The Texans are learning how to win, even when their high-powered offense has an off day.
Arian Foster rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown, and Houston shut down rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the NFL’s worst offense in a 24-14 win over the Jaguars on Sunday.
Matt Schaub threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score for Houston (5-3), off to its best eight-game start. The Texans also took one more step toward the franchise’s first division title and playoff berth by improving to 3-0 in the AFC South.
”We knew it was going to be a tough, dirty game,” said Houston linebacker Brian Cushing, who led his team with seven tackles. ”In this league, it’s tough to get a win. We just had to do what we had to do.”
The Texans have outscored their division opponents by a total score of 99-28. This was the closest of the three games, mostly due to two Houston fumbles that led to Jacksonville touchdowns.
Schaub completed 16 of 30 passes and was sacked twice, and the Texans once again missed star receiver Andre Johnson, who sat out for the fourth straight game with a hamstring injury.
Unlike past seasons, Houston can rely on its defense to pick up the slack.
The Texans stayed in control by holding Jacksonville to 61 yards and five first downs in the second half. Gabbert, making his sixth career start, completed 10 of 30 passes for 97 yards and two interceptions in the game, for an anemic 26.7 rating.
”We had a defense that stood up and said, ‘We’re gonna win the game,”’ Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. ”They were excellent all day, exceptional.”
The Jaguars (2-6) couldn’t carry over momentum from their surprising 12-7 win over Baltimore on Monday night. Maurice Jones-Drew was limited to 63 yards on 18 carries, and says the entire offense bears some of the blame for Gabbert’s struggles.
”We have to continue to give him time in the pocket. We have to catch the ball when he throws it,” Jones-Drew said. ”The quarterback is only as good as the players around him. So obviously, if he’s not doing well, we’re not doing well.”
The Texans got off to another fast start, scoring on their opening series for the fifth time. Schaub went 4 for 5 and then sprinted for a 2-yard touchdown with 8:21 left in the first quarter.
Jacksonville’s sixth-ranked defense held Baltimore to 34 yards rushing Monday night, but Houston matched that total on its first three possessions.
Gabbert was hurt on Jacksonville’s first series. Forced to scramble, he slid awkwardly at the end of an 11-yard run and was hit by safety Glover Quin and Cushing.
Trainers helped Gabbert off the field with bruised ribs, and Luke McCown replaced him. Gabbert returned on Jacksonville’s next possession, then threw five straight incompletions.
The Texans’ offense bogged down, too, failing to convert three consecutive third downs.
”We wanted to get everyone involved,” Schaub said. ”We had some opportunities down the field, and I missed a few of the throws. I’ve got to make those plays for us to be successful as an offense.”
A slick play by Jacksonville’s defense midway through the second quarter created the Jaguars’ best scoring chance of the game.
Clint Session sacked Schaub and forced a fumble, triggering an impromptu double-lateral. Defensive end Matt Roth scooped it up, then flipped the ball backward to defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. Knighton chugged 7 yards, then pitched to Session who reached the Texans 10 before Foster tackled him.
Two snaps later, Gabbert threw a short TD pass to Jason Hill, Jacksonville’s first touchdown since the third quarter of a 17-13 loss to Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
The Jaguars were lucky to be tied at halftime after producing 113 yards in the half.
”We are working our butts off,” Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said, ”and I’d sure like to have a little more validation for the type of effort that’s being put forth.”
Jacoby Jones returned a punt to the Jaguars 44 early in the third quarter, and Schaub threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Joel Dreessen.
Jason Allen intercepted Gabbert’s pass to Mike Sims-Walker on the first play of the fourth quarter, and the Texans stretched the lead on Foster’s 4-yard touchdown run.
Jones-Drew scored on a drive set up by Ben Tate’s fumble. The Texans used nearly the rest of the time to set up Neil Rackers’ 39-yard field goal.
Notes: Foster has 12 100-yard rushing games, a franchise record. … Texans LB Darryl Sharpton is out for the season after tearing a tendon in his right leg. … Jaguars PK Josh Scobee had his streak of 15 games with a field goal snapped. … Jacksonville is 5-9 in the week after playing a Monday night game.