Chris Ogbonnaya made the most of his opportunity in Houston's preseason opener, with virtually every other Texans running back hobbled by injuries.
Ogbonnaya caught a touchdown pass from Matt Leinart and ran for the winning score in the fourth quarter of the Texans' 20-16 win over the New York Jets on Monday night.
"This time of the year is a grind," Ogbonnaya said, "and you just have to be ready for the opportunity when it comes."
The regular starters for both sides only played the first quarter.
Mark Sanchez looked sharp, completing 6 of 7 passes, two to Santonio Holmes. Sanchez's usual backup, Mark Brunell, did not play because of a finger injury, leaving the rest of the game to seventh-round draft pick Greg McElroy, the former Alabama star.
The Jets' first-string offense produced four first downs and 73 yards, but only three points.
"We would've liked to score a touchdown on that first drive, but we didn't," Sanchez said. "I was proud of the first group moving the ball the way we did. Now, we just need to finish in the red zone."
Matt Schaub, meanwhile, looked shaky for the Texans. He went 2 for 5 for 20 yards and was sacked once before Leinart replaced him.
Ogbonnaya accounted for 104 total yards — 37 on the ground and 67 receiving. He was just about the last running back standing for Houston after Derrick Ward left in the first half with a head injury. Arian Foster, the 2010 NFL rushing champ, and backups Steve Slaton and Ben Tate were sidelined with hamstring injuries.
"Hats off to Ogbonnaya, the young man's had a great camp for two weeks," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Really, he was all we had. He played the whole game. He's been a real warrior for us."
Houston trailed 16-13 in the final quarter when Derrick Townsel returned a punt to the New York 37. Two plays later, rookie T.J. Yates completed a 28-yard pass to rookie Lestar Jean to the 1. Ogbonnaya dived into the end zone on the first play following the 2-minute warning.
The Jets had a chance to win it in the final minute, but undrafted free agent Michael Campbell dropped a 32-yard pass from McElroy in the end zone.
Houston's defense, learning a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Wade Phillips, produced seven sacks. But McElroy, a seventh-round draft pick, still found gaps and completed 23 of 39 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown.
Phillips has only had a few weeks to teach his players the new scheme because of the lockout, and Texans coach Gary Kubiak saw obvious progress.
"In general, you could see they've grasped the nature of the defense," Kubiak said. "We stayed away from giving up big plays."
Matt Leinart, who turned down offers from other teams to return to Houston and back up Schaub, also looked solid, except for an interception that led to the Jets' lone touchdown. Leinart went 8 for 14 for 78 yards in about two quarters of action.
Sanchez completed his first four throws, and the Jets drove inside the Houston 15. Linebacker Xavier Adibi sacked Sanchez on third down, forcing New York to settle for Nick Folk's 33-yard field goal. Folk, who signed a one-year deal after going 30 of 39 on field-goal attempts last season, is competing with veteran Nick Novak for the job.
Leinart replaced Schaub at the start of the second quarter, and immediately completed a pass to James Casey for a 9-yard gain. On third down, Leinart rolled left and threw a short pass to Ogbonnaya, who picked up 29 yards to the Jets' 31.
The drive stalled, and Neil Rackers' 49-yard field goal tied it with 12:13 left in the first half.
McElroy replaced Sanchez on New York's first drive of the second quarter.
Linebacker Jesse Nading sacked McElroy, forced a fumble and defensive end Tim Jamison recovered at the Jets' 14. Ogbonnaya converted a fourth-and-1, and Jets' coach Rex Ryan stomped up the sideline and angrily called a timeout and ripped off his headset before Houston could snap it again.
"Too many guys out there, and we had to burn a timeout," Ryan said.
Leinart then rolled left again and flicked an easy pass to Ogbonnaya for a touchdown.
Ogbonnaya had a 15-yard run, and gained 16 more yards on a screen pass on Houston's next possession. Rackers capped the drive with a 47-yard field goal with 57 seconds left before the break to put the Texans ahead 13-3.
Novak kicked a 35-yard field goal in the third quarter, and Leinart's first pass of the second half was tipped at the line by Kendrick Ellis and intercepted by Josh Mauga. Bilal Powell gained 19 yards on a short pass, and McElroy found Patrick Turner for the tying touchdown.
The Jets got the ball back near midfield with about 10 minutes left. Powell, a fourth-round pick out of Louisville, rushed for 21 yards on the drive and Folk kicked a 40-yard field goal with 6:12 remaining to give New York a 16-13 lead.
Notes: Jets' guards Rob Turner (lower leg) and Chris Stewart (shoulder) left in the first half. Texans' guards Antoine Caldwell and Kasey Studdard both went out with ankle injuries. ... Houston All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson (dislocated finger) and linebacker Brian Cushing (knee) also sat out.