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OAKLAND - The Texans are in uncharted territory.
After hanging on for a 31-24 win Sunday over the Oakland Raiders, the Texans carry a 3-1 record for the first time in club history and are in sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
The victory in front of a sparse crowd of 32,218 fans at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is the Texans' fourth consecutive road win, which is a club record. Houston has won nine of their past 13 road games.
"I'm proud of our team, I really am," coach Gary Kubiak said. "I told the players I really am as proud of them today as I was four weeks ago when we opened the season. I think this was a big gut check for our team and we needed to get out of this month 3-1. Now we have to get some guys healthy and keep pushing."
Kubiak's assessment was spot on considering all of the players that either missed the game or sat out large portions of the contest. Pro Bowler Andre Johnson (high ankle sprain) and starting free safety Eugene Wilson (hamstring) were inactive, while running back Arian Foster (coach's decision) missed the majority of the first half. Also, wide receiver Jacoby Jones (leg injury) left the game early in the second half and did not return.
For a team that already was missing starters Brian Cushing and Duane Brown to suspension, the additional personnel losses were significant.
"I'm proud of these wins because they're gut checks," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We didn't have all of our top guys. Everyone dug a little deeper and found a little more within themselves to come out and find a way to win (today)."
Kubiak caught everyone by surprise when he decided to start running back Steve Slaton in place of Foster. In the first quarter, Slaton split carries with Derrick Ward, and they totaled 84 yards on eight carries, including Ward's 33-yard touchdown run to put Houston on the scoreboard first.
With 6:50 left in the first half, Foster entered the game for the first time following the Raiders' go-ahead touchdown catch by fullback Marcel Reece. In three series before halftime, Foster rushed for five yards on three carries and caught a pass for 15 yards that set up Neil Rackers' 46-yard field goal that missed off the right upright.
On the second play from scrimmage in the second half, Foster broke off the right tackle and outran two defensive backs for a 74-yard touchdown that gave Houston a 21-14 lead. In the game, Foster totaled 131 yards on 16 carries (8.2 avg.) and 56 yards on three catches (18.7 avg.) , including a 10-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.
"The bottom line is we all have responsibilities and over the course of the last couple weeks, (Arian) has neglected a couple responsibilities and (has) been unaccountable in a couple situations," Kubiak said. "When that happens, you have to learn a lesson. You have to pay a price. I'm disappointed in him and I'm proud of him coming back and playing well today."
Collectively, the Texans' running back trio contributed 312 of the team's 441 net yards of offense.
"I think it shows what kind of talent we have in the backfield now," tackle Eric Winston said. "Steve's always been a great back. I think Derrick Ward has been a great addition. He's been a guy as well that said, 'Hey, I wasn't here at the beginning,' but he's worked hard. You really feel comfortable with him back there. I think that's why Coach Kubes did what he did. Guys have to be accountable and we all have to do what we need to do. I think when you have three guys like that, you can go on the road and get some tough wins."
While Foster continued his breakthrough season, safety Troy Nolan stood out in Wilson's place, collecting the Texans' first two interceptions of the season. The 2009 seventh-round draft pick from Arizona State set up Foster's touchdown catch by diving for a ball at the Houston 45 and returning it 20 yards.
With 1:57 left in the game and the Texans leading 31-24, Nolan hauled in Gradkowski's tipped fourth-down pass intended for Louis Murphy and ran 14 yards to the Oakland 41.
"We were talking in the huddle and DeMeco (Ryans) was telling us that we have to go out here and make a play and seal the game, so when he hit the guy and tipped that ball up, I just reacted and went and got it," Nolan said. "I was really trying to take it to the house but I thought I better get down and get our offense back out there so they can seal the game."
The back-and-forth win under adversity proved that the Texans are deeper than ever before. The team now welcomes the New York Giants to Reliant Stadium on Oct. 10, and Cushing will make his 2010 regular season debut.
"I think everyone in this locker room feels like any home game we play should be a win," Winston said. "We're going to go out there and we're going to get ready for the Giants and we expect to win. Whether we have 'Dre or not, whether we have some (other) guys or not, we're going to go out there and we're going to be accountable to each other and we're going to play for each other."