Texans' run game finds its footing

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Steve Slaton had a big first half running the football Sunday against the Colts.

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*It appeared the running game the Texans had been waiting for all season had arrived.

The first drive of the game was near perfection. Steve Slaton nibbled off chunks of yards through the Indianapolis defense. Matt Schaub balanced the drive with precise passes. The drive ended with fullback Vonta Leach catching a seven-yard touchdown.

Wow. The Texans' offense is complete. Not quite. Although the Texans built a 17-0 second quarter lead, the early flash disappeared in the second half as the Colts showed fans why they're undefeated.

The final score was 35-27, but the toll on the Texans' psyche might be even worse. At 5-6, the Texans' playoff hopes are getting slimmer.

It was a story of two halves for the Texans, who have had trouble putting together a full four quarters this season.

"Nothing changed," center Chris Myers said. "We'd been waiting all season for that (rushing attack) to happen and we took it upon ourselves to run the ball and we did in the first half. We've got to be consistent in the second half, too."

The Texans have been consistently inconsistent all season.

"It's inconsistency," Myers said. "You can't pinpoint it. It's one play here and there. We used to call it. We used to call it TAT offense at (the University of) Miami, Take a Turn Offense. We can't have that. Until we fix those problems, we're not going to be a successful team."

Chris Brown and Steve Slaton blended their running styles for a solid running attack early in the game. Slaton had eight carries for 42 yards and Brown was eight for 39 in the first half. Slaton finished with 10 for 57 yards and Brown was 11 for 56.

That's 32 yards between them in the final two quarters.

"One half we were making plays, one half we weren't," right tackle Eric Winston said. "It's hard to maintain drives with penalties and, obviously, the turnovers get you beat. In the first half, we were mixing it up well, run, pass, run, pass. I think we got stuck in some bad spots. Obviously, when you have bad penalties, you start drives deep, it's more of a circumstantial thing."

There were moments in the first half when Slaton looked like the super rookie running back from last season. He showed his cutback ability and the ramrod finish to runs that made him the leading rookie rusher in the NFL last season. Brown added power runs.

"As far as the good start, we just executed our plays," quarterback Matt Schaub said. "We were able to run the football, which I think helped us extremely well in that drive and also in the first half."

Then, it all went away. The Colts benefitted from two costly pass interference calls against the Texans in their first drive of the third quarter that ended with Peyton Manning's four-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne. That cut Houston's lead to 20-14.

{QUOTE}The Texans still held the lead until 8:24 remained in the game when Manning threw a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dwight Clark. A pass interference penalty against cornerback Dunta Robinson helped keep the Colts moving toward the go-ahead score.

"They play, too," Schaub said. "They executed and took some things away. We hurt ourselves throughout the second half, whether it be penalties or turnovers."

Nobody is pointing fingers, especially at Schaub, who had two interceptions and a fumble.

"When the quarterback turns over the ball, you've got to look at the protection, you got to look at running the right routes," fullback Vonta Leach said. "There are all kinds of things that go into that. I don't know where the breakdowns were.

"We've got five games left for the season. We've got to put our best foot forward and roll the ball and see where it goes. It's been a rough three weeks, very disappointing. Somehow we've got to come back next week."

The Colts won their 11th straight game but in the first half, they looked mortal, yielding to Houston's rushing.

"That's what you always want to do," Winston said. "You want to come out and establish yourself and we did that but we've got to do it the whole game.

"In the third quarter, we kept getting the ball deep in our area. We got it out a few times and had to punt. There's just no consistency. On third down, you've got to make plays. You've got to catch passes, run block better. You've got to go do it. It sounds recurring."

Myers said the Texans must apologize to fans for their inconsistency.

"We've got to show our fans that we can be better season in and season out," Myers said. "Right now, we're not showing that. We're showing spurts but until we become a finishing team it's not going to be that way.

"It's been the story of the season. Until we can finish the full four quarters, we're not going to be a team that can contend for the playoffs."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky., Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro teams.

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