Houston 24, Jacksonville 21
When: 1:00 PM ET, Sunday, November 13, 2016
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Searching for their first road win of the season, the Houston Texans turned to their defense Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Then their special teams chipped in, too.
Houston got an early touchdown from its defense and set up another critical score with a big punt return to give their sputtering offense an easy day during a 24-21 victory at EverBank Field.
"I thought it was a battle, and it always is a battle," said Texans coach Bill O'Brien, whose team improved to 6-3 and maintains its lead atop the AFC South. "I thought the guys competed hard and it's good to come out on the winning end."
A big play by cornerback Kareem Jackson sucked the life out of an announced crowd of 62,091 in Jacksonville.
On the first possession of the game, Jackson undercut a poor throw by Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. It was more of the same for Bortles, who has ended opening drives with an interception three times this season (Green Bay, Chicago and Houston) and the type of play the Texans talked all week about making.
Houston entered Sunday's game winless in three tries on the road after falling to New England, Minnesota and Denver. An especially daunting thought considering three of the next four games come on the road as the Texans try to build on a strong first half of the season.
They proved Sunday they can make plays when they matter most -- even on the road.
Bortles was inconsistent but led his team on an eight-play, 92-yard drive in just 1:25 with the Jaguars (2-7) trailing 24-13 late in the fourth quarter. The third-year quarterback found receiver Allen Robinson for a 14-yard touchdown and then hooked up with his top target again on the two-point conversion to pull within 24-21 with 2:25 remaining in the game.
But Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler made one of his biggest throws of the season to seal the victory on the following possession. After a pair of runs left Houston with third-and-5 at the two-minute warning, Osweiler hit receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a slant for a first down.
"That play was a great job by the offensive staff," O'Brien said. "They did a good job of putting Hopkins in a place where he could make that play. These games are tough."
Osweiler finished the game 14-of-27 passing for just 99 yards but did throw one touchdown apiece to tight ends Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson. He also avoided any turnovers against a Jaguars defense that now has not forced one in five games.
The last takeaway for Jacksonville came during the first quarter of a win over Indianapolis on Oct. 2.
"We've just got to be optimistic," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "I'm sure some teams have to lose for us to do our thing, but I think we've just got to worry about winning games and keep getting better. Not shooting ourselves in the foot, not hitting quarterbacks out of bounds, not giving up third-and-19 runs and stuff like that."
The Jaguars won't be going anywhere without better play from Bortles, who was 32-of-49 passing for 265 yards with two touchdowns and two turnovers.
While his interception was a poor decision, his second turnover was plain bad luck.
Trying to abort a screen play that was going nowhere, he fired a pass -- ruled a backward lateral -- that hit feet of T.J. Yeldon and ricocheted in the air and into the hands of Houston linebacker Whitney Mercilus.
Bortles now has 16 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions on the season but looks far worse than he did last season while setting a franchise record with 35 touchdowns.
His mechanics look off. His execution is poor. And it shows. He missed several open receivers deep down the field against the Texans and suddenly looks to be the most inconsistent quarterback in the division.
That cost the Jaguars on a day in which their defense did a good job limiting Texans running back Lamar Miller (15 carries for 83 yards -- 45 of which came on one) and Hopkins, who had five catches for 48 yards while working primarily against rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
The Texans used other facets of the game to win.
Tyler Ervin returned a punt 57 yards to the Jaguars' 7-yard line in the third quarter to set up Osweiler's second touchdown, and kicker Nick Novak recovered from two earlier misses to hit a 51-yarder to put Houston up 24-13 with 8:32 remaining.
On the other sideline, the Jaguars were left staring at another frustrating loss.
"We have to grow up; it's very simply put," Jaguars left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. "You can talk about expectations and talent, but this team has to work hard at the end of the day like any other team. We have to execute and play smarter. It's not a complicated game. If you make plays and score touchdowns and stop the other team, you win games. We haven't been able to do it."
NOTES: After rushing for a season-high 107 yards last week against Kansas City, Jaguars RB Chris Ivory ran nine times for 31 yards. T.J. Yeldon had 32 yards on nine carries. ... Jacksonville WR/KR Marqise Lee briefly left the game in the first half with what appeared to be a right ankle injury but returned and had another solid game with four catches for 50 yards. ... Jacksonville WR Allen Robinson had nine catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. ... CB Aaron Colvin had the team's lone sack. ... Houston RB Lamar Miller left the game in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury and briefly returned. However, it was Akeem Hunt who did most of the damage in the second half and finished with 52 yards. ... DT D.J. Reader and LB John Simon had one sack apiece.
Top Game Performances
Team Stats Summary
Jacksonville will play their next game on the road against Detroit. The Jaguars have a W/L % of .500 after a win and .143 after a loss.
Houston will play their next game on the road against Oakland. The Texans have a W/L % of .500 after a win and 1.000 after a loss.