SAN DIEGO - Protecting the football has been a reoccurring issue for the Texans this season.
Sunday was yet another example as the Texans committed three first half giveaways that propelled the San Diego Chargers to three touchdowns and a 35-3 halftime lead.
Ultimately, the Texans turned the ball over five times in the 35-10 loss, which was witnessed by an overzealous crowd of 60,439 fans eager for a diversion after a devastating week of wild fires in San Diego County.
"It's just a very sloppy football team right now," head coach Gary Kubiak said after his team's fifth loss of the season. "We just did a lot of things to hurt ourselves, whether it's busting the coverage, busting a snap, throwing interceptions, turning the ball over – you can't win in this league that way.
"We looked like a very tired, slow football team out there right now, mentally tired. The mistakes that we're making on a week-to-week basis, they're just unacceptable. You give yourself no chance. It's like the flood gates just opened. When we started making mistakes with the ball, it just snowballed."
Worse yet for the Texans is that starting quarterback Matt Schaub did not finish the game for the third consecutive week. He was sidelined in the second quarter after his second interception when cornerback Drayton Florence blindsided him on cornerback Antonio Cromartie's return, drawing a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.
While Schaub eventually was taken to the hospital for tests, Sage Rosenfels could not recreate last week's heroics against the Tennessee Titans. He finished with 176 yards on 17-of-27 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions after tossing four touchdowns the previous week.
"Everyone's got to look in the mirror," Rosenfels said. "That's the first thing I've got to do when I get home is look at myself and see what I could have done better. I forced two throws for no reason. But that's all I can do is look at my mistakes, and I hope each guy on the team isn't pointing the finger and I don't think they will."
Since wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Ahman Green were inactive with respective knee injuries, the Texans' offense relied on running back Adimchinobi Echemandu and wide receiver Kevin Walter to produce.
Fresh off the practice squad, Echemandu rushed 10 times for a team-high 62 yards, while Walter's game-high seven catches for 77 yards kept the offense from stalling on several drives.
Echemandu hurt his hamstring, but returned to the game after suffering the injury.
"I'm very excited about that," Kubiak said of Echemandu's performance. "Now he's got a hamstring issue, so I'm getting excited about him but don't know how long he'll be (out). He did a good job."
Defensively, the Texans didn't force a turnover, but limited the Chargers to 109 rushing yards, including 90 yards for reigning NFL Offensive MVP LaDainian Tomlinson. Meanwhile, Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates victimized the Texans for two touchdowns on an efficient two-catch, 92-yard performance.
Defensive end Mario Williams collected the Texans' only sack, while linebacker DeMeco Ryans totaled a team-high eight tackles.
The Chargers jumped on Houston early with a four-play, 80-yard scoring drive on their second possession that Gates capped off with a 49-yard touchdown catch through the middle of the Texans' defense.
On the Texans' second punt attempt of the game, the snap sailed high over Matt Turk's head and into the end zone. Turk missed the ball and cornerback Antonio Cromartie landed on it to score a touchdown, stretching the Chargers' lead to 14-0 with 3:38 left in the first quarter after Nate Kaeding's extra point.
"The ball was snapped over (Turk's) head," Kubiak said. "All he had to do was either knock the ball out of the end zone or fall on it. He did neither one. That's what he's got to do. We'll work with him on that. He knows that."
Echemandu picked up 29 yards on three carries, as well as seven yards on one catch, on the ensuing series. After Schaub's pass fell incomplete on third-and-seven at the San Diego 22, Kris Brown nailed a 40-yard field goal to cut the Texans' deficit to 14-3 with 14:07 left in the first half.
Three runs by LaDainian Tomlinson for 33 yards set up Gates' 31-yard touchdown to cap the Chargers' third scoring drive.
Down 18 points, the Texans' offense took over from their 18-yard line. A nine-yard catch by fullback Vonta Leach and running back Ron Dayne's three-yard run preceded a 26-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Quentin Jammer, who was defending Walter. On the next play, Schaub's pass intended for Walter was deflected by outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and intercepted by Cromartie, who returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.
Under pressure, Schaub was picked off again by Cromartie on the following series. On the interception return, Florence's hit on Schaub, who was away from the play, prompted a 15-yard penalty, giving the Chargers' offense the ball on their 49-yard line. Wide receiver Chris Chambers' 14-yard touchdown catch put an exclamation point on an eight-play, 51-yard drive that gave the Chargers a 35-3 lead with 2:31 remaining in the first half.
Rosenfels led the Texans' two-minute offense on the next drive. He completed passes to three different receivers before his third-and-15 pass intended for wide receiver André Davis sailed high, forcing a punt from the San Diego 44.
The Texans and Chargers traded punts twice in the third quarter until Rosenfels found rookie wide receiver Jacoby Jones open for a 22-yard gain to the San Diego 36 on the Texans' third drive of the second half. Dayne picked up 12 yards on the next play to give Houston a first down at the 20-yard line with 47 seconds left in the third quarter. But on the ensuing play, the Chargers collected their third interception of the game when Rosenfels' pass to Walter was snagged by Cooper, who returned it to the San Diego 15.
With 4:40 left in the game, tight end Joel Dreessen provided a spark with a 28-yard touchdown catch from Rosenfels to cap a 12-play, 94-yard drive over 6:53. On the two-point conversion, tackle Ephraim Salaam was flagged for a false start. Brown entered the game to kick an extra point that made the score 35-10.
Gates caught the ensuing onside kick to prevent the Texans' offense from staying on the field, and after Mike Scifres' punt landed on the Texans' one-yard line, Rosenfels was picked off by safety Eric Weddle inside the two-minute warning for the Chargers' fifth and final takeaway.
- Center Mike Flanagan did not play the majority of the second half with an injury to his head. Chris White took his spot.
- Tight end Owen Daniels left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury.
- Running back Ron Dayne left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. He returned to the game.
- Wide receiver André Davis left the game in the third quarter with a rib injury. His return is questionable.
- Running back Adimchinobe Echemandu left the game in the first half with an injury to his hamstring, but he returned to the game.
- Quarterback Matt Schaub left the game in the second quarter after getting hit following his second interception of the game. He was replaced by Sage Rosenfels.