With a spark from Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez had some big plays that New York Jets fans have been waiting for since the season began.
Unfortunately the reinvigorated offense wasn't enough against one of the NFL's best — and still unbeaten — teams.
Arian Foster ran for 152 yards and a touchdown, and the Houston Texans defeated the Jets for the first time in team history, hanging on for a 23-17 victory Monday night.
"We were in it," Sanchez said, "until the end of the game."
With a chance to lead the Jets on a winning drive, Sanchez was intercepted by Kareem Jackson on a pass that tipped off the hands of Jeff Cumberland with 1:51 remaining and the Texans (5-0) joined the Atlanta Falcons as the NFL's only teams without a loss.
"You've got to give yourself a chance to win, and we did that tonight," Sanchez said.
The Jets (2-3) were heavy underdogs after coming off a 34-0 loss to San Francisco last week, but made a game of it when many fans and media expected another blowout.
"It was a lot of courage, a lot of effort that we showed," Tebow said. "It wasn't always perfect and we always didn't execute the way we want to, but you can never question our toughness or our effort or our character."
Sanchez finished 14 of 31 for 230 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions — but was done in by a few tipped passes.
"I think he played better than the numbers indicate," coach Rex Ryan said.
It wasn't always perfect and we always didn't execute the way we want to, but you can never question our toughness or our effort or our character.
- Tim Tebow
Tebow, whose role has been surprisingly minimal so far, got the crowd fired up at times throughout the game, including running for a first down on a fake punt.
He also threw a deep pass that newly signed Jason Hill should have caught, and later took a direct snap and ran for 13 yards to get the ball near the goal line in the fourth quarter. But other than that, Tebow spent most of his time on the sideline — again.
"You know, going in, I had no idea when I would go in," Tebow said. "I just try to be ready at all times."
If he's frustrated with his role, he's doing his best to hide it.
"Yeah, I'm still excited to be a Jet," he said with a smile, using the word he repeated a few dozen times in his introductory news conference in March. "But do I have to say it like 50 times, though?"
Houston overcame a 100-yard kickoff return by Joe McKnight that cut the Jets' deficit to 20-14, and New York used anything they could come up with against the Texans. McKnight lined up as a wildcat quarterback on one failed play, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie played a few snaps at wide receiver and even made a long reception — but was just out of bounds.
"It was a great game against a very good football team," Houston defensive end J.J. Watt said. "It shows a lot about our team that we can go on the road in a tough environment and win a ballgame that goes all the way down to the end."
Matt Schaub was 14 of 28 for 209 yards and a touchdown to Owen Daniels, winning his ninth straight game — the longest active streak in the NFL — dating to last season. Daniels finished with four catches for 79 yards for the Texans, who have just their second five-game winning streak in team history.
"It's definitely our best start," Daniels said, "and a big part of that is it doesn't matter on this team about stats or individually what is going on. It's great to be a part of something like that."
Cromartie, taking over as the Jets' No. 1 cornerback with Darrelle Revis out with a torn knee ligament, held Andre Johnson to one catch for 15 yards.
Nick Folk's 21-yard field goal with 11:55 left made it 23-17, but the Jets appeared as though they would get more.
Sanchez hit Cumberland for 24 yards on first down, and then Jeremy Kerley for 36 yards two plays later. Then, Tebow came in and took the direct snap — with Sanchez lined up as a wide receiver — and rumbled up the middle for 13 yards to make it first-and-goal from the 3. The crowd at MetLife Stadium went wild, sensing a chance at Tebow's first touchdown since being acquired by New York in March.
Tebow stayed in but was stopped for no gain. Then, Sanchez — who has been under fire with many calling for Tebow to take his starting job — had a pass tipped by Watt and his next throw was incomplete to Chaz Schilens in the end zone on third down.
Perhaps the only bad news for the Texans came when star linebacker Brian Cushing left in the second quarter with a left knee injury that Houston coach Gary Kubiak said he was "very concerned" about.
Foster walked untouched into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown to give the Texans a 14-7 lead with 11:11 left in the first half. He gained 42 yards on three straight carries on the 67-yard drive.
The Jets threatened late in the half, but Sanchez's pass was tipped by Watt and went off Kerley to Brice McCain, who ran back the interception 86 yards before Kerley caught him at the New York 9.
Shayne Graham made a 27-yard field goal as the half ended to make it 17-7. He added a 42-yarder late in the third quarter to make it 20-7.
McKnight got the Jets right back into it with his 100-yard kickoff return — his second of his career — to cut the Texans' lead to 20-14 with 4:38 left in the third quarter. New York then attempted an onside kick, but the ball went through Schilens' hands and Shiloh Keo recovered, giving the Texans the ball — leading to a 22-yard field goal a few moments later.
"If I caught it, we probably would've won the game," Schilens said. "Huge letdown."
The Texans opened the game with a 34-yard touchdown catch by a wide-open Daniels less than 4 minutes in.
The Jets took advantage of an interception by Antonio Cromartie later in the opening quarter, tying it with their first points in two weeks — a 27-yard TD catch by Cumberland.
"We could've won, we should've won," Schilens said. "We got in the way of ourselves again. Sooner or later, we'll fix it."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.