CLEVELAND (AP) — For the first time in franchise history, the Houston Texans had a chance Sunday to place themselves firmly in the chase for an AFC wild-card birth.
Instead, after surrendering an early lead and losing 27-17 to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Texans find themselves a game below .500 with another road game on tap next week.
“It hurts to have the game in our hands and to kind of throw it away,” said linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “It’s a game we definitely needed. We knew we could come up here and get a win, so it really hurts.”
The Texans (5-6) weren’t able to do much against Cleveland’s league-worst defense, which was missing two injured starters.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub finished 22-of-36 for 256 yards and two TDs. But he was picked off twice and had several other passes batted down by the Browns' suspect secondary, which lost rookie starting cornerback Eric Wright to a knee injury last week.
The Texans also had a costly fumble in the third quarter.
“We put ourselves in a tough situation,” Schaub said. “The turnovers really hurt us. That’s been our Achilles’ heel all season. We just didn’t make the plays. I threw a couple of interceptions and we didn’t move the ball.”
The Texans were coming off two straight wins after three consecutive losses. Last week, they played perhaps their best defensive game of the season, beating New Orleans 23-10 and allowing the fewest points since a season-opening 20-3 win over Kansas City.
Instead, it was the Browns, a recent model of dysfunction, who took another important step toward the playoffs.
Derek Anderson threw two touchdown passes, Jamal Lewis rushed for 134 yards and a TD and Kellen Winslow had 10 catches as the Browns, whose season has been filled with drama, controversy and overtimes, improved their playoff profile.
With their fifth straight victory at home and fifth win in six games overall, the Browns (7-4) stayed within striking distance of first-place Pittsburgh in the AFC North and among the wild-card contenders.
In fact, if the season ended today, the Browns would qualify for the postseason.
“We kind of control our own destiny,” said linebacker Andra Davis, one of the few Browns still around from Cleveland’s 2002 playoff team. “I’ve been waiting a long time to say that.”
Cleveland played perhaps its most well-rounded game of 2007, and for the first time in four weeks, the Browns didn't have to sweat out the final seconds. Their three previous games had all been decided by three points, two in OT.
Last week, they needed an unforgettable 51-yard field goal at the end of regulation by Phil Dawson to slip past Baltimore.
But when Lewis barreled in from the 1-yard line with 5:48 left, the Browns led 27-10 and were far enough ahead that a late touchdown by the Texans did nothing more than make the score look more respectable.
“That was nice,” Anderson said. “It’s much better than a one-point win.”
Showing nice balance, Cleveland’s offense ran smoothly behind Anderson, who went 24-of-35 for 253 yards. He threw a 19-yard TD pass to Braylon Edwards and a 7-yarder to Winslow in the first half.
And when Anderson couldn’t do it in the air, he handed the ball to Lewis, who had his first 100-yard game since getting 216 in Week 2 against Baltimore.
The Browns dominated time of possession in the second half, holding the ball for 20:56 to Houston’s 9:04.
The Browns’ much-maligned defense finally made some plays, too, blanking the Texans for the first 27 minutes of the second half before Schaub hit Owen Daniels for a 6-yard TD with 3:12 remaining.
With the Texans’ secondary taking away deep options, Anderson was content to dink and dunk his way down field in the first half. He threw underneath Houston’s coverage on an 11-play, 64-yard scoring drive capped by a 7-yard TD pass to Winslow to give the Browns a 14-10 lead with 16 seconds remaining before halftime.
Texans RB Ron Dayne, filling in for the injured Ahman Green, had 78 yards on 16 carries.
The Texans travel to Tennessee next week for a game against the Titans, who beat Houston 38-36 at Reliant Stadium in October.