NEW ORLEANS - With an early regular season schedule that features three of the NFL’s top-10 scoring teams from a year ago, the Texans know that their offense must be able to keep up.
On Saturday night at the Louisiana Superdome, the Texans went toe-to-toe with one of the NFC’s top offenses and outscored the New Orleans Saints 31-27 in front of a paid attendance of 70,009.
Behind 405 total net yards of offense, the Texans scored on five of their nine possessions, picked up 21 first downs and finished 10-of-14 on third down. Veteran Matt Turk punted only twice the entire game. The other two drives that didn’t end in scores were because of halftime and the end of the game.
The most encouraging news was the play of quarterback Matt Schaub, who was flawless in completing 14-of-16 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Kevin Walter was his favorite target. The sixth-year player had a game-high six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.
The flip side to the win is that the Texans’ defense was victimized for three touchdowns and 244 net passing yards. The good news, though, is that the unit hung tough with 3:09 left in the game by preventing the Saints’ offense from mounting a final, game-winning drive. Instead, the Texans forced an errant pass on fourth-and-19 from the New Orleans 17.
The Texans had a discouraging start to the game as wide receiver Jacoby Jones fumbled a punt return at the Houston 10. Former Texans linebacker Troy Evans recovered for no gain.
The Saints scored first when Martin Gramatica kicked a 25-yard field goal to put the Saints ahead with 11:44 left in the first quarter. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones' fumble on a punt return set up the score.
The Texans' offense marched near midfield on their opening possesion after wide receiver André Davis caught a 14-yard pass on third-and-eight from the Houston 34. Later, Schaub found Walter open for a 17-yard gain to put the Texans in scoring position. They reconnected on a 26-yard touchdown pass that helped put Houston ahead 7-3 with 5:30 left in the first quarter.
Wide receiver David Patten's 39-yard catch down the Texans' sideline while closely defended by cornerback Jacques Reeves set up the Saints' next scoring opportunity. On third-and-10 at the Houston 15, quarterback Drew Brees' pass to tight end Mark Campbell was broken up by safety C.C. Brown. Gramatica's 33-yard field goal cut the Texans' lead to 7-6 with 2:50 left in the first quarter.
Schaub continued his strong start with consecutive completions to Davis and tight end Owen Daniels for 28 yards to move the offense to the New Orleans 44. Schaub's completions to Walter for 27 yards and Davis for 11 yards gave Houston a first down at the eight-yard line, where fullback Vonta Leach caught a seven-yard pass in the flat. Schaub found Leach again the next play for a one-yard touchdown pass to finish off the 10-play, 74-yard series.
Brees let loose on the ensuing drive with a 38-yard pass to Campbell and a 13-yard completion to Patten. Running back Reggie Bush scored the Saints' first touchdown on a 12-yard reception where he leapfrogged Reeves at the goal line.
The back-and-forth offensive showcase continued the following possesion when Schaub hit Walter for a 20-yard gain before Daniels raced 21 yards past one defender on a screen to enter Saints' territory. Kris Brown's 45-yard field goal extended the Texans' lead to 17-13 with 5:36 left before halftime.
After Reeves was flagged for an 18-yard pass interference penalty on wide receiver Devery Henderson, the Saints moved into scoring range again inside the two-minute warning. Wide receiver Marques Colston's five-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone helped give the Saints a 20-17 lead.
With only 59 seconds on the game clock, Sage Rosenfels replaced Schaub behind center. The Texans opted to run out the remainder of the game clock.
Rosenfels made quick work of the Saints on the opening drive of the second half by completing passes to wide receiver Mark Simmons and Jones for 33 total yards. Running back Steve Slaton's 12-yard rush also helped pave the way for Chris Taylor to rush in for a one-yard touchdown dive.
After the Saints' second punt of the game, Jones returned the subsequent punt 19 yards to the Houston 39. Taylor limped off the field with cramps after losing a yard on his first carry.
With 2:17 left in the third quarter, Saints backup quarterback Mark Brunell found wideout Lance Moore open for a 42-yard completion. Two plays later, Brunell's touchdown pass to fullback Kevin Dudley helped the Saints regain the lead, 27-24.
The high scoring continued when wide receiver David Anderson made a sliding catch, picked himself up to avoid a defender and then gained an extra few yards before being dragged down from behind for a 43-yard gain. Slaton finished the drive with a darting 10-yard touchdown run off the right tackle. Brown's extra point put the Texans ahead 31-27 with 12:01 remaining in the game.
On the Saints' final two drives, the Texans forced a punt and a failed fourth down conversion to seal the victory and extend their preseason unbeaten record to 2-0.