CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—The loud celebration inside the Houston Texans’ locker room could be heard from the hallway outside. Players hollered and laughed, and then someone summarized the moment with a yell.
“We’re a different team, baby!”
Instead of folding after falling behind by two touchdowns, the Texans rallied behind Matt Schaub’s 227 yards passing and two touchdowns, an effective running game and an opportunistic defense for a 34-21 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The team that was 24-56 in its first five seasons improved to 2-0 for the first time in franchise history.
“Before we would go down by 14 points early, the games were over,” said receiver Andre Johnson, who caught seven passes for 120 yards and two scores before suffering a left knee injury. “Now we go down by 14 points, everyone comes on the sideline and says, ‘Hey we’re fine.’
“Before you knew it, we were back up.”
And the Texans did it with the quarterback that took so much abuse in their first five years—David Carr—on the other sideline. Now a backup with the Panthers, Carr, who was sacked 249 times in five years, could only watch as his old team looked like as though it was ready to finally contend for a playoff berth.
The only concern for Houston was Johnson, who said he sprained his knee and would undergo an MRI on Monday. He was hoping he would play next week against Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in an early season showdown in the AFC South.
“We’re doing some things better, and we’ve still doing a lot of things that we’ve got to improve on to be a good football team,” second-year coach Gary Kubiak said. “It’s just one of 16, and I’m proud of our football team to come here on the road and win. And we get to play the world champs next week.”
A week after a 27-13 win at St. Louis, the Panthers (1-1) were dumbfounded after what went wrong in their fourth consecutive loss in their home opener.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Jake Delhomme, who threw for 307 yards and three TDs and an interception. “To start fast and all of a sudden it’s 31 unanswered points, it’s disappointing.”
Steve Smith, who caught eight passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns, had little help. A week after rushing for 186 yards in a win over St. Louis, the Panthers mustered only 76 yards on the ground, and DeShaun Foster lost a fumble.
“Offensively, we’re too up and down, too inconsistent,” Smith said. “Reason why? I can’t tell you. I could speculate, but there’s no need to do that. Just too inconsistent.
But Schaub, acquired from Atlanta in the offseason, connected with Johnson on scoring passes of 31 and 9 yards. The first TD catch was the 19th of Johnson’s career, a team record.
Houston led 17-14 by halftime and took control from the mistake-prone Panthers in the third quarter.
Schaub, picking apart a thin secondary playing soft coverage, worked the Texans down the field before Green’s 13-yard TD run made it 24-14.
On the ensuing kickoff, Faggins redeemed himself, stripping returner Nick Goings, who replaced ineffective rookie Ryne Robinson. The ball squirted into the end zone, where Kevin Walter pounced on it for a touchdown.
Dunta Robinson later intercepted Delhomme and Foster lost a fumble to end Carolina’s comeback hopes. Smith’s 74-yard touchdown catch—during which he broke two tackles and ran from one sideline to the other—cut the lead to 34-21 with 4:28 left. It gave Smith his 20th career 100-yard receiving game, but it was too late.
“We weren’t doing well and they pay their hard earned money,” Delhomme said. “They can voice their displeasure.”
The low point came as Panthers coach John Fox decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his 40 trailing by 17 points. As Delhomme hustled to the line of scrimmage, the play clock ran out and the Panthers wound up punting.
“We didn’t make plays. We dropped the ball,” Fox said. “We have to improve in just about every area for us to win a game in the NFL.”
The Texans played without DT Travis Johnson (foot). Panthers CB Dante Wesley injured his collarbone on the opening kickoff and didn’t return. … Panthers rookie WR Dwayne Jarrett was a healthy scratch for a second straight week. … The matchup of defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mario Williams produced little. Peppers had two tackles, while Williams had one.