Matt Schaub declared the rust gone after his first action in nine months.
Schaub led one scoring drive and threw an interception in his first game since breaking his right foot last season, and the Houston Texans beat the Carolina Panthers 26-13 on Saturday night in the preseason opener for both teams.
Schaub completed three passes for 52 yards on Houston’s opening drive, including a 22-yard strike on third down to Owen Daniels to set up a field goal.
Houston’s next two possessions ended in turnovers when Arian Foster fumbled and Schaub’s pass was intercepted by linebacker Jason Phillips on a bad throw over the middle.
”Those first couple of days lining up behind center for the first time since mid-November, going against a defense, there was a little bit of rust,” Schaub said. ”That’s worn off now, so we’re just back in a groove.”
Playing without his top weapon Andre Johnson, Schaub finished 3 of 6 for 52 yards for Houston. Johnson said he could have played, but the coaches decided to hold him out.
Cam Newton’s night also was short and not all that productive for Carolina.
Carolina’s first-team offense, which finished fifth in the NFL in scoring last year, looked out of sync from the start and struggled with blitz pickups.
The Panthers didn’t pick up a first down until their third possession when Newton showed off his incredible scrambling ability by racing up the middle for a 15-yard gain on third down. Unlike last year when Newton would challenge would-be tacklers, he elected to slide after picking up the first down — and looked a little awkward doing so.
That drive ended with Olindo Mare’s 33-yard field goal. Newton and the rest of the Carolina starters were taken out with 4:14 left in the first quarter.
Newton finished 2 of 6 for 17 yards and questioned his team’s effort after the game.
”It just wasn’t good enough,” Newton said. ”Anytime we come out and play in front of our fans we have a point to prove. At certain points, myself included, it was lethargic and I thought we could have put more effort into it.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton wasn’t at his best, but then neither was the majority of the team.
”He threw the ball just off a touch,” Rivera said. ”I think his reads on decisions were good. Now it’s just a matter of connecting with the receivers. And we’ll work on that. He’s still growing and learning. … I expected us to play better. We have worked hard in camp and had a lot of good things happen and for us to come out and do what we did — that’s disappointing.”
Jonathan Stewart signed a five-year contract extension with Carolina hours before the start of the game, didn’t carry the ball and caught one pass for 13 yards. DeAngelo Williams got the start and ran four times for 13 yards.
Stewart called his new contract a blessing.
”It feels real good and something that has been in the talks for the last month or so,” Stewart said. ”So, it’s just been something good to get done and move on.”
Houston’s only touchdown of the first half came on 5-foot-5 Trindon Holliday’s 90-yard kickoff return in the first quarter.
Carolina’s No. 2 quarterback, Derek Anderson, was 9 of 12 for 99 yards passing with one interception, but looked sharp leading the two-minute offense near the end of the first half. Anderson moved the Panthers 83 yards on eight plays, although he got some help when the Texans were flagged for three penalties — two for pass interference.
Carolina rookie Tauren Poole scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to tie it at 13 just before halftime.
Carolina’s defense settled down after a shaky start.
Rookie weak side linebacker Luke Kuechly, the No. 9 overall pick in the NFL draft, made an immediate impact in his first NFL action by stripping Foster in the first quarter after an 11-yard gain.
The Panthers played without their defensive leader Jon Beason, who sat out after tweaking his hamstring in practice. Phillips, his replacement at middle linebacker, had Carolina’s other turnover, although he seemed as surprised as anyone when Schaub threw it right at him.
The Texans won the NFC South championship last year after rallying behind backup quarterback T.J. Yates, who took over after Schaub went down in a 37-9 win over Tampa Bay on Nov. 13. Yates played the better part of two quarters Saturday night, finishing 8 of 12 for 89 yards passing. He led two drives which resulted in field goals, but unlike last year couldn’t get the Texans into the end zone.
John Beck, was 4 of 6 for 46 yards and led one touchdown drive.
Undrafted rookie Case Keenum, the NCAA’s career leader in yards passing, touchdowns, and completions at the University of Houston, completed 2 of 3 passes for 33 yards for the Texans.
Houston’s defense, which finished second in the league last year, registered eight sacks — five of those on Jimmy Clausen.
”The first unit played only 12 or 15 plays, but we played well as a group,” said Texans linebacker Connor Barwin. ”Obviously, there were some mistakes – not a lot. It was really encouraging to see some of the young guys step up when they have their chance. We had eight sacks, which was really impressive.”
Houston’s only offensive touchdown came on rookie Jonathan Grimes’s 3-yard run.
For the most part, Carolina fans didn’t have much to cheer about.
But rookie Joe Adams, the team’s fourth-round draft pick, gave the crowd a thrill when he changed field, avoided several tacklers and returned a punt 39 yards in the fourth quarter. The Panthers have ranked near the bottom of the league in punt return average the last several years and hope Adams can give them a spark in the return game.