HOUSTON -- Maybe the critics will quiet down a bit now.
Much-maligned end Mario Williams led a Houston defense that allowed no second half points, and Andre Johnson returned for 120 yards receiving and a touchdown to help the Texans to a 23-10 win over the error-prone New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
"To me, we're playing the Saints, we're not playing one person," Williams said. "We had to stop the run and keep us in the game, but it wasn't like we were sitting there playing (only) Reggie."
Coach Gary Kubiak said he was proud of Williams.
"He's been playing hard and he's been working hard," Kubiak said. "I think today is probably as good as he's played since he's been here. He's consistent."
Bush, drafted second that year, had 15 carries for 34 yards, 12 catches for 70 yards and two fumbles. He called the fumble he lost a "bad call."
"I definitely made a lot of mistakes in this game," Bush said. "Whether it was a fumble or not, that was definitely a mistake, there were definitely some dropped passes that hurt us, some mental errors we've got to correct."
The Texans (5-5) scored 17 points before halftime and stayed on top with tough defense in the second half that kept the Saints (4-6), who had three fumbles and two interceptions, scoreless. This is the best record Houston has had after 10 games and was its second straight win.
The Saints have lost two in a row since wining four straight.
Johnson had missed the last seven games with a knee sprain, but was back to form Sunday. He got in front of Jason David for a 73-yard touchdown pass early in the first quarter to put Houston ahead 7-3. Johnson pointed to the crowd as he entered the end zone and then jumped in the stands for congratulations from the fans.
"The cornerback bit on the run," Johnson said. "When I saw him bite on it, I was like, 'touchdown."'
Houston's Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ron Dayne, who won the award in 1999, had 21 carries for 89 yards. Dayne, who had his second big rushing game playing for the injured Ahman Green, was excited he outrushed Bush, who also won the Heisman.
"I wish I would have scored because I would have did the Heisman pose," the normally stoic Dayne said with a laugh.
Early in the fourth quarter, Eric Johnson tipped a pass from Brees that was intercepted by Morlon Greenwood to give Houston the ball at the 38. It was the second time in the game Eric Johnson tipped a pass that was intercepted.
"It's unacceptable," Eric Johnson said. "It's not something I'm used to. To feel like you let your whole team down, really the whole city down, it's a feeling that just kills you."
Matt Schaub overthrew Dayne on third down and the Texans settled for a 53-yard field goal that made it 20-10.
The Saints went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Houston 43, but Brees' pass intended for David Patten was knocked down by rookie Fred Bennett.
The Texans then used a heavy dose of Dayne to eat up the clock before Kris Brown kicked a 23-yard field goal that made it 23-10 with 1:57 to play.
"Before we started that drive I went over to Ron and told him: 'Run us up out of here,"' Andre Johnson said. "He said: 'Man, I got you."'
In the first quarter, Earl Cochran forced a fumble by Bush at the 1-yard line and the Texans recovered. The play was reviewed but upheld.
"He had some missed assignments today that bothered me," coach Sean Payton said of Bush. "It wasn't good enough. I think he'd tell you that as well. He needs to play better."
Schaub threw his second touchdown pass on a 10-yarder to Joel Dreessen that made it 14-10 with 2:16 left in the second quarter. Dayne had runs of 11 and 4 yards before the touchdown.
Schaub, who was 21-of-33 for 293 yards, had thrown just two touchdown passes in the seven games Johnson was injured.
On the next possession Williams sacked Brees and knocked the ball loose for his first career forced fumble and a 10-yard loss. It looked like the Texans recovered, but officials ruled Jon Stinchcomb took it away and the Saints kept the ball.
It was Williams' fifth sack of the season to outdo his rookie total of 4½.
The Saints punted two plays later and the Texans pushed their lead to 17-10 with a 36-yard field goal just before halftime.
The Saints were driving again early in the second quarter when Von Hutchins intercepted a pass tipped by Johnson. Houston wasn't able to convert, though, and had to punt after an incomplete pass.
Houston fumbled on its next possession and the Saints took a 10-7 lead when Brees hit Devery Henderson in the corner of the end zone on a 6-yard pass about five minutes before halftime.
- Andre Johnson's touchdown was his fourth of the season.
- Dayne now has 1,049 yards in his two seasons with the Texans.
- Brees finished 33-of-49 for 290 yards.