CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Sparked by kick returner Trindon Holliday and a dominant defense, the Texans cruised to a convincing victory in their preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night.
The Texans' starters played three series apiece on both sides of the ball, building a 10-3 lead that turned into a 26-13 victory. Holliday had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter, and the Texans' defense, led by 1.5 sacks from rookie first-round draft pick Whitney Mercilus, totaled eight sacks. They limited the Panthers to 137 yards, including 13 in the second half.
"We're an effort football team," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We've got guys flying around, and that's what's so impressive to me… (There were) a lot of really good things going on tonight, and a good step in the process here in the preseason."
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub completed 3-of-6 passes for 52 yards with one interception in his first game since suffering a Lisfranc injury on Nov. 7. Wide receiver Andre Johnson did not play because of a groin injury. Rookie Keshawn Martin started in his place and had two catches for 24 yards and one carry for 12 yards on an end around.
"It was exciting out there for me," Martin said. "I was nervous a little bit, but after the first play, I was good. It was fun out there."
The Texans' "Bulls on Parade" defense forced reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton and the Panthers to a three-and-out on both of their first two series. Cornerback Kareem Jackson broke up a pass on third down to end the first drive. Outside linebacker Brooks Reed sacked Newton for a 10-yard loss on the second.
Schaub led a nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive on the Texans' first series. He was 3-of-4 for 52 yards, putting the Texans in position for a 20-yard field goal by Shayne Graham.
Running back Arian Foster's only carry of the night came on the Texans' next series. He gained 11 yards before losing a fumble at midfield, which led to a 35-yard field goal by Carolina's Olindo Mare.
Holliday returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, darting through a seam on the right side and bolting to the end zone with electrifying speed. Schaub was picked off by Panthers linebacker Jason Phillips over the middle two plays into the Texans' next series. He was hit as he threw by Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
"He can't turn the dang ball over, he knows that, but I thought he was sharp early and moved the team and ditched the ball when he had to," Kubiak said. "I liked everything I saw. I obviously just don't like turnovers, and him and Arian are going to touch it more than anyone, so they have to protect the ball."
T.J. Yates relieved Schaub late in the first quarter. The second-year quarterback was sharp in his first game since the Texans' Divisional Round playoff loss at Baltimore, completing 8-of-12 passes for 89 yards. He led two scoring drives that ended in field goals, which were sandwiched around a one-yard touchdown run by Panthers running back Tauren Poole.
The Texans' defense limited the Panthers to two first downs in the second half. They also had five sacks and two takeaways, a third-quarter interception by safety Troy Nolan and fourth-quarter fumble recovery by rookie nose tackle Hebron Fangupo.
Mercilus and inside linebacker Tim Dobbins both had 1.5 sacks on the night. Reed and outside linebackers Jesse Nading, Bryan Braman and D.J. Bryant each had one sack.
"That's what our defense likes, and that's what it's made for," Reed said of all the sacks. "A lot of guys are making plays out there. There's a lot of guys trying to make this team, so you're going to see a lot of sacks."
Undrafted rookie running back Jonathan Grimes ran for a three-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Texans a 23-13 lead. It capped an 11-play, 61-yard drive led by quarterback John Beck, who went 4-of-6 for 46 yards in his Texans debut.
Texans rookie quarterback Case Keenum made his NFL debut in the fourth quarter. The undrafted free agent from the University of Houston was 2-of-3 for 33 yards with four carries for eight yards.
"It went by really fast, and it was a lot of fun," Keenum said. "I had a blast. I didn't make all the throws I wanted to, missed a few, but we made some plays there, the third group, moved the ball a little bit and executed the offense pretty well."
Rookie kicker Randy Bullock closed out the scoring with a 52-yard field goal with 1:57 remaining in the game.