EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After Arian Foster ran over the New York Jets all night, it was time for the defense to seal things for the Houston Texans.
A six-point lead. Three minutes left. Mark Sanchez and the Jets 84 yards away from sending the Texans to their first loss with a crowd-pleasing comeback.
Not on this night.
Kareem Jackson intercepted Sanchez with 1:51 remaining as the Texans held on for a 23-17 victory Monday night and a 5-0 start.
“That’s what you dream about,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “It’s Monday Night Football. You’re on the field. You have a chance to end the game. That’s what you want. For us to go out there and do that, it’s huge.”
Foster ran for 152 yards and a touchdown, and the Texans overcame some big throws by Sanchez, a few exciting moments by Tim Tebow and a 100-yard kickoff return by Joe McKnight to beat the Jets for the first time in team history. The Texans (5-0) joined the Atlanta Falcons as the NFL’s only teams without a loss.
“Arian stepped up and played huge,” quarterback Matt Schaub said. “We’re very excited to be 5-0 and get a win on the road.”
It was a close one, though. Much closer than most expected. After all, 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.
“You got to give yourself a chance to win and we did that tonight,” said Sanchez, whose throw was intercepted by Jackson after tipping off the hands of Jeff Cumberland.
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.
“A big part of that is it doesn’t matter on this team about stats or individually what is going on,” Daniels said. “It’s great to be a part of something like that.”
The enthusiasm was tempered, though, by a left knee injury to star linebacker Brian Cushing that coach Gary Kubiak said he was “very concerned” about.
“I don’t know what happened,” Kubiak said. “They tell me he cut on a play and his foot might have got stuck in the turf.”
Tebow got the MetLife Stadium crowd fired up at times during the game, including running for a first down on a fake punt. He also threw a pinpoint 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.”
After Shayne Graham’s 42-yard field goal made it 20-7 late in the third quarter, 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 Chaz Schilens’ hands and Shiloh Keo recovered, giving the Texans the ball with good field position.
“If I caught it, we probably would’ve won the game,” Schilens said. “Huge letdown.”
Schaub hit fullback James Casey for 30 yards to quiet the crowd, but the Jets’ defense held the Texans to a 22-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the quarter.
Nick Folk’s 21-yard field goal with 11:55 left made it 23-17, but it appeared the Jets 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 — 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 then threw incomplete to Schilens in the end zone on third down.
“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.”
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. Graham made a 27-yard field goal as the half ended to make it 17-7.
The Texans opened the game by scoring on an efficient 8-play, 85-yard drive capped by a 34-yard touchdown catch by a wide-open Daniels less than 4 minutes in. Daniels, who earlier gained 14 yards on a screen pass, got wide open behind the secondary as New York’s safeties both bit on Schaub’s play-action fake.
“It was huge to start fast,” Schaub said. “We knew they were going to come out ready to play, fired up, with a lot of energy. We were just trying to take that wind out of their sails.”
The Jets tied it late in the opening quarter, taking advantage of an interception by Antonio Cromartie. Four plays later, the Jets tied it for their first points in two weeks — a 27-yard TD catch by Cumberland.
“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.”
NOTES: Cromartie held Andre Johnson to one catch for 15 yards. Johnson also had a drop. ... Jets C Nick Mangold left early in the third quarter with an injured ankle, but returned later in the period. Jets backup receiver Clyde Gates injured his left shoulder and his arm was in a sling after the game. Linebacker Josh Mauga had his right arm in a sling afterward. Jets defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis injured in a knee in the fourth quarter.