By the second quarter, the Houston Texans were running up the score. By the fourth quarter, they were struggling to run out the clock.
Houston raced to an early 27-point lead Sunday, then held on to beat the Miami Dolphins 27-20.
The Texans (8-7) scored on their first five possessions and won despite being outscored 20-0 in the final 31 minutes. Houston kept alive its slim hopes of making the playoffs for the first time, while defending AFC East champion Miami (7-8) was all but eliminated.
Given the stakes, Miami seemed shockingly listless at the outset. The ball bounced off Dolphins receivers, Texans bounced off Miami tacklers, and Houston's Matt Schaub repeatedly found receivers wide open.
Boos began midway through the first quarter, and the Texans made sure the jeers grew louder. At one point Houston enjoyed advantages of 15-2 in first downs and 307-46 in yards.
Miami linebacker Jason Taylor stood in front of the bench screaming at several teammates, and maybe the rant helped. The Dolphins rallied, and a field goal cut the deficit to 27-20 with 2:30 left before Houston recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
The Dolphins' comeback might have been complete if not for a tripping penalty on Lousaka Polite, which negated a 62-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Ted Ginn Jr. in the third quarter.
Houston remained the only NFL team the Dolphins have never defeated. The Texans' other four wins in the series were decided by a field goal or less.
The result bruised more than the Dolphins' pride. They lost linebacker Channing Crowder on the second play with a right foot injury, and running back Ricky Williams played only one snap after hurting his right shoulder in the third quarter.
Schaub went 20 for 31 for 286 yards and two scores. Andre Johnson scored once and made five catches for 71 yards for his second consecutive 1,500-yard season.
The victory left the Texans on the verge of their first winning season. They play host to New England in the regular-season finale next Sunday.
A gamble by coach Gary Kubiak contributed to their fast start. With a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 10, he decided against a field goal try, and Johnson made the call pay off with a touchdown catch to cap an 80-yard drive for a 10-0 lead.
Then came a 94-yard drive capped by another TD, with Jacoby Jones juking a defender to turn a short pass into a 44-yard score. That made it 17-0 as the boos grew louder.
When a pass deflected off Williams' shoulder pads, Brian Cushing intercepted, and three plays later Arian Foster scored untouched up the middle on a 17-yard run for a 24-0 lead.
The Dolphins mounted scoring drives of 61, 79, 74 and 58 yards in the second half. With Williams sidelined, Lex Hilliard scored on a 2-yard run and a 10-yard pass from Henne.