GLENDALE, Ariz. – For all of its problems, Houston entered its game against Arizona with the No. 1 defense in the league, at least as far as statistics go.
The Cardinals, though, were the dominant defensive force on Sunday.
Arizona (5-4) turned up the defensive pressure on quarterback Case Keenum in the second half and sent the Texans (2-7) to their franchise-record seventh consecutive loss, 27-24.
"We played against the No. 1 defense in the league today," Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said, "and I would take our defense over that defense."
Only a late fumble by the Cardinals' Rashard Mendenhall at the Arizona 5-yard line prevented Houston from being shut out in the second half of a game it led 17-14 at the break.
"It's obviously upsetting to all of us," Texans interim coach Wade Phillips said of the losing-streak record. "The team is going to stick together, I can tell you that."
Houston has gone from a team that started 11-1 a year ago to one that's just 2-7 and on a historic skid.
"I would say that is difficult to believe," the Texans' J.J. Watt said.
Keenum blamed himself.
"It's terribly frustrating when I have to come in and look at the locker room and look at the guys," he said. "There are four or five plays that I could make that make a huge difference in this game, and I didn't make them."
Asked if head coach Gary Kubiak would return this week, Phillips said, "I think it's too early to tell."
Here are five things learned from Arizona's victory over Houston:
ARIZONA'S DEFENSE FOR REAL: The Cardinals turned up the defensive pressure in the second half against the young Houston quarterback, and the Texans managed just 41 yards in the final two quarters.
"We made good adjustments, and the running game was kind of gone," Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. "We felt like if we could get them in a one-dimensional game, we could get after the quarterback. We were able to do that."
Phillips, filling in while Kubiak recovers from a mini-stroke, credited the Cardinals' defense.
"They really dominated us in the second half on the defensive side of the ball," Phillips said.
REED'S UPSET: Ed Reed long has been considered among the best defensive players in the game, and the Houston safety has not taken well to his diminished playing time, especially considering the Texans' struggles.
He was critical of the coaching staff after Sunday's loss.
"We played really well outside of certain situations," Reed said. "Certain situations, we just got outplayed and outcoached."
He was asked to elaborate on that comment.
"Certain situations we have to get off the field," Reed said. "We need three-and-out. You have to also come out as an offense and move the ball. ... Eventually they're going to figure out what you're doing if you're doing the same old things."
ABRAHAM'S STILL GOT I T: Arizona outside linebacker John Abraham had two sacks, and the first one was a doozy.
On the very first play of the game, Abraham knocked the ball out of Keenum's hand. Matt Shaughnessy picked it up and returned it six yards for a touchdown.
Abraham has five sacks this season, giving him 127 for his career, most among active players.
JOHNSON & WATT ARE GREAT: Houston may be struggling, but Andre Johnson and Watt are two of the game's best.
Johnson made two remarkable touchdown catches, somehow managing to get both feet inbounds when it looked as if there was no way he could do it.
"They had good coverage but when you are determined to make a play on the ball and you are determined to not let anything stop you from making the play, then you will go out there and make it," he said.
Watt twice forced fumbles and recovered both of them.
The second came late against Mendenhall and set up the touchdown that made it a three-point game.
"There are a handful of players in this league that you're not going to stop," Palmer said. "Guys like Adrian Peterson and J.J. Watt, they're going to make their plays. It's going to happen. It's inevitable."
THE CARDINALS ARE IN THE RACE: Arizona is in the hunt for a wild card playoff spot, just a game behind front-runners San Francisco and Carolina.
And Arizona beat Carolina.
The Cardinals play at Jacksonville next Sunday.
"Nobody thought we could be 5-4," Abraham said, "and nobody believed in us, and we are going to keep it rocking like we have."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org