In a game filled with unexpected and dramatic twists, Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson acknowledged that he was more shocked than anyone else at the end in Reliant Stadium.
Wilson's 12-yard interception return for a touchdown in overtime lifted the Ravens to a 34-28 victory, rescuing them from a monumental fourth-quarter collapse and keeping them in a commanding position in the AFC playoff race.
An announced crowd of 71,113 was stunned when the Ravens rolled out to a 28-7 lead when rookie David Reed returned the opening kickoff of the second half 103 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens' defense could only watch in disbelief as the Texans scored on their final five possessions of regulation -- including touchdown drives of 99 and 95 yards -- to tie the game with 21 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
But it was Wilson's turn three minutes into overtime when he saw wide receiver Kevin Walter run outside and quarterback Matt Schaub's pass sail inside right to him.
"I still can't believe that really happened," said Wilson, a former University of Maryland player who was acquired in a trade from the Seattle Seahawks just before the regular-season opener. "I was saying, 'Catch the ball, catch the ball, catch the ball.' And game over."
Wilson's fourth career interception return for a touchdown -- and his first as a Raven -- helped the Ravens (9-4) stay within a game of the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) and moved into the No. 5 seed in the AFC. The Texans (5-8) essentially saw their long-shot playoff chances end with their sixth loss in seven games.
The Ravens offered no apologies for losing a fourth-quarter lead for the eighth time this season.
"It's all about winning," Wilson said. "That's all we care about at the end of the day: Did we win or did we lose? It doesn't matter what the score is as long as we keep winning. If we win out, we're Super Bowl champs."
Wilson's turnover came after Houston had scored the last 21 points in regulation, including 15 in the fourth quarter.
It marked only the second time that the Ravens had relinquished a 21-point lead. In 1997, the Ravens failed to hold a three-touchdown advantage in a loss to Pittsburgh.
"He's the hero of the game," coach John Harbaugh said of Wilson. "He made a play in a critical situation on the road in overtime in December in the playoff hunt."
The Ravens lost a lead in the final three minutes of regulation for the third time this season, but this one could be the most dramatic of them all. The Ravens' 28-7 lead -- which came one play into the third quarter on David Reed's kickoff return for a touchdown -- crumbled when Houston scored on its final five possessions of regulation.
The Texans marched 99 and 95 yards for touchdowns on their final two drives. On their last series of the fourth quarter, Houston took over at its 5-yard line with no timeouts. But the Texans tied the game when quarterback Matt Schaub, who had what seemed to be forever to stand in the pocket, hit Andre Johnson for a 5-yard touchdown and Jacoby Jones for a two-point conversion. That tied the game at 28 with 21 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens' offense shut down in the second half, managing 71 yards on five scoreless possessions after halftime.
"Believe me, when we get up like that, we don't want the game to have to come down to the fourth quarter," said quarterback Joe Flacco, who was 22 of 33 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and five sacks. "We like to finish them off and play good football for 3 ½ quarters and let our offensive line win the game for us at the end. It just has happened. We'll work on that, but as long as we're winning football game, we're going to be happy. We're a 9-4 football team right now, and we're feeling pretty good about ourselves."
As in last week's loss to Pittsburgh, the Ravens' offense once again failed to close the game out.
On third-and-2 at the Texans' 44-yard line, the Ravens chose to throw the ball instead of run it with a 28-20 lead and 2:54 left in the fourth quarter. Houston cornerback Glover Quin broke up the pass to Anquan Boldin, and the Ravens had to give the ball back to the Texans.
It was bold decision considering what occurred eight days ago against Pittsburgh. The Ravens made the game-changing turnover by deciding to throw the ball on second-and-5 at midfield with a four-point lead and 3:22 remaining.
Harbaugh said there was discussion about whether the Ravens should throw or run the ball at Houston on Monday night.
"I wanted a first down there," he said. "It wasn't so much about the clock as about getting a first down. And our offensive coaches felt like that was the play. And you know what, we had a chance. And we just didn't get it done. You can run it and get stuffed, too. But we need to convert."
The Ravens stormed out to a 21-7 halftime lead when wide receiver Derrick Mason scored touchdowns on third-down catches of 9 and 26 yards in the second quarter. It redeemed him from the Ravens' opening series when he dropped a pass at the Houston 20-yard line with no one between him and the end zone.
After last week's game, Mason vented his frustration about the underachieving offense, saying the Ravens played like "The Bad News Bears" at times.
"Yeah, I'm disappointed in the dropped pass," Mason said, "especially after I was critical of myself as well as the offense last week."
It looked as if the Ravens were headed for a rout when Reed brought back the opening kickoff of the second half 103 yards for a touchdown. The longest kickoff return in Ravens history was achieved by the will of the rookie fifth-round pick.
Reed, whose house was investigated last week for "possible narcotics," slipped out of a mob of three Houston tacklers and broke another tackle downfield before diving into the end zone. Reed's first NFL touchdown gave the Ravens back a 21-point cushion (28-7).
"David Reed's kickoff return to start the half was huge," Harbaugh said. "It gave us a little bit of cushion, which we ended up needing every single bit of it."
With that advantage, the Ravens decided to drop more players into coverage and decreased the pressure on Schaub. That allowed the quarterback to pick apart the defense, completing 24 of 41 passes for 242 yards after halftime as Houston scored the final 21 points of regulation.
"We didn't really want to pressure with a 28-7 lead too much in the second half with their receivers and give them a big play in a one-on-one cover situation," Harbaugh said. "That's just not something we thought was smart. Make them go the distance."
The Ravens have had to go the distance in nearly every game this season. This marked their sixth win by seven points or fewer this season, including their second in overtime.
Now, they have six days to prepare for the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
"At this point of the season, you are what you are," Harbaugh said, "and you have to find a way to win."