HOUSTON – Somehow, someway, they had a chance.
And if the Jaguars didn't have spoiling the Houston Texans' season as their main goal for the day, they nevertheless appeared to have a chance to do just late in the 2014 regular-season finale.
It didn't happen.
Instead, Texans quarterback Case Keenum passed eight yards to wide receiver Andre Johnson early in the fourth quarter, giving Houston a lead it never relinquished en route to a 23-17 victory over the Jaguars in front of 71,777 at NRG Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The victory nearly kept the Texans alive for a wild-card berth. They entered Sunday needing to beat the Jaguars and needing San Diego to lose to Kansas City and Baltimore to lose to Cleveland.
Shortly before the end of the Jaguars-Texans game, Baltimore beat Cleveland, 20-10, to end the Texans' season.
The Jaguars, after being outgained by the Texans much of the first two and a half quarters, quieted the crowd late in the third quarter with a stunning turn of momentum.
First, defensive end Chris Clemons – two plays after having a sack negated by penalty – sacked Keenum to force a fumble that end Ryan Davis recovered at the Texans 23.
The Jaguars took the lead on the ensuing play, when quarterback Blake Bortles lateraled to wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, who then passed back across the field to a wide open Jordan Todman. The running back scored easily for a 17-14 Jaguars lead with 4:45 remaining in the third quarter.
The Texans retook the lead on the ensuing possession, driving 80 yard on 12 plays with Keenum capping the drive with a quick pass to Johnson in the middle of the end zone.
The Jaguars took possession three times after Johnson's touchdown with a chance to take the lead. They punted after gaining 22 yards on the first drive and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt sacked Bortles for a safety to end the second and give Houston a six-point lead.
One possession after the safety, the Jaguars' final possession of the season ended with an incomplete pass from Bortles to Shorts on 4th-and-goal from the five.
Bortles, making his 13th consecutive start to close his rookie season, completed 14 of 33 passes for 117 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions.
Keenum, making a second consecutive start after the Texans sustained a slew of injuries at the position, completed 23 of 35 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
The Texans outgained the Jaguars, 358-233, with the Jaguars failing to convert a third down on 11 attempts.
The Jaguars stayed close through the first half despite the Texans controlling momentum.
With the Jaguars focused on running back Arian Foster, the Texans drove quickly on their first possession, taking a 7-0 lead when Keenum passed 10 yards to Foster. Keenum completed four of four passes for 84 yards on the five-play, 83-yard drive, with two of the passes going for 40 yards to Johnson.
But the Jaguars squeezed out a 45-yard drive on the ensuing possession that ended with a 53-yard field goal by Josh Scobee.
Eight plays into the next series, Keenum threw behind wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who tipped the pass into the air. Cornerback Dwayne Gratz caught the carom and returned the interception 55 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and a 10-7 Jaguars lead.
It was the Jaguars' third defensive touchdown of the season, with the other two coming in a 25-24 victory over the New York Giants on November 30.
The Texans retook the lead with a 14-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard run by reserve running back Alfred Blue, who replaced Foster when the latter left late in the first quarter with a hamstring injury.
Blue's touchdown gave the Texans a 14-10 lead with 6:34 remaining in the half. The Texans outgained the Jaguars 217-102 in the half.
This came late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. The Jaguars surprised the Texans and the crowd by taking a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter, but Houston drove efficiently on the next possession. Keenum's eight-yard pass to Johnson capped a drive that consumed 6:11 and returned momentum to the Texans.
1.Gratz's 55-yard touchdown return gave the Jaguars their first lead in a game the Texans had controlled statistically to that point. He was trailing Hopkins on the play, but alertly caught the carom and made a nice run to get into the end zone. …
2.Bortles made a nice scramble early in the game to set up the Jaguars' first points. On the play, he evaded a rush outside the pocket and cut up field for a 21-yard gain to the Houston 38. Scobee's 53-yard field goal came three plays later to cut the Texans' lead to 7-3. …
3.Todman started the second half with a 34-yard run around right end for a first down at the Texans 36. The drive ended when Scobee's 51-yard field goal bounced off the left upright. …
Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks sustained a knee injury with 6:34 remaining in the second quarter and left for the locker room with trainers immediately. He did not return.
Wide receiver Allen Hurns and guard Brandon Linder left with ankle and knee injuries, respectively, in the second quarter. Each returned to the game.
Running back Toby Gerhart also left the game with an ankle injury in the second quarter and did not return. Defensive end Ryan Davis sustained a stinger in the first half and returned.
Defensive tackle Roy Miller missed a consecutive game with a knee sprain sustained against Baltimore December 14. Other Jaguars inactives Sunday: quarterback Stephen Morris, wide receiver Tommy Streeter, cornerback Jeremy Harris, safety Matt Daniels, guard Tyler Shatley and defensive end Chris Smith.
Defensive end Andre Branch played Sunday after missing seven of eight games with a groin injury. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III (shoulder) and running back Toby Gerhart (ribs) played after practicing limited this week.