HOUSTON—So much for "Battle Red Day."
What was supposed to be a day of celebration for the Houston Texans ended with tears at the goal line. They could've been Mike Sims-Walker's tears, but they became Texans running back Chris Brown's.
On second-and-goal and with the Texans needing only a touchdown to tie the game, Brown fumbled the ball into the end zone and into the hands of Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith, preserving a 31-24 Jaguars win that concluded a week of great angst with a burst of joy.
"I don't think there's any question about our desire to win and our willingness to work," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said in his postgame interview.
Neither had come into question, but everything else about the Jaguars was being harshly criticized as the team headed into a game most expected would produce a Texans victory that would put them over .500 for one of the few times in franchise history.
With 4:36 to play, the situation was looking good for the Jaguars. Sims-Walker had just caught a pass from David Garrard and was running toward a first down that would've strengthened the Jaguars' hold on the game. Then, the ball came loose from Sims-Walker's grasp, the Texans recovered and the issue was in doubt, again.
Two minutes later, it was looking awfully good for the Texans. On first and goal at the one-yard line, Matt Schaub threw what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown, but the play was nullified by a pass-interference penalty against wide receiver Kevin Walter that pushed the Texans back 10 yards.
Fast forward two plays to a second-and-goal from the two. Brown appeared to be about to cross the goal line when the ball suddenly was loosened from his grasp. Smith recovered in the end zone.
Texans coach Gary Kubiak challenged the ruling and replay made a case for Brown's knee being down before the ball came out, but the replay view referee Ron Winter got couldn't overrule the call. The Jags kept the ball and got the win.
"I tried to keep my head in it because I knew if they scored we had to go down and get some points," Sims-Walker said of his emotions following his fumble.
"It really was looking like we were going to have to get ready for a two-minute drill," Garrard said.
Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew were the Jaguars' stars in a shootout type of game. Walter and Schaub were the Texans' headliners.
The two offenses combined for 795 yards and seven touchdowns. This was not a day for defense, at least not until the Jaguars started playing some in the second half.
"We saw how the offense was moving and we didn't want to be the one to let the team down," linebacker Clint Ingram said. "In the second half, everybody locked in on their job and we tightened it down."
Ingram had a key third-down sack of Schaub and Smith made a shoestring tackle of Jacoby Jones to deny what offered the potential to become a big play for the Texans.
This was, however, a day for the offense. Garrard threw for 214 yards, rushed for 29 and a touchdown and played the kind of error-free, efficient quarterback that makes an offensive coordinator proud. Jones-Drew's 119 yards rushing, which included a 61-yard touchdown burst and two other scores, was the crowning blow.
"We saw how they were fitting our run game and those plays were perfect for it," Jones-Drew said of halftime adjustments the Jaguars made. "Coach did a great job of adjusting."
"It's a huge victory. Now we understand what it takes to win. It's all about victories, no matter how you get them," he added.
"I wish I could've had a couple of throwing touchdowns. I did feel real calm, cool, collected. I felt that was a good performance by me," Garrard said.
He was at his best in the first half in the face of a strong pass-rush. Several times he was hit and knocked to the ground hard as he released the ball. In the second half, his protection improved.
The one constant in the game was that his receivers ran wide open. Sims-Walker caught six passes for 81 yards to lead all Jaguars pass-catchers.
"It allowed me to stand in the pocket and get the ball downfield to the receivers," Garrard said.
He had not been afforded that luxury in the first two games.
The Jaguars will try to do the same against the visiting Tennessee Titans next Sunday. The Titans are a shocking 0-3 and their season may be on the line against the Jaguars, just as the Jaguars' was on the line in Houston.