HOUSTON -- Surely the St. Louis Rams had noticed the evidence on film, had witnessed how close the error-prone Houston Texans were to the brink of collapse. The Rams just needed to provide the slightest nudge.
In the span of seven minutes, the Rams snuffed any semblance of hope for a Houston comeback, turning two Texans turnovers into touchdowns while rolling to a 38-13 win on Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
The Texans (2-4) dropped their fourth consecutive game by doing the same thing that led to their three previous losses: They self-destructed.
"I'll just say this: For the past few weeks, the finger has been pointed in one direction a lot," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "But we sprung leaks all over the place today as a football team. We got our butt kicked as a football team."
The Rams, meanwhile, were eager opportunists. With the Texans entering play minus-eight in turnover margin, St. Louis (3-3) needed only to stick to the script penned by the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 22 and followed by the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
The Texans amassed 95 first-half penalty yards to grease the skids to their 14-point halftime deficit. And after St. Louis briskly covered 80 yards on 10 plays to extend its lead to 24-6 with 7:42 left in the third quarter, the Texans crumbled under the weight of two catastrophic miscues.
Second-year return specialist Keshawn Martin, previously benched in favor of veteran Danieal Manning because of poor performance, lost the handle on his first kickoff return of the afternoon. The fumble, which was caused by the Rams' Rodney McLeod, was snatched by Daren Bates out of midair and he rambled 11 yards for a touchdown and a 31-6 Rams lead.
Then, with 36 seconds left in the third quarter, Rams rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree returned a T.J. Yates fourth-down pass 98 yards for a score.
Yates, who replaced injured starter Matt Schaub, continued an ignominious streak for Houston. Schaub had thrown a pick-6 in four consecutive games.
"I was able to read the quarterback's eyes, and I stepped in front of the route they were running and I was able to take it to the house," Ogletree said. "It was more of an instinct play for me even though I did see it on film."
The Rams mustered just 216 yards of offense, but quarterback Sam Bradford threw three scoring passes to three different receivers. Brian Quick was on the receiving end of a 4-yard pass in the third quarter after the Rams' first two touchdown drives were aided by Houston penalties.
What the Rams said
"That's classless. I've got a lot of respect for this organization, this city and the fans, so that was disappointing. No player should ever be cheered when he's going down by the opposing fans or especially your own. That's disappointing." -- Rams defensive end Chris Long on Houston fans jeering embattled quarterback Matt Schaub, who suffered a right leg injury on a Long sack with 3:46 left in the third quarter.
What the Texans said
"Any time you have penalties it means you are not disciplined. It means you are not focusing. It means you are not harnessing your obligations as a player on this team. That's it. There is no excuse for it. Penalties are self-inflicted wounds. You have to stay away from those if you want to be successful at this level, and we are not doing that right now." -- Texans running back Arian Foster after Houston accumulated 95 penalty yards, all while falling behind 17-3 in the first half.
What we learned about the Rams:
1. The Rams' speed on defense is game changing. Not only St. Louis recorded a pair of lengthy returns on turnovers, they totaled five sacks and seven additional quarterback hits. Houston native Michael Brockers recorded a pair of sacks while ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn tortured the Texans from their end positions. Linebacker James Laurinaitis' 43-yard fumble return was later bested by the 98-yard interception return for a touchdown by rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree. "When you can score defensive touchdowns, that's a game changer," Laurinaitis said.
2. The Rams have found a running back in rookie Zac Stacy. Last week Stacy recorded a Rams season-high 78 yards on 14 carries in the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He offered more hard-nosed running in his second career start, compiling 79 yards on 18 carries against the Texans' stout defensive front. "You can't say enough good things," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "The first couple of weeks we were looking for a spark, and Zac has been that spark. We needed something to get the run game going."
What we learned about the Texans
1. Quarterback Matt Schaub isn't the source for all of the Texans' problems. Schaub, vilified after throwing pick-6s in four consecutive games, was lost to a right leg injury late in the third quarter. Houston fans derisively cheered while he lay prone on the turf and bathed backup T.J. Yates in a warm ovation when he replaced Schaub. Yates later threw a pick-6 of his own when rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree read his eyes and returned Yates' pass 98 yards for a touchdown. "You have to be smarter with the ball," Yates said. "I tried to force it in there a little, which is something you can't do. I was just trying to make a play."
2. The Texans' red-zone woes remain problematic. Houston settled for two more red-zone field goals from kicker Randy Bullock, who entered Sunday with three field goals between 20-29 yards. T.J. Yates' interception also came in the red zone.