DENVER – The Texans finally put together a good first half of football. It was the second half that did them in this time.
Houston squandered a 17-0 halftime lead in a 24-23 loss to the Broncos at INVESCO Field at Mile High on Sunday, another last-minute loss in a season that has been full of them. It was the Texans' eighth loss in nine games and dropped their record to 5-10.
"It's tough to find the words right now to kind of describe how I'm feeling, how we're feeling," quarterback Matt Schaub said.
This defeat came after Schaub's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted deep in Broncos territory with 1:12 left to play. Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow had scored the go-ahead touchdown on a six-yard run with 3:02 remaining, giving Denver its first lead of the entire game.
"It's inexcusable as a team to let go of a 17-0 lead on the road," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Everybody had their part, but the fact that we could not stop them the whole second half after we had played good defense for a half was just, to me, inexcusable."
The Broncos scored every time they got the ball in the second half, except for their final drive when they knelt out the clock. The Texans' only points of the second half came on field goals of 54 and 57 yards by kicker Neil Rackers.
Schaub was 23-of-33 passing for 310 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones had a career-high 115 yards starting in place of the injured Andre Johnson , and tight end Owen Daniels had eight catches and a touchdown. Running back Arian Foster rushed for 91 yards and a score and caught four passes for 44 yards.
Tebow, making his second-career start, threw for 308 yards against the Texans' 32nd-ranked pass defense. He was 16-of-29 with a touchdown and an interception.
It looked like the Texans' defense might have Tebow's number early. Cornerback Jason Allen intercepted the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner in the end zone on the Broncos' first drive of the game. The Texans took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter with Foster's three-yard touchdown, which capped a 91-yard scoring drive.
Early in the second quarter, Daniels caught a three-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-0. The Texans tacked on a 34-yard field goal by Rackers in the final minute of the first half.
The Broncos wasted little time in getting untracked in the second half. They went 80 yards in four plays on their first drive to get on the scoreboard with a six-yard touchdown run by Correll Buckhalter. Tebow threw a 50-yard pass to former Texan Jabar Gaffney to set up the score.
Rackers made a 54-yard field goal with 10:14 left in the third quarter. The Broncos answered three minutes later with a 27-yard field goal, thanks in large part to Brandon Lloyd's leaping 41-yard catch over Allen. Rackers then made a career-long 57-yard field goal with 2:34 left in the third quarter, giving the Texans a comfortable 23-10 lead.
On the Broncos' next drive, Tebow found Buckhalter for a 23-yard touchdown pass on third-and-14. That brought the Broncos to within six early in the fourth quarter.
The Texans were unable to get past midfield on their next drive, and they punted the ball away with 7:42 remaining. Tebow then used a combination of short passes and scrambling to lead the game-winning 12-play, 76-yard scoring drive. He finished it off by running untouched into the front left corner of the end zone.
The Texans had one chance to respond, getting the ball at their own 17-yard line with 2:57 remaining and one timeout. Schaub got them to the Denver 39 with 1:19 remaining. On second-and-nine, his pass for Daniels over the middle was deflected by defensive lineman Justin Bannan and intercepted by cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson at the 25-yard line.
"We had a good call for the coverage and the blitz that they were bringing," Schaub said. "If I can get that one into OD's hands, then he might score on that. The guy went in and got his hand on it and tipped the ball in the air."
Tebow knelt three times after the interception to end the game, giving the Texans 10 losses in a season for the first time since 2006.
"When you get beat in this league, they're all tough," Kubiak said. "You've got a 17-0 lead on the road, that's hard to do in this business. You've got to find a way to finish games, and we didn't."