It wasn't a work of art, but it was good enough.
A turnover-free offense and swarming defense helped the Texans overcome seven penalties and a blocked field goal on Sunday to beat the Buffalo Bills 21-9 at Reliant Stadium. They're now 7-1, the best start in franchise history, and still atop the AFC standings.
The Texans never trailed the Bills (3-5), but the game was close throughout. Houston led 7-0 after the first quarter, 7-6 at halftime and 14-9 after three quarters.
"You've got to survive in this league and find a win to win," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "It wasn't always pretty. We did a lot of things as a team that weren't very smart. We as coaches, we've got to look at things. But we found a way to get it done, and it's about winning."
Texans running back Arian Foster notched his 20th career 100-yard game, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Wide receiver Andre Johnson had his 40th career 100-yard game, with 118 yards on eight catches. Tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham both caught touchdown passes from Matt Schaub, who went 19-of-27 for 268 yards and two touchdowns (126.8 rating).
The Texans' defense did not allow a touchdown for the second time this season. Defensive end J.J. Watt and outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Whitney Mercilus sacked Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was sacked only eight times all season before Sunday. Watt also had five quarterback hits while Barwin had four. The Texans forced the Bills into three-and-outs on four of 11 possessions.
The Bills came into the game ranking third in the league with 150 rushing yards per game. The Texans limited them to 78, including 39 for C.J. Spiller and 21 for Fred Jackson. The Bills got into the red zone three times but came away with field goal attempts on each one.
"It demoralizes a team, especially when our offense turns around and scores," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "It puts them behind. They're scoring three while we're scoring seven."
The Texans got on the scoreboard with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Schaub to Daniels in the final minute of the first quarter. Daniels was wide open on the right side, and Schaub hit him in stride deep down the field for the score.
"I leaked out on the backside and was able to get out there with no one following me," Daniels said. "It was good to get that going. We needed a touchdown at that time."
Kicker Rian Lindell missed a 37-yard field goal attempt wide right on the Bills' first possession. Texans kicker Shayne Graham had a 46-yard attempt blocked by Bills defensive tackle Alex Carrington midway through the second quarter. Former Texan Mario Williams sacked Schaub, then wagged a finger at the Texans' sideline as the crowd booed him, to set the Texans up for the field goal attempt.
The Bills made two short field goals in the final two minutes of the first half. The second came after Watt sacked Fitzpatrick for a six-yard loss just before halftime.
The Texans' defense forced a three-and-out to start the third quarter. Rookie receiver Keshawn Martin had a 26-yard punt return, his longest of the season. Three plays later, Schaub hit Johnson for a 34-yard pass down the right sideline. Foster scored two plays later on a three-yard touchdown run, his 10th of the season.
"We hurt ourselves (with penalties) the whole first half," Schaub said. "But the second half, we made some plays. We got back to who we are, running the football, our play-action game, and guys made some plays for us."
The Bills drove 56 yards in eight plays on the ensuing possession, ending up with a 39-yard field goal. The score was 14-9 until Schaub threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Graham on third-and-goal four minutes into the fourth quarter. That capped an 11-play, 68-yard drive.
"Everything was covered up because they had so many guys in coverage, so I just tried to make something off-schedule," Schaub said. "Garrett did a great job working the back end line and then coming back to the football to secure that catch."
The Texans then forced another three-and-out. Schaub led an 11-play, 60-yard drive that used up 5:48 of game clock. It ended with a turnover on downs after Kubiak decided to go for it on fourth-and-six from the Buffalo 30-yard line. Schaub went deep for Johnson to the end zone, but the pass was incomplete.
"We had a field goal blocked (earlier), and that concerned me," Kubiak said. "If we make the field goal, we're going to have to kick off to two great returners. I didn't think their offense could go thte distance on us."
Kubiak was right. Buffalo got the ball back with 4:31 remaining and drove into Texans territory, but their progress was thwarted by Mercilus, who forced a fumble after Fitzpatrick scrambled for four yards. Safety Quintin Demps recovered at the Texans' 32-yard line with 3:12 remaining.
The Bills got the ball one last time with 1:06 remaining. Four plays later, the game ended with Fitzpatrick getting sacked by Mercilus near midfield.
Up next, the Texans will face the 7-1 Chicago Bears on the road on Sunday Night Football. For now, they can enjoy the best eight-game start in team history.
"I wouldn't trade it for anything," Johnson said. "I'm sure a lot of teams would like to be 7-1 right now. We've played well in seven games and came out with victories. We're in a good spot right now."