HOUSTON-After a nail-biting overtime loss last weekend in front of a home Reliant Stadium crowd, the Texans entered today's contest with the taste of winning on the tip of their tongues as a threatening Atlanta squad looked for their third victory of the season.
This time around, Houston was able to hold on and pull out a 17-13 win in what was another down-to-the-wire white knuckler as the Texans surpassed last season's four-win total and improved their 2003 record to 5-7.
"We have faced a lot of adversity with the number of injuries we've had and the close losses," head coach Dom Capers said after the Texans third home win. "You always believe that if you handle it the right way, it will make you stronger."
The 70,388 Houston fans saw an interesting twist of events as both team's back-up quarterbacks left the game while first string gunslingers David Carr and Michael Vick reappeared from injuries.
Houston lost QB Tony Banks at the end of the first half after he jammed his right throwing hand on Falcons NT Ellis Johnson's helmet. Banks' fractured hand kept him out for the remainder of the contest while Carr, who has been nursing a sprained shoulder, was called in for an early return.
"He told me we might throw down the field if I could put a good touch on it," Carr said about his halftime talk with offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. "Chris did a great job of doing what I could handle and our defense stepped it up and we ran the ball well."
Banks finished the day completing eight of 14 passes for 100 yards while Carr completed two of five attempts for 25 yards and one interception.
On the offensive side of the ball for Houston, RB Domanick Davis finished the day with 101 rushing yards and two touchdowns to tally his fourth 100-yard game of the season. LB Jamie Sharper notched eight tackles and a sack while CB Marcus Coleman had one interception and four passes defensed.
Besides the loss of Banks, Houston SS Ramon Walker tore his ACL on a first half special teams play, an injury that will sideline him for the remainder of the season.
With much at stake on both sides of the ball, the two clubs didn't get off to a game-plan start as Houston and Atlanta's offenses exchanged punts twice.
The Texans received the ball first as Banks lined up behind center but Houston's scoring unit stalled and handed the ball back over to Atlanta. The Falcons were able to march the ball into Houston territory but were forced to punt at the Texans 40.
Atlanta's special teams wasn't giving handouts though after downing the kick at the Houston 1. Banks was able to hit WR Andre Johnson on an impressive 30-yard aerial gain in traffic, but the drive stalled and Houston again gave the ball back to their opponent.
The Texans offense was able to stop Doug Johnson and his troops for the second time in the first quarter as the group entered into Texans territory.
But Atlanta came out determined to find the end zone at the start of the second quarter. Johnson found WR Brian Finneran on a 10-yarder before connecting with TE Alge Crumpler for a 24-yard strike to put the Falcons offense in Houston territory. Houston LB Kailee Wong was able to get a piece of Johnson for his fourth sack of the season, but a pass interference call on Texans CB Kenny Wright moved Atlanta to the Houston 3. Shortly after, RB T.J. Duckett punched in a one-yard touchdown run to give Atlanta a 7-0 lead.
Houston answered with a 40-yard Brown field goal after Banks hit TE Billy Miller down the middle for a 23-yard gain. Davis chipped in another 13 yards on the ground to put Houston in field goal range. Brown booted through his 15th consecutive kick from 40 yards and under to tighten the scoring gap at 7-3.
Atlanta put themselves in position to score again before the end of the first half, but the Texans defense was able to prevent Atlanta from taking a trip to the end zone as Jay Feely was called in to split the uprights from 49 yards out. Feely's try came up short of the goal posts though and Houston regained ball control.
Soon after, Texans P Chad Stanley was called in to punt the ball away with just 25 seconds remaining in the half. But Atlanta cover man Artie Ulmer collided with Stanley and was called for a roughing the kicker penalty to give Houston one more first half scoring shot at the Atlanta 46.
Two plays later, Brown came in for his second attempt of the day, but the 52-yarder hit the right upright to keep the score at 7-3 heading into the locker room.
Carr took over the reins for the injured Banks and was able to jumpstart the Texans offense, marching them on a 63-yard scoring jaunt to take a 10-7 lead. Carr scampered for 36 yards to the Atlanta 22 before finding Davis on a screen pass for a 15-yard gain on third down. Two plays later, Davis punched in the score from seven yards out to give Houston their first lead of the day.
On the Falcons ensuing possession, Johnson's first pass of the drive was picked off by Coleman for his sixth interception of the season. Coleman darted 13 yards to the Atlanta 22, setting up a crucial Texans scoring drive. Davis scampered for runs of nine, four and two yards before plunging into the end zone to extend Houston's lead 17-7.
Atlanta punted their opportunity back to the Texans and Houston took over at their own 32. But on the third play of the series, Carr threw a lob into heavy traffic and Falcons LB Chris Draft came up with the ball to give Atlanta possession deep in Houston territory.
Taking the field for the first time this season, Vick lined up at quarterback for the Falcons, testing out the rehabilitated broken leg. Vick connected with FB Justin Griffith for a nine-yard gain before Sharper took him to the turf for a two-yard loss. Vick was able to keep the unit in field goal range but couldn't lead them into the end zone and Feely split the upright from 45 yards out to put the score at 17-10 still in favor of Houston.
But Vick's efforts were not finished. The Texans defense was able to put forth a clutch stand and hold Atlanta to a 42-yard Feely field goal largely in part to LB Shantee Orr's menacing quarterback pressure, trigging a Vick intentional grounding call. The penalty pushed Atlanta back 14 yards and the team had to settle for a 42-yard Jay Feely field goal to put the score at 17-13.
Feely attempted an onside kick but Coleman recovered, allowing Houston to run the clock down and win their fifth game of the season.
Though Atlanta led in the total yards statistical category 243 yards to Houston's 236, time of possession worked in the Texans favor during the critical fourth quarter, where Houston was able to chew 8:22 seconds off of the clock to the Falcons' 6:38.
Both teams entered their opponents' territory six times, but Houston was able to make the key plays, converting three of those drives into scoring opportunities, two touchdowns. A missed field goal limited the Falcons to one touchdown and two field goals from their six drives into Houston territory.
"The problem we had last year is the latter part of the game, we had trouble maintaining the lead and getting to the point to maintain and increase our lead in the second half," Texans owner Bob McNair said. "I think that's the main difference. More maturity, more consistency, fewer errors, fewer penalties.
"It was all heart today."