NEW ORLEANS -- Deuce McAllister launched his comeback from a second knee reconstruction in three seasons, running into the heart of the Texans' defensive line.
It was a brief but promising return for the Saints' all-time leading rusher, but not enough to keep Houston from staying perfect in the preseason.
Matt Schaub was 14-of-16 passing for 187 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Texans (2-0) take a 31-27 victory over New Orleans (1-1) on Saturday night.
The final score wasn't the main concern for fans in the Louisiana Superdome, who howled "Deuce!" when they saw McAllister's familiar No. 26 in the Saints backfield for the first time since Week 3 of last season.
Gaining positive yards all six times he touched the ball, McAllister strung together several short gains and converted three first downs during a touchdown drive that helped New Orleans take a 20-17 lead at halftime.
"I'm happy with the way this first game -- this first chance to play -- went," said McAllister, who did not play in the second half. "I felt like I played average at best, but it's a start, and you have to start somewhere."
McAllister rushed four times up the middle for 16 yards and had a pair of 5-yard receptions.
"I will take a few 4-yard carries like I had tonight," McAllister said. "I ran with some toughness. ... I've had to stay patient through the whole process and I'm still trying to make all the effort over the last year pay off."
McAllister missed most of the 2005 season after tearing his right ACL. When he needed another reconstruction on his left knee last year, doctors took the opportunity to again work on his right knee, performing a painful microfracture procedure to regenerate soft tissue that mimics cartilage padding the joint.
That meant the 29-year-old had to rehabilitate both knees at the same time. His practice time was limited early in training camp and he sat out the Saints' first preseason game at Arizona on Aug. 7.
It remains to be seen how his knees will hold up to the pounding of a full season. During his limited action against Houston, however, he showed the toughness and good instincts that made him one of the top short-yardage backs in the NFL.
"He looked great," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "It was good having the hammer back there."
Houston got little from its running game when the starters were in, but Schaub had no trouble moving the ball through the air.
The three drives he led resulted in the Texans' first 17 points. His favorite target was Kevin Walter, who had six catches for 100 yards, including a 26-yard score that gave Houston a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
"Guys were getting open and making the plays," Schaub said. "There are always some things we can clean up, but it was one of those nights where everything clicked."
Cornerback Jason David, unpopular with the Louisiana Superdome crowd after struggling last season to adapt to the Saints' man-to-man coverage scheme, was beaten on the touchdown and on 17- and 14-yard completions earlier in the drive, drawing boos each time.
He was booed again after yielding a first-down reception early in Houston's next drive, which ended in a touchdown -- a 1-yard toss from Schaub to fullback Vonta Leach.
Saints coach Sean Payton was furious with the defense as a whole, which yielded 405 yards.
"You can say it's the preseason and it's going to be OK, but I thought defensively we were poor," Payton said. "We've got to do a better job, starting with the coaches, myself and the people on that side of the ball."
The Saints first-team offense was solid, despite sputtering on its first two drives.
Brees finished 12-of-17 for 147 yards, including a 12-yard scoring pass to Reggie Bush and a 5-yard TD pass to Marques Colston. Bush hurdled cornerback Jacques Reeves at the goal line on his score, while Colston leapt high over cornerback Jamar Fletcher and pulled down a tough one-handed catch, narrowly getting both feet down before crashing out of bounds.
Houston outscored New Orleans in second half when the reserves were in.
Steve Slaton rushed 13 times for 57 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown run that gave Houston the lead for good in the fourth quarter. Chris Taylor ran 12 times for 34 yards, scoring a 1-yard TD for the Texans early in the second half.
Saints fullback Kevin Dudley scored the their final TD on a 1-yard pass from Mark Brunell late in the third quarter.
Saints kicker Martin Gramatica, competing with sixth-round draft pick Taylor Mehlhaff for a roster spot, kicked field goals from 25 and 33 yards, the first one set up by Jacoby Jones' fumble on a punt return at the Houston 10-yard line.