The Texans (3-3) say there's no magic formula to curing that problem. They just have to execute when it matters most, starting with Sunday's pivotal AFC South game against the Tennessee Titans (3-2).
"Yeah, we're thinking about it," tight end Joel Dreessen said. "When you're sitting there halfway through the third quarter, it don't matter who's on the field, whether it's offense, defense or special teams, you have a chance to sincerely impact that game with those plays. Every play you play in the NFL is a game-winning play, whether it's the first quarter or fourth quarter. In those situations, we need to be better."
Houston has led in the second half of all six games.
Against Oakland two weeks ago, Houston was up 17-15 after three quarters, stalled offensively and lost 25-20. Last week in Baltimore, Houston took a 14-13 lead in the third quarter, mustered only three first downs the rest of the way and lost 29-14.
"Obviously you need to make plays all game," receiver Kevin Walter said, "but there's times in the game you have to go out there and you realize this is the situation -- we got to get it done here or if you don't get it done, it might not work out as well as you wanted it to.
"Like last week in the third quarter, they (the Ravens) made the plays when it counted and we didn't," he said. "That's the difference between winning and losing a ballgame. If we get over that hump, which I know we can, it's going to be a great year."
Last season, Houston was tied or held the lead in the final quarter in six of its last seven losses. Coach Gary Kubiak was encouraged in September when the Texans controlled the fourth quarter in a 23-13 win at Miami.
But the following week, Houston led 26-17 in New Orleans with 12 minutes left then failed to gain a first down on two consecutive series. The defense collapsed, too, and the Saints rallied for a 40-33 victory.
"It comes down to all of us. We're a team," Kubiak said. "It's my job as a coach to figure out what a player does best and get him in the best position to be successful. It's his job to go out on the field and do it, but we're all involved. Whether its success or failure, we're all involved in what's going on. We've got to stick together and figure out a way to do it."
Kubiak said the late-game breakdowns are both mental and physical. He noticed late in Sunday's loss that what the players practiced last week wasn't translating to the field.
"That's something you're always trying to be 100 percent on," Kubiak said. "Probably about half the things that happen in a game don't happen here during the week, and players have got to react. But when you do work on something that you feel like you're right on top of, and you do get it and you don't handle it, it's bothersome.
"Sometimes, you get away with making those mistakes," he said. "Obviously, we're not getting away with them, especially these last two weeks. We've got to keep plugging to make sure they don't happen."
The Texans have outscored their opponents 47-13 in the first quarter, then been outscored 89-44 in the second half. Defensive end Antonio Smith says the Texans need to simply find a way to sustain their energy level from start to finish, as they did in a 17-10 win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 2.
"When a game is on the line and it's close like that, you've got to find that little extra something to pull it out," Smith said. "At the same time of doing that, that's when you have to be at your sharpest. You can't make mistakes, you can't get MAs (missed assignments) during those times, when it gets haywire.
"At the end of the game, that's when you have to find that little extra oomph, and still have the focus to pull it out."
Notes: WR Andre Johnson (right hamstring) and FB James Casey (chest muscle) did not practice Thursday. Kubiak said he wants to see Johnson practice before he decides if the star receiver will be available Sunday. ... QB Matt Schaub went through his normal Thursday routine. Schaub came out of the Oakland game with a sore shoulder and sustained a chest bruise in Baltimore on Sunday. Kubiak said Schaub will start on Sunday, but backup Matt Leinart has been getting more repetitions in practice.