This time around, the Texans dug themselves a hole too deep.
A week after coming back from a 16-3 first-half deficit at Cincinnati, the Texans trailed the Carolina Panthers 21-0 at halftime on Sunday at Reliant Stadium. They responded with 13 unanswered points but were done in by turnovers and defensive lapses in a 28-13 loss that snapped a seven-game winning streak.
"Congratulations to Carolina," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "They came in here and kicked our butt up and down the field, all three phases. We obviously weren't ready to play, and that starts with me. We got away with it last week, the same type of play in the first half, and this week we didn't get away with it.
"We got buried in the first half. We tried to fight our way out of it, but ultimately when you turn the ball over and are as sloppy as we were and give up the big plays we gave up, you're not gonna win in this league."
The Texans outgained the Panthers 358-318 but had three turnovers, including two interceptions by rookie quarterback T.J. Yates. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers had zero. It was the first time all season that the Texans did not force a turnover.
Playing without defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who is on a medical leave of absence, the Texans allowed more than 20 points for the first time since Oct. 16 at Baltimore, which is also the last time they lost. Linebackers coach Reggie Herring called the defense in Phillips' absence.
The Panthers were 9-of-14 (64 percent) on third down. The Texans entered the game fifth in the NFL in defensive third-down percentage (32.3 percent).
"The overall theme for the day was we gave up big plays and there were some discipline parts of the game that we were not very disciplined on as we have been throughout the year," Herring said. "At the end of the day, they beat us and out-executed us. We obviously didn't execute very well. To me, the most disappointing thing was the third downs and big plays."
The Panthers' three scoring drives in the first half covered an average of 45 yards (26, 61, 48). Each came after a miscue by the Texans that gave Newton and the Panthers a short field.
Running back Arian Foster lost a fumble on the second play of the game. The Panthers recovered at the Houston 26-yard line and scored four plays later on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Newton to wide receiver Steve Smith.
Neil Rackers missed a 49-yard field goal late in the first quarter, and the Panthers turned it into a nine-yard touchdown catch by tight end Jeremy Shockey.
Panthers tight end Richie Brockel ran in for a seven-yard touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter on a "fumblerooski" misdirection play on second-and-goal. The score was set up by an interception of Yates by linebacker Jordan Senn, who returned the ball past midfield.
"We came out flat in the first half," Yates said. "We weren't moving the ball well. We weren't doing pretty much anything on offense and (were) giving their offense extra possessions and giving them points."
Houston's defense came out on fire in the second half. They limited the Panthers to 18 yards and one first down in the third quarter, but the Texans could muster only two field goals on two trips to the red zone.
The Texans finally got in the end zone two minutes into the fourth quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by Foster. That capped an eight-play, 68-yard drive that Yates started with a scramble up the middle for 15 yards.
Foster's touchdown got the Texans to within 21-13, but they would get no closer. Newton led the Panthers 80 yards in seven plays on the following drive, taking a 28-13 lead on a 24-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams with 9:59 remaining.
Texans safety Quintin Demps returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards. Yates then completed passes of 24 and 22 yards to Jacoby Jones and Foster, quickly giving the Texans first-and-goal from the 10. But on third-and-goal from the nine, he was picked off in the end zone by linebacker James Anderson.
The Texans didn't get the ball back from there. Newton ran eight yards for a first down on third-and-eight from the Carolina 5-yard line. On third-and-two from the Houston 43, Newton picked up another first down with a three-yard run. The Panthers then ran out the final three minutes to seal the victory.
"It just seemed that whenever it came down to it today, we weren't able to make the big play we really needed to," linebacker Brian Cushing said. "We had them in position to come back, stop them again and get the ball back for the offense, and we just didn't come through. It was kind of the theme the whole day. They were able to hit big plays when they really needed them. "
Foster finished with 109 rushing yards on 16 carries (6.8 average) and 58 receiving yards. Yates was 19-of-30 for 212 yards. Linebacker Connor Barwin and nose tackle Earl Mitchell both had sacks, giving the Texans a team-record 38 on the season. Barwin leads the Texans with a career-high 10.5 sacks.