not return. Offensive lineman Dan Connolly left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. He did not return.
Click here for the full list of game inactives.