EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –The Texans had played close to error-free football all afternoon at Giants Stadium. And with 5:23 left in the game, looking for the go-ahead score, the Texans were in position to collect their first regular season road win of the year.
But on second down at the Giants' 38-yard line, the Texans were derailed by a familiar enemy when a fumble by fullback Jameel Cook was recovered by the Giants, who ran out the remaining clock by gaining three consecutive first downs en route to a 14-10 victory.
Plagued by self-inflicted wounds during previous road games this season, the Texans executed well throughout Sunday's contest, even scoring on a franchise-record 18-play drive in the third quarter. But nobody on the team was counting the game as a moral victory.
"We played a pretty clean football game," said head coach Gary Kubiak, who described the players' moods as "dejected" after the loss. "We were in a position to win…(Jameel) is not trying to fumble, but you have to keep playing clean. You have to put that ball away. That was our opportunity to go down there and score and win. It took that away right there."
Quarterback David Carr completed 21-of-30 passes for 176 yards without any interceptions or fumbles, and wide receiver Andre Johnson continued his Pro Bowl-caliber play with a game-high nine receptions.
The Texans began the game with the ball, and moved near midfield on the second play from scrimmage after a 22-yard completion from Carr to Johnson. Running back Wali Lundy caught a 13-yard pass, and rushed twice for four yards, later in the drive to help set up Kris Brown's 42-yard field goal attempt, which missed wide left.
The Giants put together a seven-play, 68-yard scoring drive on their opening possession. Quarterabck Eli Manning completed all three of his pass attempts for 47 yards, and running back Tiki Barber gained 19 yards on three carries, including a 16-yard touchdown run that helped the Giants take a 7-0 lead with 4:58 left in the first quarter.
Chad Stanley punted for the first time of the game after the Texans' second series, which stalled on the Giants' 38-yard line when Carr's pass intended for Johnson sailed high on third-and-seven.
An errant third down pass by Manning led to the Giants' first punt of the game with 14:14 remaining in the first half.
The Texans started their third drive from the 10-yard line. Carr completed consecutive passes to wide receiver Eric Moulds for 13 yards, giving the Texans a first down at the 23-yard line.
Carr completed his next five passes for 47 yards to three different receivers before his third down pass from the Giants' 23-yard line fell short. Brown's ensuing field goal attempt from 41 yards split the uprights, cutting New York's lead to 7-3.
The Giants' offense responded behind Barber, who gained 31 total yards on three consecutive carries to the Houston 25. A huge hit by strong safety Glenn Earl on tight end Jeremy Shockey broke up a touchdown pass when the ball popped loose. The play stood despite New York's challenge that Shockey had caught the ball in the end zone before losing possession.
Three plays later, Williams sacked Manning for a six-yard loss to the Houston 25. Ryans took down Manning for a 10-yard loss on the next snap for back-to-back sacks. On the ensuing play, Williams pressured Manning to force an incomplete pass, leading to a punt with 1:54 left in the first half.
On the last play of the second quarter, after the Texans punted with 16 seconds left on the clock, Earl intercepted Manning's pass and returned it two yards to the Texans' 42-yard line as time expired.
The Giants' offense began the third quarter with the ball. A 15-yard roughing the passer penalty by Williams on third down inside Giants territory led to a New York first down near midfield. Later, Manning completed a 20-yard pass to Barber to give the Giants a first down at the Houston 21.
Following a third down rush attempt by Brandon Jacobs that was stuffed, Jay Feely attempted a 36-yard field goal, but the hold was botched. Holder Jeff Feagles' pass to Feely fell incomplete, giving the Texans possession at their 20-yard line. A challenge by coach Gary Kubiak that Feely fumbled the ball was overruled by the officials.
With 9:26 left in the third quarter, Carr completed his first four passes for 36 yards to help move the Texans to the Giants' 36-yard line. A five-yard scramble by Carr set up a fourth-and-one situation at the New York 27. The offense remained on the field, and Lundy broke off the right tackle for a three-yard gain. A seven-yard pass to Johnson, followed by an unnecessary roughness penalty on safety James Butler, who hit guard Fred Weary after the whistle, set up Carr's two-yard touchdown run that capped the team-record 18-play, 80-yard drive over 8:12.
Leading 10-7, the Texans' offense returned to the field at the beginning of the fourth quarter after the Giants went three-and-out. After a 10-yard holding penalty, Carr stumbled on second-and-19 and was sacked for a six-yard loss. On third down, Lundy was stopped for a one-yard loss, leading to Stanley's third punt of the game, which went 32 yards to the Giants' 33-yard line.
Kubiak claims the wasted possession was the turning point of the game.
"That succession of plays right there really hurt our football team, because we had the game on their end (of the field) with a three-point lead in the fourth quarter, and there were four very poor football plays on our part there," Kubiak said.
The Giants capitalized on the field position with an 11-play, 67-yard scoring drive in which they used their no-huddle offense. Barber gained 32 total yards on three carries and a catch, and Manning found Jeremy Shockey open for a three-yard touchdown on a play action pass that helped New York take a 14-10 lead.
"When they went into no huddle, it caught us off-guard a little bit and they were able to get a touchdown," defensive end Anthony Weaver said.
With 7:41 left in the game, the Texans' offense marched to the New York 38 when Cook caught a short pass and fumbled after being hit by linebacker Gerris Wilkinson. Cornerback Corey Webster recovered the ball and returned it four yards to the 37-yard line. Kubiak looked like he might challenge the fumble ruling on the field, but decided against it.
"Basically, we were going to lose that challenge because it was ruled a completed pass (on the field)," said Kubiak, who conferred with officials before deciding against the challenge.
The Giants' offense proceeded to gain three consecutive first downs to force Houston to use its remaining timeouts and run out the rest of the game clock. The 14-10 loss to the Giants gives Houston a 2-6 record heading into Jacksonville next Sunday at Alltel Stadium.
Kubiak was subdued in his post-game press conference, but is not discouraged as the Texans embark on the latter half of their 2006 schedule.
"We played cleaner, but still the turnover hurt our team," Kubiak said. "If you ask me if I feel better, I feel good about the guys that are in that locker room, and I feel good about the way they're working and the way they're coming together as a group. Now we have to get the football better and better and better, and I'm looking forward to the second half of the season and us growing and getting better as a football team and being able to go on the road and play cleaner football like we did today."