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Texans miss another chance to take next step

Jimmy Graham led the Saints with 100 yards and a TD on four catches. (AP)

The Saints have developed into one of the NFL's elite teams by showing the knack for winning games they shouldn't.

Houston is still trying to figure out how to win games it should.

That difference played itself out again Sunday in New Orleans, with the Saints somehow erasing a 26-17 deficit -- and, later, a 33-32 disadvantage -- en route to a thrilling 40-33 win over the Texans.

Houston had this game right where it wanted it. The Texans were moving the ball at will and doing a nice job limiting Drew Brees and the potent Saints' attack. It all fell to pieces in the final 15 minutes, though.

Make that the final 10 minutes, actually. Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up nine and still held that 26-17 edge when Brees hit Jimmy Graham for a TD with 9:30 left. On the next possession, Matt Schaub, who'd been nearly flawless all day, threw an interception.

The Saints turned that into another touchdown and a two-point conversion to take a 32-26 lead. Even when Schaub answered his mistake with a TD drive of his own, which put Houston back up, he never really recovered the game's momentum. New Orleans followed by marching 93 yards for another TD, then stopped Schaub one more time to win the game.

Is it the end of the world for the Texans? Of course not. And yet, they'll spend the next few days -- and, if they fall short of the playoffs again this season, possibly the next few months -- looking back on four red-zone trips that ended with Neil Rackers field goals.

Think about that: Houston scored 33 points on the road against New Orleans ... and left another 16 out there.

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But that's the difference between wanting to win and knowing how to do it. The Saints have shown that they have what it takes to finish games, a lesson that Houston apparently has not yet learned.

What must make Sunday even more frustrating for the Texans is that it looked like they had turned the corner this season. They buried a Peyton Manning-less Colts team in Week 1, then refused to let Miami back into the game in Week 2. In the past, you could have counted on Houston to cough one of those games up.

Now, the Texans find themselves facing a familiar challenge: making sure a brutal loss doesn't turn into something worse. Over the next four weeks, Houston faces Pittsburgh, Oakland, Baltimore and Tennessee. Letting Sunday's meltdown linger could turn a promising 2-1 start into a 3-4 record -- and another disappointing season -- pretty rapidly. Last year, the Texans also started out 2-0 before finishing at 6-10, so it wouldn't be new for the Texans to stall after a quick start to the season.

To prevent that from happening, Houston needs to do, well, what the Saints did after dropping a heartbreaker in Week 1 to the Packers -- turn the page. New Orleans rebounded from their opening loss by hammering Chicago, then rallying past the Texans Sunday. Suddenly, falling to Green Bay feels like it's miles away. Getting bad losses behind you is the mark of a good team.

Closing out games on the road, against elite competition, is the mark of a great team. Houston proved again Sunday that's it not quite there yet.
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