After knocking on the door for three games, the Texans finally kicked it through in grand fashion Sunday, overpowering the Arizona Cardinals 30-19 in front of 70,024 fans at Reliant Stadium.
The Texans scored the most points of the season thanks to a club-record three touchdowns in the second quarter. Jonathan Wells, filling in for injured running back Domanick Davis, scored two of them and recorded a game-high 87 rushing yards. Rookie Vernand Morency added the third score of the period on his first career touchdown.
"We needed (the win)," Wells said. "We've been working hard, regardless of what people might say. We never changed our work ethic. Things just haven't been working out for us this season as far as wins, but I can say every time I walk out of the locker room on Sunday that the guys played a hard and physical game. Today was no different. We just happened to get the win."
The Cardinals were in a giving mood, committing four turnovers. Starting quarterback Kurt Warner left in the second quarter with a knee injury after passing for 115 yards and a touchdown. Backup Josh McCown threw an interception before leaving because of illness at halftime. Third-stringer John Navarre, who was sacked four times, led the Cardinals within eight points in the fourth quarter before throwing a costly pick.
After the Texans lost their last three games in the waning minutes, Kris Brown helped excorcise the team's late-game demons when he nailed a 23-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining to seal the win.
"I'm proud of the way our team played today," head coach Dom Capers said. "We are coming off of three heartbreaking last-second losses in a row. We've gotten better and have become stronger because we've handled the disappointment of those losses in the right way. I think the true mark of a real man is how he picks himself up and battles back from adversity, and I think that is what you saw out of our team today."
Facing the NFL's top-rated air attack, the Texans tried to establish a consistent pass rush early. Outside linebacker Antwan Peek sacked Warner for a four-yard loss on the first play from scrimmage. Two plays later, outside linebacker Jason Babin took Warner down for an eight-yard loss.
The Texans' first series began on their 29-yard line. Quarterback David Carr completed his first two passes to wide receiver Andre Johnson for 14 yards. On fourth-and-one at the Arizona 49, Wells was stopped short to give the Cardinals possession at midfield.
Running back Marcel Shipp gained 14 yards on three carries before Warner found rookie wide receiver LeRon McCoy on a 16-yard pass to the Houston 23 on third down. With 3:43 left in the first quarter, Neil Rackers hit a 26-yard field goal to cap the 42-yard, 11-play drive.
A 26-yard kickoff return by Wells to the Arizona 46 gave the Texans optimal field position to start their second drive. Wells rushed three times for 18 yards before Carr and Johnson connected for a five-yard gain to the 23-yard line. Four plays later, Wells barrelled in for a seven-yard touchdown, his third of the year, to help make the score 7-3 with 14:28 left in the first half.
Arizona responded by marching 81 yards on seven plays. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught four passes for 72 yards, including a one-handed grab for 13 yards near midfield that led to his 20-yard touchdown reception.
Trailing by three points with 10:11 left in the first half, the Texans advanced into Arizona territory on a five-yard run by Wells to the 49-yard line. Morency finished the drive with a 25-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-10 following Brown's extra point.
On the ensuing kickoff, fullback Moran Norris forced wide receiver Reggie Swinton to fumble at the Arizona 45. Outside linebacker Charlie Anderson recovered the ball for no gain, giving the Texans the first takeaway of the game.
An unnecessary roughness penalty on linebacker Orlando Huff, who tackled wide receiver Corey Bradford on the Cardinals' 28-yard line, gave the Texans a first down at the Arizona 14. Carr's five-yard pass to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney set up Wells' three-yard touchdown run, which gave the Texans a 21-10 lead with 1:50 left in the first half.
"That's one thing we've been trying to hang our hat on: our running game," tackle Zach Wiegert said. "We're among the league leaders in yards per carry. When the season isn't going well, you have to try to hang your hat on something, and running the ball is what we've taken pride in."
The Texans' offense returned to the field less than a minute later when strong safety Glenn Earl stepped in front of backup quarterback Josh McCown's pass intended for Boldin at the Arizona 40. Earl rolled two yards before he was touched down.
"It was a perfect (defensive) call and I read the quarterback," Earl said of the interception, which stood after the Cardinals challenged the catch. "I felt fortunate that I was able to pull it down."
Carr completed three passes for 27 yards before Brown converted a 27-yard field goal to make the score 24-10 at halftime.
After receiving the opening kickoff of the second half, the Texans quickly moved into scoring territory when Carr completed three passes for 39 yards. Brown booted his second field goal of the game from 41 yards after Carr's third down pass to Wells was deflected at the Cardinals' 23-yard line.
With Warner and McCown sidelined, Navarre lined up behind center for Arizona to open the third quarter. He completed his first two passes for 11 yards before Scott Player punted for the second time of the game.
With 1:40 left in the third quarter, Carr's pass intended for Johnson was intercepted by Huff, who returned the ball three yards to midfield. Navarre's 40-yard pass to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on third down led to Rackers' 42-yard field goal, which made the score 27-13 with 14:51 remaining in the game.
The Cardinals' offense got the ball back less than two minutes later after Stanley's third punt of the second half. Babin recorded his second sack of the game to force a third-and-10 situation from the Arizona 20. Navarre's pass intended for Boldin sailed long, and rookie free safety C.C. Brown picked it off for his first-career interception. He returned the pick five yards to the Arizona 40.
The Texans' momentum was short-lived because Carr fumbled on the third play of the ensuing series. Linebacker Karlos Dansby recovered the ball on the Cardinals' 42-yard line for no gain.
With 5:36 left in the contest, Fitzgerald hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass to cap Arizona's six-play, 58-yard drive over 3:14. Rackers' extra point was aborted when the snap went over the holder's head, making the score 27-19.
The Texans punted for the fourth time of the second half on their next series, giving the Cardinals a first down on their 13-yard line. On third down, Navarre passed to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, who fumbled on the Arizona 14. Safety Jason Simmons recovered the ball for no gain, notching the Texans' fourth takeaway with 2:33 on the game clock.
Wells rushed three times for six yards, leading to Brown's field goal that clinched the Texans' second win of the season.