NEW ORLEANS – In their starters' final tune-up for the regular season, the Texans played the Saints to a first-half draw in a preseason shootout at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday night.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub and Saints quarterback Drew Brees led the way in a wild first half that saw a combined 48 points, five turnovers and 456 yards of offense. The game was tied 24-24 at halftime before the Saints' backups outscored the Texans' 10-3 in the final two quarters for a 34-27 victory.
"Our quarterback was excellent," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He was special in the game… I think overall, there were a lot of positives with the ones that we can draw from. There's obviously enough things there to keep us good and humble as we get ready to go play Miami in a couple of weeks."
Schaub went 15-of-18 for 194 yards and a touchdown, good for a passer rating of 130.1, in front of the hostile Saints crowd. Brees was 17-of-25 for 179 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 115.3 against the Texans' "Bulls on Parade" defense, which was without injured starters Brian Cushing, J.J. Watt and Shaun Cody.
The Texans' first-team offense was 3-of-4 in the red zone. Running backs Ben Tate and Arian Foster both ran for touchdowns in the first half. Rookie wide receiver Keshawn Martin caught a 10-yard touchdown pass.
Martin also lost two fumbles in a span of eight minutes. Trindon Holliday lost a fumble on a kickoff return that the Saints returned for a touchdown.
"Obviously, the biggest problem is that some young guys turned the ball over," Kubiak said. "Keshawn had two of them. Trindon's got one. It just goes to show you that you can play as good as you can play, and we were down 17-14… I was pleased offensively with the way that we moved the ball. I was not pleased with the turnovers."
The Texans jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind a splendid aerial display from Schaub, who started the game 8-of-9 for 103 yards. He was 4-of-5 for 60 yards on the first drive, leading the Texans 80 yards in eight plays. Tate scored on a one-yard touchdown.
On the Saints' first possession, Texans safety Glover Quin forced a fumble after an 11-yard run by running back Chris Ivory. Quin recovered the ball at the New Orleans 40-yard line. Lestar Jean pried a leaping 19-yard catch away from two defenders, and the Texans scored three plays later on a 10-yard touchdown catch over the middle by Martin on third down.
Brees then marched the Saints 65 yards down the field in just six plays. He completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lance Moore over cornerback Kareem Jackson, who did not turn around on the play and was flagged for pass interference.
Holliday fumbled the ensuing kickoff return at the Texans' seven-yard line. Saints defensive end Junior Galette returned it 16 yards to give the Saints their second touchdown in 16 seconds and tie the game at 14.
"Obviously, if you spot a team seven points on special teams, that is not a good thing," Kubiak said. "That was disappointing."
Martin fumbled on the Texans' next possession at the New Orleans 28. That led to a 22-yard field goal by Saints kicker Garrett Hartley. New Orleans led 17-14 early in the second quarter.
On the Texans' next series, Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson dropped a pass on third down after falling on the ball as he came to the ground. Johnson left the game for medical evaluation after the play, but X-rays came back negative.
Three plays later, Texans safety Danieal Manning forced and recovered a fumble by Saints receiver Joseph Morgan at the New Orleans 12-yard line. The turnover set up a six-yard touchdown run by Foster, which put the Texans up 21-17.
Martin lost another fumble on an end around on the Texans' next series. The Saints recovered at the Houston 33-yard line, but the Texans forced a turnover on downs with a pass defensed by safety Quintin Demps on fourth-and-three from the 21.
A 33-yard field goal by rookie kicker Randy Bullock gave the Texans a 24-17 lead with 2:08 left in the second quarter. The kick was set up by a 44-yard catch by tight end Garrett Graham, who had a game-high 97 receiving yards on four receptions.
Brees led the Saints on a seven-play, 77-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 24. He hit tight end Jimmy Graham for an eight-yard touchdown pass with 21 seconds left in the first half.
Both teams' backups entered the game in the third quarter. Quarterback Chase Daniel led New Orleans to a 24-yard field goal on the opening drive. The Texans' lone score of the second half came on a 53-yard field goal by Shayne Graham early in the fourth quarter.
The Saints went up 34-27 with 3:43 remaining on a four-yard touchdown pass from Daniel to Morgan. T.J. Yates led the Texans into Saints territory in the game's final minute, but he threw an incomplete pass to Bryant Johnson on fourth-and-two from the 31 to effectively end the game.
Yates played the entire second half and went 6-of-11 for 72 yards. He was sacked five times.
"I'd like to see T.J. get a little more help, but T.J. can play better than he played," Kubiak said. "I wanted to let him throw the ball around a little bit, and it didn't work out very good. We have struggled with our twos offensively in the last two games."
The Texans will finish their preseason against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday at Reliant Stadium. The game will likely feature all backups as the Texans' starters rest for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against Miami.