IRVING** - The Texans showed many signs of progress Sunday afternoon against the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Problem was, almost all the signs appeared in the first half.
Executing for a full 60 minutes continues to be a problem for the Texans, who took a 6-3 lead into the locker room at halftime only to be outscored 31-0 in the final two quarters. Contributing to the loss were the Texans' three second-half turnovers, which took place within a five-minute span, as well as the offense's 34 total rushing yards (compared to Dallas' 170 net rushing yards) in the wet and drizzling conditions.
"We're struglling very much (running the ball)," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "They're a tough football team to run against to begin with. When you're not running it well, it just adds to (the frustration). We're not very good at all right now running the ball, and we have to figure out a way to do that."
To add injury to insult, head coach Gary Kubiak announced after the game that defensive tackle Seth Payne will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Payne left the field in the fourth quarter when the game already was out of hand.
"The first half was a sloppy football game," Kubiak said. "The weather was a factor and there was some great defense being played. We had some opportunities on offense that we did not take advantage of. I think we had three or four third-and-one's or third-and-less-than-one's that we didn't convert and stay on the field. But we felt it would be that type of football game. A very physical football game.
"So at halftime, I think we all understood where we were. And in the second half we come out and they go right down the field and we turn the ball over and momentum just totally flipped. The weather was great in the second half. No excuses. They just kicked our butts in the second half."
The game started promising enough with the Texans' offense beginning on its 38-yard line after a 15-yard facemask penalty on the kickoff return. Quarterback David Carr completed his first four passes for 41 yards. Two more facemask penalties for 20 total yards helped give the Texans a first-and-goal situation at the Cowboys' four-yard line. Two short runs by Ron Dayne followed by an incomplete pass set up Kris Brown's 19-yard field goal with 8:58 left in the first quarter.
On Dallas' ensuing kickoff return, Tyson Thompson fumbled, but the call was reversed after the Cowboys challenged that he was down by contact. Because of another Dallas facemask penalty on the fumble recovery by defensive end Jason Babin, the Cowboys started the drive from their 15-yard line. A 10-yard sack by free safety C.C. Brown on quarterback Drew Bledsoe led to the first punt of the game.
With 3:52 left in the first quarter, the Texans began their third series from their two-yard line after Mat McBriar's 75-yard punt. Carr's nine-yard run on first down dug the Texans out of their end zone, but on third-and-one, the Cowboys stuffed Carr on a quarterback sneak. Chad Stanley's punt was fair caught at the Houston 41.
After an 11-yard catch by wide receiver Terry Glenn on third-and-12, the Cowboys kept their offense on the field for the game's first fourth down conversion. Bledsoe's pass to Glenn landed out of bounds, giving Houston possession on its 32-yard line.
Carr completed consecutive passes to wide receiver Andre Johnson for six yards, but on third-and-four, Carr's pass to Johnson was broken up by safety Roy Williams.
Dallas capitalized on its fourth drive. Bledsoe completed five passes for 46 yards, which set up Mike Vanderjagt's 22-yard field goal after the Texans stuffed the Cowboys on five plays in the red zone.
The Texans responded by marching 32 yards to the Dallas 42 on six plays, but head coach Gary Kubiak decided to punt on fourth-and-two. The Cowboys started on their 20-yard line with 2:26 left in the first half after Stanley's punt bounced into the end zone.
Another sack, this time by linebacker DeMeco Ryans for a nine-yard loss on first down, put Dallas in a hole. Three plays later, after a first down pass was overturned because the spot of the ball was incorrect, McBriar punted again. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon returned the kick 45 yards to the Dallas 40. Three plays and nine yards later, Brown nailed a 48-yard field goal as the clock expired on the first half.
On the opening series of the third quarter, the Cowboys marched 68 yards on nine plays. Running back Julius Jones broke free for a 33-yard gain to the Houston 31 on the second play from scrimmage. Later, wide receiver Terrell Owens' three-yard touchdown catch on a fade route gave the Cowboys a 10-6 advantage after Vanderjagt's extra point.
With 6:17 left in the third quarter, the Texans' offense started from its 12-yard line after McBriar's 49-yard punt. A 13-yard completion to running back Samkon Gado gave the Texans another set of downs, but two plays later, Carr's pass intended for Johnson was tipped, and linebacker Greg Ellis intercepted it at the Houston 34. Cornerback Terrence Newman took the ball from Ellis, and returned it 12 yards. Bledsoe found Owens again on a 21-yard post route a few plays later to stretch Dallas' lead to 17-6.
Dallas intercepted another Carr pass minutes later, when cornerback Anthony Henry stepped in front of Johnson at the Houston 43. Running back Marion Barber rushed five times for 23 yards, including a one-yard touchdown dive the gave the Cowboys a 24-6 advantage at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing kick return, Edell Shepherd fumbled on the Houston 26 after a gain of 11 yards. The ball was recovered by Williams on the 31-yard line. Vanderjagt converted a 21-yard field goal with 11:28 remaining in the game to give Dallas a 27-6 lead.
"When things start going bad, it gets frustrating for everybody," Kubiak said. "When you turn the ball over in three consecutive possessions, there is going to be frustration on the football field for your team. It's no excuse for losing your poise or anything."
Dallas added to their margin of victory when Owens scored on a play action pass from backup quarterback Tony Romo with 2:24 left in the game.
Sage Rosenfels replaced Carr on the Texans' final series, which ended on the Cowboys' two-yard line when rookie tight end Owen Daniels was stopped short of the goal line as the game clock expired.