Playoff route goes off course
Houston loses at own stadium, fails to lock up home-field advantage.
HOUSTON — The Houston Texans botched a chance to lock up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with their worst offensive showing of the season in Sunday’s 23-6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
“Very disappointing because we had a chance to line up here and get something done today,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “That doesn’t mean we still can’t get it done. That’s the most important thing.”
Houston (12-3) could still clinch home-field advantage next with a win at Indianapolis.
The Texans’ latest stumble was fueled by an anemic running game that combined for 34 yards and an inability to convert on third downs.
“We didn’t play well,”
Kubiak said. “I think we battled defensively, but offensively we probably played as bad as we’ve played. I take full responsibility for that. It’s a huge, huge disappointment. We’ve got to get over it really quick.”
Quarterback Matt Schaub went 18 of 32 for 178 yards, and Andre Johnson caught seven passes for 97 yards, but the Texans were a woeful 1 for 11 on third downs. and the first since Chris Johnson in 2009.
Christian Ponder threw a touchdown pass and Toby Gerhart added a score to cap the win for the Vikings, who remain in contention for a playoff spot with a game to go.
“We have to play better in all facets of the game,” Watt said.
The Vikings took a 10-3 lead on the 56-yard field goal by Walsh.
Houston got within 10 points before Gerhart’s 3-yard run extended the lead to 23-6 with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter. That drive was helped by a 29-yard carry by Ponder.
Ponder was 16 of 30 for 174 yards to help the Vikings pile up 345 yards. He finished with seven rushes for 48 yards — 14 more yards rushing than the Texans had.
While Houston had a season-low 187 yards in failing to score a touchdown for the first time since the 2006 season, the Vikings (9-6) were 9 for 18 on third downs.
“That was frustrating,” said Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who had a sack to give him 20½, making him the ninth player in NFL history with 20 sacks in a season. “I know we gave up some third-and-shorts. We can’t put ourselves in that situation.”
Arian Foster, Houston’s leading rusher, left the game with an irregular heartbeat in the third quarter and did not return. He finished with 15 yards rushing on 10 carries. He also had two catches for 14 yards.
“He’s doing fine,” Kubiak said. “That is something that happened once before in practice. (It was a) precaution.”
Ben Tate took over midway through the third quarter and didn’t fare much better, totaling 17 yards on four carries.
The Texans held Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to below-average numbers, but Minnesota found other ways to inflict damage.
One of them was rookie kicker Blair Walsh, who made three field goals, including a record-setting 56-yarder in the first half. The kick gave Walsh, a rookie, the NFL record with nine field goals of 50 yards or longer this year.
Peterson finished with 86 yards on 25 carries, leaving him with 1,898 yards for the season and 208 short of the Eric Dickerson’s NFL record for yards rushing in a season.
Peterson had his lowest rushing total since getting 79 yards on Oct. 14 in a loss at Washington, breaking a streak of eight 100-yard games.
He is trying to become just the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is slow to get up during the fourth quarter. He finished with 178 yards passing.