Later in the game, Mathis was used on a fake reverse to help attract defenders as Dexter Wynn broke away for a career-best 58-yard punt return.
"He's just a lightning rod," punter Chad Stanley said of Mathis. "He brings a spirit to the team. We all know what he can do. We have seen him do it so much. We just knew it was going to happen; that he was going to break one. Sure enough, he did."
Mathis was playing for the first time since he underwent surgery on his broken foot in the offseason. His rust showed early on when he dropped a kickoff in the end zone, picked it up and tried to run before being brought down at Houston's four-yard line.
"I panicked," Mathis said. "I was excited to be back and pumped up. I just panicked and wanted to make something happen after I messed up. It was just a dumb decision."
Mathis redeemed himself later, but showed that he is still not in game shape. On the 87-yard return, Mathis was caught from behind by University of Houston speedster Stanford Routt on the Oakland three-yard line, which set up the Texans' only offensive touchdown of the day.
Special teams coordinator Joe Marciano was disappointed Mathis and Wynn each fell short of touchdowns. Wynn was tackled by Oakland punter Shane Lechler. Only Lechler and Dexter McCleon stood between Wynn and the goal line. Wynn expected McCleon to block Lechler.
He was harassed endlessly by his teammates in the locker room after the game.
"That's a no-no -- you don't get tackled by a kicker," Wynn said. "When you're one-on-one with a kicker, you're supposed to be in the end zone. Hopefully it won't happen again. We'll have to look at film, and I might have to talk to Dex about that one."
Marciano will also have a few words for Wynn when the team watches film today.
"He had to beat the kicker," Marciano said. "Are you going to assign someone for the kicker? I love Sebastian Janikowski to death, but we're not going to assign a guy to block Sebastian Janikowski. We're not going to assign it. This guy (Lechler) is a good athlete too. But you can't assign a guy for the punter. The returner has to make him miss."
Despite failing to reach the end zone, big returns were what the Texans had lacked all season. Prior to Sunday, the Texans had only one punt return longer than 17 yards. Their longest kickoff return was 42 yards.
The long returns might not be as uncommon now that the Texans finally have confidence in a punt returner and a kickoff returner. The Texans have used eight kickoff returners this season and four punt returners.
"Jerome was a Pro Bowl player, so he attracts attention being on the field alone," Wynn said. "And I'm very confident in my capabilities of what I can do as well. You have two great guys back there and guys working their tails off blocking, so only good things are going to happen for you."