The Houston Texans fought to extend their winning streak to 6-0 as they faced the Green Bay Packers at Reliant Stadium Sunday night. But the Packers took an early lead and did not give it up.
Aaron Rodgers ran into the end zone, spiked the ball and performed the "championship belt" gesture that's become his trademark. A holding call wiped out the play, about the only thing that didn't go Green Bay's way in Houston on Sunday night.
The reigning MVP set a career high and tied a franchise record with six touchdown passes and the Packers played their best game of their so far inconsistent season in a 42-24 rout of the previously unbeaten Texans.
Jordy Nelson caught three touchdown passes and James Jones had two, including a beautiful, diving one-hander in the fourth quarter for the Packers (3-3). Tight end Tom Crabtree had the other, a 48-yarder that Rodgers released just before taking a hit from Texans' outside linebacker Brooks Reed.
"This was an important game for us," Rodgers said. "We had a couple not go our way, games we should have won and 2-4 would have been very difficult."
Rodgers completed 24 of 37 passes for 338 yards. He tied Matt Flynn's game record for TD passes, set in last year's regular-season finale against Detroit with Rodgers resting on the sideline in advance of the playoffs.
Green Bay's offense came in ranked only 21st this year. Rodgers was openly disappointed in his own play, and the offensive line had also been an issue, allowing 21 sacks.
It somehow clicked against the league's third-ranked defense. The Texans had given up a total of six TD passes in their first five games.
"This is just a team that has a lot of pride in our locker room," Rodgers said. "I said it this week, there's not any quit in that locker room. It's almost better when people are doubting us a little bit, I think. We kind of band together. People tried to pull us apart this week and we stuck together and found our motivation."
The Packers heard criticism from fans in Green Bay all week after blowing a 21-3 halftime lead to the Indianapolis Colts. Another loss would have dropped them to 2-4 for the first time since 2006, and they missed the playoffs that season.
Instead, they put themselves right back in the thick of their divisional race.
Arian Foster scored two touchdowns, but ran for only 29 yards for the Texans (5-1). The loss leaves the Atlanta Falcons (6-0) as the only unbeaten team in the NFL.
Houston, meanwhile, badly missed star linebacker Brian Cushing, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing a knee ligament in last week's 23-17 win over the New York Jets.
But there was more to the Texans' collapse than just that.
Rookie DeVier Posey lined up offside on a Green Bay punt, resulting in a Packers' first down. Rodgers then lofted a perfect pass to Nelson over the shoulder of cornerback Johnathan Joseph for a 41-yard touchdown, stunning the noisy crowd.
Houston's offensive line also looked shaky. The Packers sacked Matt Schaub on each of Houston's first two series, forcing quick punts. Schaub was only sacked three times in the first five games.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt sacked Rodgers, and fired up the fans by mimicking Rodgers' "championship belt" pose after the play. Watt, who finished with two sacks, came into the game with 7 1/2 sacks, just behind Green Bay's Clay Matthews, who led the league with eight and didn't have one against the Texans.
Watt said after the game that Texans fans should not give up.
"If you're jumping off the bandwagon now, you were never really on it in the first place," Watt said. "We're in first place. We're 5 and 1. We are a very good football team."
Watt's sack did not faze Rodgers, who eluded a rush from Connor Barwin and completed a 24-yard pass to Randall Cobb, who had seven catches for 102 yards. Jones made a diving, fingertip catch in the end zone just before the end of the first quarter for a 14-0 lead.
Rodgers completed 15 of 21 passes for 187 yards and was only sacked once in the first half.
"He put on a show tonight," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Rodgers.
Not that they needed it, but the Texans helped Rodgers with untimely penalties.
A holding call wiped out an 11-yard touchdown run by Rodgers. But Barwin stepped on another player's back trying to block Mason Crosby's field-goal attempt, resulting in a first down.
Safety Danieal Manning was called for a personal foul after a whistle on a third-down play, and Rodgers threw another TD pass for a 28-10 lead.
"That's discipline," Kubiak said, "and discipline starts with me."
Texans Guard Antoine Caldwell suffered a concussion in the second quarter, sending him out of the game. Texans defensive end Tim Jamison suffered a right Achilles injury in the first quarter, putting him out of the game.
NOTES: Packers LB D.J. Smith and RB Brandon Saine left the game with "significant" knee injuries, according to the team. ... Rodgers surpassed his previous career high (5), set in the second-to-last game of last season, against Chicago. ... The Packers improved to 19-5 in Sunday night games. ... Texans WR Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 75 yards, going over 10,000 yards receiving in his career. ... The Texans made a field goal for the 16th consecutive game, a franchise record. ... The announced attendance was 71,702, a record for a regular-season game at Reliant Stadium.
Andre Johnson eclipsed 10,000 career receiving yards in the game -- the 38th player in the NFL to do so.
The Texans beat the New York Jets in a nationally televised game on Monday night, making it the first 5-0 start in franchise history.
Cushing Sidelined By Injury
The Texans went into battle without one of their top players, Brian Cushing. He is out for the season after tearing his ACL in the game against the New York Jets last Monday.
"A big blow to our team," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "You feel bad for Brian because he worked so hard and was playing so well, leading tackler on our team. He's going to be missed."
"It's all part of the game," Cushing said. "The next step is just to get healthy, get back on the field as fast as I can."
A first-round draft pick in 2009, Cushing has no timetable for the necessary surgery or a return to football activities. He plans to attend as many team meetings and practices as possible while he recovers.
"I want be around, I want to be here for the guys, and help them the best I can, whether it's in spirit, or coaching tips or whatever," said Cushing, one of the team's emotional leaders. "I've got a new role now, and I've accepted it."
He vowed to return in a confident proclamation on Twitter on Wednesday -- and added a bold guarantee.
"Trust me when I say I'll be back better than ever," Cushing wrote. "I appreciate all the love and want u to know WE are STILL winning THIS year's Super Bowl."
Cushing acknowledged on Friday that the tweet drew "a lot of mixed reactions," but he was only trying to send a positive message to his teammates.
Second year defensive end J.J. Watt has led Houston's dominant defense so far.