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Texans beat Saints 23-10



A bye week does a body good.

The Texans found out just how good on Sunday, when two of the players most in need of rest and recuperation heading into last week's five-day break shined in a 23-10 win over the New Orleans Saints.

In front of a team regular season record 70,780 fans, quarterback Matt Schaub, who has battled hip and head injuries, completed 21-of-33 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Meanwhile, his favorite target, wide receiver Andre Johnson, played in his first game since suffering a knee injury in Week 2 and caught a team-high six passes for 120 yards and a 73-yard touchdown. Additionally, Ron Dayne picked up a game-high 89 yards in place of the injured Ahman Green.

Now the Texans, with a 5-5 record and riding a two-game win streak, are in the thick of the AFC Wildcard hunt with a crucial matchup next Sunday at Cleveland.

"It's exciting right now," coach Gary Kubiak said. "I made the comment at Oakland that one thing I'd like to see happen is see this franchise and this football team play some real big games down the stretch, and see these players and people experience what that's like. We work really hard."

The Texans have a lot to look forward to if the defense continues its current level of play. Defensive coordinator Richard Smith's unit collected three takeaways and limited the NFL's 12th-ranked scoring offense to more than 12 points below their season average.

Defensive end Mario Williams proved unstoppable at times with six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and several quarterback hurries. Cornerback Von Hutchins and linebacker Morlon Greenwood intercepted passes, and safety C.C. Brown recovered a fumble by running back Reggie Bush at the Texans' one-yard line that possibly prevented a touchdown.

The Texans had a scare to start the game. On the third play of the game's opening drive, tight end Owen Daniels caught a five-yard pass and was hit high by cornerback Mike McKenzie, who forced a fumble. Linebacker Scott Fujita recovered the ball at the Houston 38 for the first turnover of the game. While Daniels was helped off the field with a nose injury, coach Gary Kubiak challenged that Daniels maintained possession on the ground, but the call stood.

"The thing I'm mad about, first off, is that Owen blows his nose up on that play. He's got a broken nose," Kubiak said. "Yes, he did fumble, but my contention was that he had the ball. He had the ball next to his leg with with his hand on the ball. The play was over."

After a four-play, four-yard drive, Olindo Mare's 52-yard field goal gave the Saints a 3-0 lead with 12:09 left in the first quarter.

{QUOTE}The Texans responded with a touchdown less than two minutes later when Schaub executed a flawless play action fake to Dayne and then launched a bomb to Johnson, who jogged into the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown.

Shortly afterward, the Texans forced New Orleans into a third-and-20 situation at the Houston 47 when quarterback Drew Brees found wide receiver Marques Colston open for a 32-yard gain. An 11-yard pass to Bush gave New Orleans a first down at the Texans' four-yard line. Two plays later, Bush carried two yards to the one-yard line before defensive end Earl Cochran forced a fumble. Brown recovered the loose ball for the Texans, and the play stood despite a challenge by Saints coach Sean Payton.

New Orleans' offense returned to the field after Matt Turk's first punt of the game, and the Saints proceeded to march 41 yards on 10 plays before Brees' pass on third-and-six from the Houston 29 deflected off the hands of tight end Eric Johnson. Hutchins caught the pass and returned the interception eight yards to the Texans' 26-yard line for the defense's second takeaway of the game with 12:01 left in the first half.

On the Texans' fifth possession, running back Adimchinobi Echemandu was hit by defensive end Josh Cooper at the Houston 42 and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by defensive end Will Smith at the Houston 43 for no gain.

A major facemask penalty on defensive tackle Travis Johnson, who helped tackle Bush on a short gain, moved the Saints halfway to the goal line at the Texans' 11-yard line. On third-and-goal, Brees found wide receiver Devery Henderson open for a six-yard touchdown that gave New Orleans a 10-7 lead with 4:39 left in the first half.

Later, a 24-yard catch by Daniels and a 21-yard completion to wide receiver André Davis gave the Texans a first down at the Saints' 25-yard line, where Dayne broke off an 11-yard run to move the chains. Tight end Joel Dreessen finished the five-play, 70-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown catch, his second of the season, which put Houston ahead 14-10 with 2:10 remaining in the first half.

On the Saints' ensuing drive, Williams sacked Brees and knocked the ball loose. Officials ruled that tackle Jon Stinchcomb recovered the ball at the New Orleans 11. Since the play was inside the two-minute mark, Kubiak could not challenge the ruling, and the booth did not choose to review the play, even after the Texans called a timeout. Nevertheless, Bush rushed 11 yards on third-and-20, leading to another punt.

After Jacoby Jones' 17-yard punt return to the Houston 40, Schaub completed two passes for 29 yards to Dayne and Daniels, respectively, to give the offense a first down at the Saints' 31-yard line with 45 seconds left in the first half. Another catch by Daniels, this time for 13 yards, set up Kris Brown's 36-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining on the game clock.

Trailing 17-10, the Saints attempted a fourth-and-10 conversion at the Houston 35 on the opening drive of the first half, but linebacker DeMeco Ryans batted down the pass attempt to Colston to give the Texans' offense possession.

But after Schaub completed three passes for 24 yards, including a nine-yard catch by Davis that put the Texans in a fourth-and-one situation at the New Orleans 44, Dayne was stuffed by New Orleans for no gain to put the Saints' offense back on the field.

On fourth-and-one at the Houston 42 on the Texans' next series, Schaub dove forward for a one-yard gain to pick up the first down with close to four minutes remaining in the third quarter. The drive stalled, though, when two consecutive Schaub passes were batted down by Saints defenders, forcing another Turk punt, this time from the New Orleans 44.

The Texans' defense forced their third takeaway of the game when Brees threw a pick under pressure from a linebacker blitz. His pass deflected off Johnson's pads again, and Greenwood intercepted the ball and returned it three yards to the Saints' 38-yard line with 13:20 left in the game.

Four plays later, Brown nailed a 53-yard field goal to extend the Texans' lead to 20-10.

"At that stage in the game, I even thought about punting it because we would give them the ball basically at midfield if you don't make it," Kubiak said. "Kris looked at me and said, 'I'm fine, let's go.' So I told him in the locker room that if you give me the thumbs up, we're going to let you kick it."

When cornerback Fred Bennett knocked down Brees' pass intended for wide receiver David Patten on fourth-and-two at the Houston 43, the Texans' offense returned with 7:17 left in the game. Dayne gained 37 yards on six carries to set up Brown's 23-yard field goal after the two-minute warning, which made the score 23-10.

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