Houston looked flat and overwhelmed against New York as a favorite, then won in upset fashion in a shootout in Tennessee. The Texans then failed to make the one big play they needed in an upset loss to Jacksonville, followed by a throttling of the inept Oakland Raiders. The Texans were back on the descent as they were defeated by a late pick-six at Arizona, and at that point it looked like this season would be labeled as "the same old Texans."
Houston has dropped two games this season because of their complete inability to make short yardage conversions, reminding many of the Texans teams of the past which found ways to lose games. That has seemingly changed over the past two weeks as Houston has put together a mini-winning streak and a team that has routinely grasped defeat from the jaws of victory has found ways to hold on and win ugly.
Last week, the Texans went into the Bengals den and defeated the AFC North leaders with a dominant 28-17 performance. Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer, who is having a Pro Bowl type of season was stymied, as was the league's leading rusher at the time, Cedric Benson. Palmer was held to a mediocre quarterback rating of 85.3, keyed by the rookie linebacker Brian Cushing's game-ending interception. The Texans defensive line dominated as well as Benson could only manage 44 yards on 16 carries.
"We've been more active up front these past few weeks," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "We've went small, from a lineup standpoint, as far as the A-guys we've been playing. I think the bottom line is that our defense is just getting better. I think we've eliminated some mistakes, some assignment issues and just been more sound in what we're doing and it's adding up to more plays."
This Sunday, the Texans started quickly as they jumped out to a 21-0 lead by halftime. A desperate San Francisco team switched quarterbacks at halftime and it really seemed to spark the 49ers. The visitors went from utter offensive ineptitude to absolute dominance as Alex Smith led the 'Niners to touchdowns on three of his first four possessions.
"Starting the second half, down three scores, you're seeing some stagnant looks from the defense, they're not throwing as much at you," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said.
With the Texans now looking stagnant offensively halfway through the fourth quarter as Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson was hurt, and running back Steve Slaton was having trouble holding onto the football, the Texans needed a scoring drive. 10 plays, 53 yards, and a little over seven minutes later, veteran kicker Kris Brown cashed in with a 50-yard field goal that split the uprights.
"We get down, they get up and they all of a sudden grabbed the momentum of the game," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said.
With Houston up just a field goal and facing a red hot quarterback, the Texans defense came through as Eugene Wilson sealed the game with an interception of former first-overall pick Alex Smith.
"We made some big plays late and defensively Eugene made a big play so it was a big, big win," Kubiak said.
This was exactly the type of football game that the Texans normally lose. A game in which they had control and then a quarterback switch turned momentum and everything else. This time, the Texans persevered and found a way to win, not a way to lose.
With a 4-3 record, Houston is over .500 for the first time since October of 2007. With a trip to struggling Buffalo looming next weekend, this is a fantastic opportunity for the Texans to cement themselves as a playoff contender.