HOUSTON – The Houston Texans wanted to establish their running game against the New Orleans Saints after failing to do so in their previous two preseason games.
Ben Tate helped them do just that.
Tate ran for 74 yards and a score before halftime filling in for Arian Foster, in the Texans' 31-23 loss to the Saints on Sunday.
"He looked very good," coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's been our one healthy veteran back. I think Ben's ready. I think he's going to have a really good year."
Foster returned to practice this week for the first time since May after dealing with calf and back injuries, but didn't play. Kubiak has said that Foster could start in Houston's opener Sept. 9 without getting a preseason snap.
"It was important for us going into this game to get the running game going and feel good about it going into San Diego," quarterback Matt Schaub said of Houston's opener.
Tate brushed off the notion that the right side of Houston's offensive line is going to be a weak spot for the team by asking: 'did you see us run today,' when questioned about it.
He wanted to use Sunday's game to show that he's ready for the season.
"I was definitely out to prove a point tonight and I feel like I got my point across," he said.
Here are five things we learned about the Saints and Texans on Sunday:
1. ANDRE'S STILL GOT IT: Houston's Andre Johnson answered critics who questioned whether the 32-year-old may have lost a step by piling up 131 yards receiving in the first half on Sunday. Johnson didn't play in the preseason opener and had less than a quarter of work last week. Against New Orleans, he grabbed seven of the eight passes thrown to him, highlighted by a 39-yard reception. "When we sit down and game plan I try to figure out ways to get Andre the ball," Kubiak said. "It's a compliment to the other guys that Andre's able to get the ball so much."
2. STILLS IS STEADY: New Orleans rookie Kenny Stills, a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma, continued to impress with Marques Colston still sitting out with a left foot injury. Stills had four receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown last week and kept up his steady work with two receptions for 54 yards and another score on Sunday. "I'm getting more comfortable and getting more used to being out there," he said. "It's about playing football and having fun, and that's really all it is."
3. BULLOCK'S READY: Houston's Randy Bullock, who missed all of his rookie season last year with a groin injury, has shown that he's ready to take over the kicking duties for the Texans. Bullock kicked field goals of 48, 55 and 21 yards on Sunday after hitting from 46 yards last week and 48 yards in the first preseason game. "Every week he's gaining confidence as a young kicker in this league," Kubiak said. "Really excited to see his progress."
4. THEY CAN CATCH, TOO: The New Orleans running backs combined for nine receptions for 143 yards on Sunday. The most notable reception by a running back came when Drew Brees found Pierre Thomas on a short pass and linebacker Joe Mays was there to make the tackle, but Thomas wriggled free and dashed for a 51-yard touchdown. The Saints got that drive going on another catch and run when Brees finessed a short floater to Mark Ingram which he turned into a 29-yard gain. "We got guys who can run good routes and make the defender miss," Thomas said. "We work on that so much in practice."
5. STILL NECK AND NECK: Sunday's game did little to provide a resolution in the competition for Schaub's backup. T.J. Yates came in after Schaub and was seven of nine for 73 yards and a touchdown. Case Keenum finished the game and was 10 of 14 for 79 yards. They'll get another chance to try to impress Kubiak on Thursday against Dallas with Schaub expected to sit out. "I think T.J. has answered a challenge," Kubiak said. "He's been pushed and it's made him better as a player. It continues to be a very difficult decision."