Texans open big lead, hold off 49ers
HOUSTON — The Houston Texans are finally getting it right. The San Francisco 49ers are struggling again, and may make a fresh start with a different quarterback.
Matt Schaub threw two touchdown passes, Steve Slaton scored twice and the Texans built a big lead, then held on for a 24-21 win over the 49ers on Sunday.
Houston (4-3) has won back-to-back games for the first time this season and inched over the .500 mark for the first time since October 2007.
"I'm hoping that I've got these guys to the point to where they know these are the types of games they're going to play in every week," fourth-year Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think sometimes in this league it's hard to learn that, but we've been in enough of them now that we shouldn't expect anything any different. We just need to find a way to end games or make plays to win games at the end."
The Texans' defense dominated the first half, constantly pressuring quarterback Shaun Hill and holding the 49ers to 50 total yards. Houston led 21-0 at the break and 49ers coach Mike Singletary benched Hill in favor of former top overall draft pick Alex Smith, who saw his first action since 2007.
Smith threw three touchdown passes to Vernon Davis in the second half and finished with 206 yards passing. San Francisco (3-3) got the ball deep in its own territory in the final two minutes, but Houston safety Eugene Wilson picked off Smith to end the threat.
Singletary still liked what he saw from Smith and will consider starting him next week in Indianapolis.
"He moved the team pretty well, I thought he made the plays that he needed to make," Singletary said.
San Francisco's quarterback switch overshadowed the NFL debut of Michael Crabtree, who caught five passes for 56 yards. The 10th overall pick in this year's draft held out for 71 days before signing a six-year contract and joining the team on Oct. 7.
"I was kind of calm," Crabtree said. "I practiced on getting calm and coming into the game, knowing what I was supposed to do and executing my plays. I think I did a good job, but I've got some more work to do."
Hill and Crabtree mixed up their signals on the 49ers' first play from scrimmage and Mario Williams sacked Hill. The Texans held San Francisco without a first down until Crabtree caught an 18-yard pass from Hill with less than nine minutes left in the first half.
"They were exceptional," Kubiak said of his defensive unit. "They've been dominant at times throughout this season and that was a good half of football we played."
Slaton ran for a touchdown and caught a TD pass to give the Texans a 14-0 lead. Schaub then threw a 42-yard scoring pass to tight end Owen Daniels with 4:24 left in the half. Daniels finished with seven catches for 123 yards.
Just before halftime, Singletary told offensive coordinator Jimmy Rayes over the headsets that he wanted to replace Hill with Smith.
"I felt like we needed a change, we needed a spark," Singletary said. "I felt that if Alex had that opportunity, let's see what he can do in an adverse situation."
Smith completed his first seven throws, including a 29-yard touchdown pass to Davis on the 49ers' first drive of the second half. Smith sat out the 2008 season with a shoulder injury and lost the competition with Hill for the starting job in training camp.
He wasn't surprised when Singletary gave him the nod and didn't feel much pressure taking the field for the first time in almost two years.
"I guess I was ready for anything to happen," he said. "It had been a little while since I took some game snaps. It was nice to get out there and get sweating and not be thinking about anything."
Smith found Davis again on a 14-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 21-14 with about 13 minutes remaining. That score came 10 plays after Dashon Goldson forced and recovered a fumble by Slaton.
Davis' third touchdown on a 23-yard reception got San Francisco within 24-21 with 3:49 remaining. Houston's only second-half points came on a 50-yard field goal by Kris Brown with about 7 1/2 minutes left.
But the lead held up, and Houston equaled the best 7-game start in team history heading into next week's game at Buffalo.
"When you go out and win a game you build a lot of confidence, especially when you're playing well and doing good things," Schaub said.
"A lot of things were in place in that game to help us win. We're going to think about where we are at and just keep getting better to go into next week."