MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. –** After a 13-point halftime lead had all but disappeared, the Texans were on the ropes early in the fourth quarter at Sun Life Stadium.
They led the Miami Dolphins 16-13. The home crowd was on its feet after a short field goal brought the Dolphins to within three points with 12:53 remaining.
Texans safety Danieal Manning responded with a 43-yard kickoff return, and quarterback Matt Schaub took it from there. Five plays, 63 yards and only 2:47 later, the Texans led 23-13 after a 23-yard touchdown pass from Schaub to Andre Johnson. That was the final score in a Week 2 road victory that puts the Texans at 2-0 for the second consecutive year.
"The kick return was a huge one by Danieal, and that got us going," Texans coach Gary Kubiak siad. "We played with some fire that last 10 minutes of the game... I told Matt, 'This ball's going in your hands this next drive,' and he made some great plays. He had a hell of a day."
Schaub was sacked three times but finished 21-of-29 for 20 yards and two touchdowns. His 118.5 passer rating more than doubled the 56.2 rating of Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne, who was sacked twice and threw a costly second-quarter interception to Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
Johnson, playing in his hometown, had seven catches for 93 yards. Running back Ben Tate powered the Texans' ground game with 23 carries for 103 yards, his second 100-yard effort in two career games. Arian Foster had 10 carries for 33 yards in the first half but was held out of the second half after experiencing minor tightness in his hamstring.
"We faced some adversity during the game, but when it all mattered we made the plays that we needed to make to win," Johnson said. "Ben came up with some big runs at the right time when we needed to grind the clock out. It was a big win for us."
Foster kickstarted the Texans' game-opening drive with a 14-yard carry. A 31-yard pass from Schaub to Jacoby Jones, who started in place of the injured Kevin Walter, set up the Texans for a 23-yard Neil Rackers field goal with 9:58 left in the first quarter.
Texans linebacker Connor Barwin sacked Henne to end the Dolphins' first drive, blowing past Dolphins left tackle Jake Long on the play. Jones returned the ensuing punt 40 yards to the Miami 44-yard line to set up another short field goal by Rackers, this one from 22 yards.
Three plays later, the Dolphins picked up 56 yards on a 41-yard pass from Henne to Davone Bess, coupled with a 15-yards facemask penalty on Manning. That led to a 42-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter that it 6-3 with 2:25 left in the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, Texans linebacker Mario Williams hit Henne as he threw. Henne's wobbly pass was picked off by Joseph at the Miami 11-yard line. Two plays later, Schaub found tight end Owen Daniels for a four-yard touchdown pass to give the Texans a 13-3 lead.
With 6:56 left in the second quarter, Texans rookie defensive end J.J. Watt blocked a 22-yard field goal attempt by Carpenter. Carpenter missed a 34-yard field goal try four minutes later after Antonio Smith knocked down Henne's pass on third-and-five from the Houston 16, squandering another long drive.
Johnson made a fingertip 43-yard catch over the middle on third-and-one from the Houston 33 at the two-minute warning. Schaub was sacked by linebacker Cameron Wake on third down at the Miami 13. The Texans settled for a 36-yard Rackers field goal on the final play of the first half, giving them a 16-3 lead. The Texans had 219 yards in the first half.
"We had moved the ball so good, we should have had like a 24- or 27-point half and we had 16 points," Kubiak said. "You got to play better in the red zone, but it can't keep you from playing good the rest of the game... I think we're over coming some of our negatives better as of right now than we have in the past."
Momentum swung in Miami's favor in the second half. Henne connected with Marshall on a 12-yard touchdown pass with 6:37 left in the third quarter, capping a seven-play, 62-yard scoring drive. Schaub was sacked twice on the next three plays, leading to a three-and-out.
Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson forced a fumble near midfield that Glover Quin recovered with 4:48 left in the third. The Texans were unable to capitalize on the turnover and punted back to Miami, and the Dolphins responded with a 34-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
That's when Schaub and the Texans responded with their crucial scoring drive. Tate played a key role, moving the chains with a 13-yard catch and 16-yard run.
Linebacker Brian Cushing, who had a game-high 10 tackles, tackled Henne inches short of a first down on the next drive. That forced a three-and-out with 8:59 remaining. The Texans chewed up five minutes of game clock with eight consecutive handoffs to Tate, then punted the ball away with 2:51 remaining.
"Our offensive line did a great job," Schaub said. "We're built for a game like that. Their energy and their consistency throughout the game really wore down their front. Ben was exceptional reading his blocks, making that one cut and getting the yards."
The Texans' defense quashed any hopes of a Dolphins comeback in short order. Smith sacked Henne on the first play of the next drive at Miami's 11-yard line. Barwin batted down Henne's pass two plays later, and cornerback Brice McCain broke up a pass on fourth down to essentially seal the victory.
Tate had four carries for 10 yards to run out the final two minutes, and Schaub knelt the ball at the Miami one-yard line for the game's final snap.