HOUSTON (AP)—The Houston Texans found a good way to quiet critics who accused them of tanking games to stay ahead in the race for the No. 1 draft pick.
After three straight heartbreaking losses, they finally held on to a lead to beat the Arizona Cardinals 30-19 on Sunday.
“We know we’re not out there trying to throw games,” Texans receiver Andre Johnson said. “If we were really trying to lose, how did we win this one?”
They won it by jumping to a 24-10 halftime lead with a combined three touchdowns from backup running backs Jonathan Wells and Vernand Morency and by taking advantage of an injury-plagued and mistake-prone Arizona team.
And by winning, the Texans may have jeopardized their chances of landing Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush in the draft if he leaves Southern California.
“Reggie Bush is a tremendous athlete and I don’t know if it’s correct for me to say this or not, but I don’t want him,” Texans safety Jason Simmons said. “If we get him it means we’re the worst team in the league.”
Some fans didn’t share his feelings. Late in the fourth quarter, a sad-looking young man held up a homemade sign reading “Bye Bye Bush.”
Houston (2-12) is now tied with San Francisco for the worst record in the NFL after the 49ers lost to Jacksonville 10-9 on Sunday. The Texans face San Francisco in the season finale New Year’s Day.
The Texans managed only a pair of field goals in the second half after taking a 24-10 halftime lead. The Cardinals played with third-string quarterback John Navarre for the entire second half after Kurt Warner injured his knee in the second quarter and backup Josh McCown didn’t return after halftime because flulike symptoms.
“I think they clearly outplayed us,” said Cardinals coach Dennis Green.
Arizona (4-10), which entered the game with 13 players on injured reserve, struggled in the third quarter before making a late run, adding a field goal and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to eight.
This time Houston finished the game, recovering an Arizona fumble and tacking on a field goal with less than a minute to go to put the game out of reach.
“This just shows there’s no quit in us,” said Texans receiver Jabar Gaffney. “We came out and played it like we had a chance to go to the playoffs.”
The Texans were without running back Domanick Davis (swollen knee), but backups Wells and Morency filled in nicely, combining for 119 yards rushing.
Houston took advantage of a fumble by Arizona on a kickoff return and an interception in the second quarter to push a 14-10 lead to a 24-10 halftime advantage.
Navarre saw his second NFL action and the first since starting one game more than a year ago. He was more than a little rusty, but came on late to go 14-of-24 for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Warner was having a good day, going 10-of-10 for 115 yards and a touchdown, before injuring his knee. Green said Warner had a medial collateral ligament injury and will likely miss the rest of the season.
McCown replaced him in the second quarter and stayed one series, but it was long enough to throw an interception that led to a field goal by Houston.
Arizona led 10-7 in the second quarter after Warner threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. Boldin had eight receptions for 134 yards to set a franchise record for consecutive 100-yard games with five.
Houston took a 17-7 lead when Morency wriggled away from two defenders before using a nifty spin move to coast 25 yards for his first career touchdown.
Neil Rackers kicked field goals of 26- and 42-yards for the Cardinals to tie an NFL record for field goals in a season by a team with 39.
Houston’s league-worst rushing defense got a break against the poor running Cardinals and allowed a season-low 39-yards rushing. The unit also finished with six sacks, including four on Navarre.
The scoreboard in the $449 million Reliant Stadium wasn’t working properly for most of the second half and players and coaches agreed that the technical problem was distracting..
WR Donovan Morgan, in his first game for the Texans, grabbed his first NFL reception on a 9-yard catch in the second quarter. …Cardinals SS Adrian Wilson had five tackles to top 100 tackles for the second time in his career. … Sunday was the first time since Houston’s franchise opener in 2002 that the team had won with the roof of Reliant Stadium closed. … Houston’s three TDs rushing was a team record.