OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Texans' 2011 season was defined by the adversity they overcame. Their final game will be remembered by the mistakes they couldn't.
Houston turned the ball over four times against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, leading to 17 points for the Ravens. It spoiled a valiant effort in a 20-13 loss that ended the Texans' improbable playoff run in the Divisional Round, one game short of the AFC Championship.
"You've got a group of guys in [the locker room] right now that knows we were a couple of mistakes away from winning," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "We did the one thing we couldn't do to come in here and win and still got beat by (seven). When you have four turnovers, you don't give yourself a chance."
The Texans lost despite controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They limited Ray Rice, the NFL's second-leading rusher, to only 60 yards on 21 carries (2.9 average). Arian Foster ran 27 times for 132 yards, the highest rushing total ever allowed by the Ravens in a postseason game.
The Texans sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco five times, with 2.5 sacks apiece for rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed. They allowed only three points in the final 46 minutes of the game and 227 yards overall. The Ravens were 4-of-16 (25 percent) on third down.
Baltimore fumbled three times but recovered each one.
"That's football," said Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who had 11 tackles. "Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don't. We didn't (create turnovers) today, but overall, I don't think we could have played any better defensively."
The Texans' turnovers started early with a disastrous play in the first quarter. After taking a 3-0 lead on the game's opening drive, keyed by a 60-yard kickoff return by Danieal Manning, they forced the Ravens into a three-and-out on their first possession.
Texans wide receiver Jacoby Jones tried to field a 64-yard punt on a bounce at his own 13-yard line. The ball bounced off Jones' facemask, and the Ravens recovered at the 2. They scored three plays later on a one-yard pass from Flacco to seldom-used tight end Kris Wilson.
"I was just trying to grab it and get down so we wouldn't get pinned," Jones said. "Of course I'm upset about it. It's a turnover. That's a play we didn't make, and they went down and scored."
The Texans' other three turnovers came on interceptions by rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, a fifth-round draft pick making his first-career road start. Yates had thrown only three interceptions all season in his previous seven games.
"I can't have the turnovers," Yates said. "If you don't turn the ball over like that, we have a chance to win. And we still had a chance to win. If I'd have done a better job of protecting the football, I think we would've came out with the win today."
Yates' first interception came on a pass intended for wide receiver Andre Johnson late in the first quarter. Cornerback Lardarius Webb read it all the way and picked Yates off at the Houston 35-yard line, setting up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to wide receiver Anquan Boldin. That put the Ravens up 17-3 with 1:08 remaining in the first quarter even though they didn't have a single drive longer than 34 yards.
The Texans cut the halftime deficit to 17-13 with a dominant second quarter. Kicker Neil Rackers made a 33-yard field goal to cap an 11-play, 59-yard drive. After another three-and-out by the Ravens, the Texans marched 86 yards in 12 plays for a one-yard touchdown run by Foster.
Foster had seven carries for 54 yards on the drive and made a sensational one-handed catch for a 12-yard gain inside the red zone. He had 95 carries on 15 yards in the first half.
"He was exceptional," Kubiak said. "He's the bell cow for our offensive football team. He played exceptional last week. He was exceptional today. He did his part."
Both teams squandered opportunities in a scoreless third quarter. Rackers missed a 50-yard field goal with 5:54 in the third that would have made it a one-point game. The Ravens then drove to the Texans' one-yard line before inside linebacker Tim Dobbins stuffed Rice for no gain on fourth-and-goal.
"That was a huge play," Watt said. "That's the type of play that wins playoff games and turns momentum. Unfortunately, we didn't take advantage of it."
Yates was picked off by Webb a second time with 7:21 remaining at the Baltimore 29-yard line. That led to a 44-yard field goal by Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff with 2:52 remaining, the only score of the second half.
Yates completed passes of 18 and 16 yards to Johnson to move the Texans to the Baltimore 38 at the two-minute warning. But he went deep for Johnson down the right sideline on the next play and was picked off by safety Ed Reed, who came over the top when Yates was hoping for single coverage.
"You can't coach a kid enough as a quarterback of how good number 20 (Reed) is in the middle of the field and what you need to do to control him," Kubiak said. "(Yates) find out the hard way today. Ed made some great plays back there."
The Ravens had a chance to ice the game with one first down. Rice ran for nine yards on their first play, but the Texans' defense came up with one last stand, stopping Rice and former Texans fullback Vonta Leach just short of the first-down marker on the next two plays.
Yates and the Texans got the ball on their own 48-yard line with no timeouts, 45 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the game. After completing a nine-yard pass to tight end Owen Daniels, Yates threw two incompletions to set up fourth-and-one from the Baltimore 43 with 24 seconds left. His Hail Mary heave to the end zone deflected off wide receiver Kevin Walter and fell incomplete.
That ended an against-all-odds season that saw the Texans make their first trip to the playoffs with their starting quarterback, Matt Schaub, and top defensive player, Mario Williams, on injured reserve.
"Obviously, I'm very proud of the organization, the players, everything we went through this year," Kubiak said. "To be here today playing and to have an excellent chance to win and move on, it says a lot about the character of the organization. I'm very proud from that standpoint but boy, it just stings right now."
The Texans will be cleaning out their lockers at Reliant Stadium on Monday instead of preparing to face the New England Patriots for a spot in the Super Bowl.
"It's a disappointment," said Johnson, who had a game-high 111 receiving yards to give him 201 in his first two career playoff games. "We aren't happy just making the playoffs and being satisfied. When we came into the locker room, there was quiet. Guys are hurt. We feel like we were just a play away from winning the game. We weren't able to make a play.
"Everybody was happy that we made it [the playoffs]. At the same time, there was a bigger picture. We didn't come into this game planning on losing. We were going out to win it. We fought our butts off and we just came up short."