The Texans proved Saturday night that they can hang with an NFL heavyweight. Unfortunately, the team didn't do so for a full 60 minutes.
Kris Brown converted four field goals, his most-ever as a Texan in the preseason, and quarterback Sage Rosenfels threw for a team-high 138 yards to lead the offense. But their work was eclipsed by a late penalty for roughing the punter that led to the game-winning 47-yard field goal, giving Chicago a 20-19 win in both teams' preseason opener in front of 70,060 fans at Reliant Stadium.
New starting quarterback Matt Schaub played the first two series for the Texans and completed three of his five pass attempts for 25 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a 72.9 passer rating. Ahman Green, meanwhile, carried three times for seven yards. The Texans' starters played approximately two series on offense.
"I didn't see many mistakes," Green said. "Watching the film on Monday, we'll see what we did wrong. From the standpoint of the running game, everything executed pretty well. I could feel that everyone was a little nervous, a little jittery, excited, which is good. If you're not nervous, you're not ready to play."
Schaub took the field for the first time under center with 8:48 left in the first quarter, and attempted his first pass on second down when he found tight end Owen Daniels open for a two-yard gain. On third-and-seven from the Houston 45, Schaub's pass to wide receiver Kevin Walter was batted down, leading to Chad Stanley's 50-yard punt to the Bears' five-yard line.
"I thought (Schaub) did some good things," coach Gary Kubiak said. "He had a chance for a lay-up touchdown there at the end and he misses (Walter) in the corner of the end zone. He made a great play on the first third down that Kevin has to hang onto it and make that play.
"That's what (Schaub) is. He's got a great field presence out there. He knows what's going on and he's going to make good decisions for our team. I thought that what little time I gave him...he did a real good job."
The Texans' offense returned to the field with 4:53 remaining in the first quarter. After rookie Jacoby Jones' 22-yard punt return to the Houston 48, Schaub found wide receiver Andre Johnson on first down for a 15-yard gain. An eight-yard pass to Daniels moved the Texans to the Chicago 25. Four plays later, after a narrow miss between Schaub and wide receiver Kevin Walter in the end zone, Brown booted a 37-yard field goal to give Houston a 3-0 lead.
On Chicago's next possession, quarterback Brian Griese replaced Rex Grossman, and his pass intended for Mark Bradley was picked off by safety Von Hutchins, who returned the ball 20 yards to the Bears' 16-yard line. Replacing Schaub, Rosenfels found Andre' Davis open for a seven-yard catch on second down as the first quarter expired.
After three consecutive carries by running back Ron Dayne gained two net yards, Brown hit a 20-yard field goal to give the Texans a 6-0 lead with 13:06 left in the first half.
Chicago rebounded quickly with a six-play, 70-yard drive over 3:11. Griese's two-yard play action touchdown pass to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo gave Chicago a 7-6 lead after Nick Novak's extra point.
Jerome Mathis' 78-yard kickoff return to the Chicago 24 moved the Texans into field goal range, where Brown kicked a 42-yard field goal following three consecutive incomplete passes.
Said Kubiak of Mathis' standout play: "It's exciting to see. He came in and had a couple of catches. He looked like his old self returning the kicks, and I think he's only going to get better."
Rosenfels led the Texans on another scoring drive late in the first half. Running the two-minute offense, he connected on four passes for 37 yards early in the drive to lead the team into Chicago territory. Three carries for 11 yards by Samkon Gado gave Houston a first down on the Chicago 25 with less than a minute remaining on the clock.
Later, Brown converted a 29-yard field goal following Rosenfels' incomplete pass on third-and-one from the Chicago 11 to help give the Texans a 12-7 halftime lead.
Overall, the Texans converted only three of their 14 third downs and had difficulty executing in the red zone, which got under Kubiak's skin.
"Oh, yeah...when you're one for four in the red zone in this league, you're going to get beat," Kubiak said. "We talk about finding ways to win, and we're finding ways to get beat out there tonight, and we can't do that."
Stanley's 53-yard punt after the opening possession of the second half gave Chicago the ball at the 30-yard line. Quarterback Kyle Orton took over for Griese, and helped lead the Bears near midfield following two passes for 19 yards. A long incompletion on third-and-two from near midfield set up the Texans' second series of the third quarter.
Rosenfels converted all six of his passes for 71 yards on the ensuing drive. Jones hauled in an 18-yard pass down the Chicago sideline, and a 10-yarder later in the drive for his fourth reception of the game. An 11-yard scramble by Rosenfels gave the Texans a first down on the Bears' seven-yard line. Two plays later, tight end Jeb Putzier caught a six-yard touchdown pass to help give Houston a 19-7 lead with 4:14 left in the third quarter.
After a fumble by third-string quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt on the Texans' next series, Chicago recovered and put together a six-play 45-yard scoring drive highlighted by Orton's three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Fontel Mines.
The Bears' offense threatend to take the lead with five minutes left in the game, but Orton missed on third-and-six from the Houston 26, setting up Robbie Gould's 44-yard field goal that cut Houston's lead to 19-17.
Van Pelt returned to the field with 4:45 remaining in the game. Running back Darius Walker gained eight yards on two consecutive carries before Van Pelt's pass to tight end Joel Dreessen nearly was intercepted by safety Tyler Everett.
The Bears punted from near midfield on their next possession, but defensive end Earl Cochran was penalized for running into the kicker. As a result, Chicago attempted a fourth down conversion, earning another set of downs on a four-yard run by Jermaine Allen. A 20-yard pass from Orton to wideout David Ball gave the Bears a first down at the Houston 34 with 1:08 left in the contest. Three plays later, Gould nailed the game-winning 47-yard field goal.
INJURIES: Safety Glenn Earl sprained his left foot in the first quarter and went in for x-rays. After the game, Kubiak said that the early prognosis is not good and that the injury could possibly be the same Lisfranc injury that cornerback Demarcus Faggins suffered last year...cornerback Jason Horton left the game in the final minute of the fourth quarter with with an injury to his arm. Horton was helped off the field by Texans medical staff. After the game, Kubiak said it was a fracture in the elbow area and that the injury did not look good...Kubiak also reported that linebacker Shawn Barber suffered a shoulder strain, but probably will be fine.