JACKSONVILLE – After losing quarterback Matt Leinart to a shoulder injury late in the second quarter, the Texans held on for a narrow victory over the Jaguars at EverBank Field.
Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates replaced Leinart, who made his first start in place of Matt Schaub, and went 8-of-15 for 70 yards in his NFL debut. It was enough for the Texans to escape with a 20-13 victory and improve to 8-3, tied for the best record in the AFC.
"I'm very proud of this team," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "It's hard to win in this league, and when you face some of the adversity we've faced and will be facing again and to continue to find a way to win, that's a sign of very solid football team... It was a hell of a win."
Defense and special teams led the way for the Texans on a day when their offense had a season-low 215 yards. Outside linebacker Connor Barwin had a team-record four sacks, and rookie defensive end J.J. Watt had two more as the Texans tied a team record with seven.
Jacoby Jones averaged 16.6 yards on seven punt returns. Sherrick McManis had a season-long 45-yard kickoff return. Kicker Neil Rackers went 2-of-2 on field goals with a long of 53, and rookie punter Brett Hartmann pinned the Jaguars inside their 20-yard line three times.
Leinart was an efficient 10-of-13 for 57 yards and a touchdown, a 20-yard pass to tight end Joel Dreessen, before his injury. He watched the second half on the sideline with a sling on his left arm.
"It seems like we're just losing players left and right," said wide receiver Andre Johnson, who had two catches for 22 yards in his return from a hamstring injury. "T.J. in and did a good job for us. It's kind of crazy how we're losing players, but somehow we keep finding a way to overcome."
The Jaguars scored first when cornerback Ashton Youboty returned an Arian Foster fumble 38 yards for a touchdown on the Texans' second play from scrimmage. It was Foster's first fumble of the season on 172 attempts.
Later in the first quarter, Foster burst through the middle of the Jaguars defense for a 43-yard run on third-and-two from the Houston 41. He leapt over the goal line five plays later for a one-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.
After a 21-yard field goal by Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee, Jones set up the Texans for the go-ahead touchdown with a 42-yard punt return to the Jacksonville 26-yard line. Two plays later, Leinart stepped up under pressure and floated a pass to Dreessen, who ran it into the end zone from the five-yard line.
"We run that play over and over in practice," Dreessen said. "He made a great throw, and it worked out."
Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph picked off rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert on the next series to set up Rackers' 53-yard field goal. Leinart was injured on the Texans' next possession on a hit from defensive end Jeremy Mincey.
Yates came in and completed 3-of-4 passes -- six yards to tight end Owen Daniels, 10 yards to Jones and 24 yards to Daniels -- to get the Texans to the six-yard line. An intentional grounding penalty on Yates led the Texans to settle for a 33-yard Rackers field goal.
The only score of the second half was a 35-yard field goal by Scobee with 4:19 remaining. Texans cornerback Brice McCain broke up a pass intended for Mike Thomas on fourth-and-two with 1:15 remaining to seal the victory.
"It felt good to come down here after a bye week and get a win, get eight wins," Joseph said. "We're one step closer to where we want to be, and so we've got to keep going and finish up."
Foster mustered only 65 rushing yards on 22 carries (3.0 average) anf fumbled twice. Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew had 18 carries for 99 yards and four catches for 67 yards but was kept out of the end zone for the first time in four weeks.
With the victory, the Texans won at Jacksonville and completed a season sweep of the Jaguars for the first time since 2006.