HOUSTON -- On the heels of an embarrassing defensive performance against the Packers on national television last Sunday night, the Texans found redemption in a showdown of equal significance Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
The Texans took advantage by blasting the Baltimore Ravens 43-13 to claim the best record in the AFC.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson (nine catches for 86 yards), running back Arian Foster (19 carries for 98 yards with two touchdowns) and Matt Schaub (23 of 37 for 256 yards with two touchdowns) delivered against a beleaguered and depleted defense.
However, momentum swung with a pair of scoring plays produced by outside linebacker Connor Barwin and cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
"I think it's not only a big play in the game, but it's big for the rest of the season because I think when you lose a player two weeks ago, you lose a Cush (linebacker Brian Cushing) and all of a sudden you come in last week it's human nature to say, 'OK, how are we going to be?' " Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We walked out here and didn't feel good about it last week.
"What we found out today we can still play great defense and expect to do that the rest of the year."
Barwin, whose 11 1/2 sacks paced the Texans during their breakout 2011 season, recorded his first sack of 2012 by dropping Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the end zone with 4:49 left in the first quarter. On the first snap of the second, Joseph returned a Flacco interception 52 yards for a touchdown that boosted the Texans (6-1) to a 16-3 advantage.
Joseph missed the previous week of practice battling a nagging groin injury that rendered him ineffective against the Packers last week and the previous weekend at the Jets. After corralling a pass tipped by -- who else? -- defensive end J.J. Watt, Joseph proved healthy enough to return the pick for a score and kick the rout of the Ravens (5-2) into high gear.
"There's no sugar coating it. Call a spade a spade," said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who made a surprising return to the starting lineup after returning to practice on Wednesday following offseason Achilles' tendon surgery. "They whipped our (behinds)."
Singularly those plays proved critical, but collectively the Texans were so impressive defensively that they left Flacco rattled. After the Ravens briskly covered 45 yards in eight plays on their opening series en route to a 3-0 lead, they labored six consecutive possessions without a first down.
By the time former Texans receiver/return specialist Jacoby Jones recorded an 8-yard reception to move the chains late in the first half, the Ravens trailed 26-3 and were in complete disarray. Instead of relying on tailback Ray Rice to spearhead their offense, the Ravens attempted 20 passes to seven rushing attempts prior to intermission.
Rice managed only 35 yards on six attempts in the first half. Flacco, meanwhile, posted a miserable 4.2 passer rating against the Texans' aggressive defensive front. The Ravens no-huddle attack proved futile.
"We know we needed to get back to playing how we play," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith said. "Obviously the showing we had last week wasn't how we play. This week we made it a point to start getting back excited about making plays. I think that our team is a young, fiery team, and when we're making plays and everybody is excited, that's when we play at our best and that's exactly what was happening today."
Initially sporadic, the Texans' offense was the picture of balance once it got rolling, producing scoring drives of 67, 58, 40 and 58 yards in the first half. After the Ravens snapped a 29-0 run with a Flacco 15-yard touchdown pass to Tandon Doss early in the third quarter, the Texans replied with a 12-play, 80-yard drive culminating in a 1-yard Foster run.
With defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee) hobbled and linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) out, the Ravens were prone even with Suggs, who recorded four tackles and a sack.
"What weren't they able to do?" Ravens coach John Harbaugh asked rhetorically. "They ran the ball, they threw the ball (and) they protected. It was about as complete a performance as you can have on both sides of the ball."
Notes: Foster extended his team record for consecutive regular-season games with a touchdown to 10 with his 1-yard run with 2:56 left in the third quarter. Including the playoffs, Foster has scored a touchdown in 11 consecutive games. ... The Texans are the only team in the NFL not to allow a rushing touchdown this season. ... Flacco entered Sunday with a league-leading 18 pass completions of 25-plus yards. He did not complete a pass of that length against the Texans. ... The Ravens were 6-0 against the Texans before suffering their first series loss on Sunday, including a pair of victories at M&T Bank Stadium last season.