HOUSTON — Zach Wilson wasn’t sharp in his return and he gave everyone a scare when he appeared to tweak his knee in the second half. But Wilson did just enough, and the defense did more than enough to lead the Jets to their first road win of the season.
The defense sacked Tyrod Taylor five times and came up with a huge fourth-down stop late in the fourth quarter to help lift the Jets to a 21-14 victory over the Texans Sunday at NRG Stadium.
The Jets (3-8) had to erase a 14-3 first-half deficit to win for the first time in four games.
"[It feels] really good, really good, especially just because I wasn’t happy with how I performed," Wilson said. "Just the ups and downs of it all."
The defense saved Wilson. They allowed just 45 yards in the second half and no points after halftime.
Wilson missed the last four games with a sprained right knee, and the rust showed. He threw a what-were-you-thinking interception on his second series. The Jets had just minus-7 passing yards heading into the final drive of the first half.
But then Wilson got a little more comfortable and made plays with his arms and legs. He finished 14-for-24 for 145 yards and one interception. Wilson scored on a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave the Jets the lead for good.
"I thought he managed the game well," Robert Saleh said. "It was just a good day of managing the game."
The run game was huge for the Jets, who played without leading rusher Michael Carter due to an ankle injury.
The Jets totaled 157 yards on the ground, using a three-headed attack with Tevin Coleman (67 yards), Ty Johnson (42 yards) and Austin Walter (38). Walter, a Houston native, was just elevated from the practice squad on Saturday. He scored his first NFL touchdown, running it in from two yards out.
"It meant a lot for this to be the place to get my first career touchdown," Walter said.
Everyone wanted to see how the offense, which ran well with him out, would do with Wilson leading it once again. The Jets finished with 266 yards of offense, which was nearly 170 fewer than what the Jets averaged when Wilson was sidelined.
On his bizarre interception, it was third-and-17 from the Jets’ 18. Wilson started to run and then flipped the ball underhanded to Ty Johnson, whose back was turned thinking Wilson was running. It hit him and was intercepted by Tavierre Thomas at the Jets’ 24.
Wilson wouldn’t blame his erratic game on the time off.
"There’s no excuses," Wilson said. "You got to be able to come out and play well. I’ve had this whole time to watch and learn from everybody else."
Wilson said he felt something in his knee twice. The second time, he was scrambling and ran out of bounds. He left limping and went right to the bench. Josh Johnson began warming up. But Wilson said he was confident he would remain in the game.
"It’s not fully healed," Wilson said. "We understand that, but I feel good to play so that’s why I’m playing. I understand sometimes it’s going to shift and stretch a little bit. But there’s no damage that can come from that. You got to walk it off and move on."
The Jets fell behind 14-3 after Taylor connected with Brandin Cooks for a 40-yard touchdown with 10:29 left in the half. The defense took over from there.
When they came to the sideline, linebacker C.J. Mosley huddled the defense together and made sure they were ready the next time they took the field. The Jets’ defense allowed 65 total yards on Houston’s last seven series.
"When we’re all on the same page like that and we all work together," Mosley said, "you get a sense of invincibility on the field."
The Jets took a 18-14 lead on Wilson’s 4-yard touchdown run on the first series of the second half. The drive was extended by a Texans unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as the Jets were attempting a field goal, giving them a fresh set of downs.
After a big defensive stand, the Jets quickly drove in Texans’ territory but came up empty.
Wilson was sacked on second down from the 27, fumbled and the ball went out of bounds. It set up a third-and-29. Johnson ran 24 yards to Houston’s 24. But Matt Ammendola missed a 42-yard field goal wide left.
After Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 55-yard field goal missed wide left, the Jets got really aggressive.
On the Jets’ ensuing drive they converted two fourth downs. After Elijah Moore’s 7-yard run on 4th-and-1 gave the Jets a first-and-goal from the 8, they went backward. They had settled for an Ammendola 37-yard field goal with 3:37 left that put the Jets up seven.
The Jets’ defense came up with the game-saving stop on the next series. On third-and-1, Port Jefferson’s Elijah Riley stuffed Rex Burkhead for a 1-yard loss. On fourth down, Taylor’s pass was incomplete.
"Once we got to the fourth quarter, I told everybody if they don’t score we win the game," Mosley said. "We’ve been in a lot of positions this year where it came down to the fourth quarter and we needed that stop and needed that play. Today we stepped up and we made that play."