The long-standing reputation for the Gary Kubiak-era Texans has been that they fold under pressure. When teams hit them, they rarely hit back. They don't finish the job, especially on the road.
In the season's second week, the Texans took yet another step toward exorcising recent demons.
The 23-13 victory over the Dolphins snapped a six-game road losing streak, and moved Houston to 2-0 for just the third time in franchise history. Most impressively, the way the Texans closed it out offered hints that their mental toughness is much improved.
"It's good to get a huge win on the road against a tough team," said right tackle Eric Winston. "To slug it out the way we did and to get a win like this feels pretty good."
The first six quarters of 2011 couldn't have gone better. The season opener was a romp over the Peyton Manning-less Colts, and a pair of missed field goals in Miami helped the Texans roll to a 16-3 lead by halftime.
From there, however, things got murky. Arian Foster left the game after he felt tightness in his tender hamstring. New cornerback Johnathan Joseph rolled an ankle and missed two series.
Even the great Andre Johnson dropped what should have been a touchdown pass from Matt Schaub.
Entering the fourth quarter, the lead was trimmed to 16-10, and the Dolphins were driving for what could have been the go-ahead score.
Only it didn't happen.
After moving to the Houston 16-yard line, the Texans pass defense -- led by a hobbling Joseph in a gutsy performance -- forced three straight incompletions, holding Miami to a field goal.
Then the Texan offense, which went on hiatus in the third quarter, went to work. Ben Tate opened the drive with a 13-yard catch out of the backfield. Two plays later, he darted outside for 16 more yards.
Following success from Tate on the ground, Schaub faked a handoff to Tate and went playaction. He found Johnson over the top for an easy score, putting the Texans back in command at 23-13.
"With ten minutes left, I told Matt, 'The ball's going in your hands,' and he made some great plays," said head coach Gary Kubiak.
"When the play was called, I knew I had a chance to score, and that's what happened," added Johnson. "The way he was playing me, I knew it was six."
From there, the defense kept the intensity. Wade Phillips's unit didn't allow as much as a first down on either of the ensuing two Miami possessions.
On offense, 12 consecutive carries from Tate allowed the Texans to successfully bleed away most of the clock. They were a yard away from yet another score, but opted to kneel while letting time expire. Tate finished with his second-straight 100-yard game, this time rushing 23 times for 103.
"The last ten minutes belonged to us, and that was good," Kubiak said. "I think we're overcoming some of our negatives better this year than we have in the past."
The Dolphins aren't elite, but they're not bad, either. They were 7-9 in 2010, and in their opener against the vaunted Patriots, Chad Henne threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns. They put up 24 points.
Against the Texans, though, Henne was 12-for-30 for just 170 yards and an interception. The Dolphins had just 306 total yards and turned the ball over twice.
"We only gave up 13 points," Kubiak said. "You're going to win a lot of games doing that."
Through two weeks, the Texans have allowed an average of just 271 yards per game to opposing offenses -- a figure that would make them tops in the league by 2010 standards.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
That lofty rank won't last, of course. The Texans do have weaknesses, specifically in the middle of their defense with nose tackle Shaun Cody. Moreover, after facing Kerry Collins and Henne to open the season, they'll go against Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger the next two weeks.
But it's safe to say that this year's Houston defense has a pulse. The Texans are 2-0 for a second straight year, but it's a far cry from their second-week win in 2010, when Donovan McNabb and the Redskins rang alarm bells by torching the defense in a 30-27 shootout.
This year, it's been a balanced effort. And with that balance, the Texans slammed the door Sunday -- in a similar spot to where many of their predecessors had allowed it to be blown wide open.
Check out the updated Texans' season game card here.