Texans 35, Chiefs 31: Johnson Returns To Form, And So Does The Offense. But...
With Andre Johnson's ankle seemingly healthy again, the Texans' offense on Sunday silenced concerns about its ability to remain among the NFL's elite.
That might mean something if head coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Frank Bush can find a way for their defense to not be among the worst in the history of football.
Johnson and quarterback Matt Schaub rekindled a spark that had largely been out since week two in Washington, with most of the star wideout's eight catches for 138 yards coming in the second half -- including the game-winning touchdown with 28 seconds left.
The win pushed the Texans to 4-2 for the first time in franchise history.
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The offensive heroics helped Houston overcome a defense that made oft-maligned Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel look as dominant as former mentor Tom Brady, and one that lost captain Demeco Ryans for the year with a torn Achilles tendon.
"That's a part of football," Johnson said. "When [the defense] isn't playing good, we have to score points. The biggest thing is that we are going into the bye week with momentum."
First, the good. The Texans put up 35 points on a Chiefs defense that had yet to allow 20 points all season long -- including just 19 points to Peyton Manning's Colts and 14 to Philip Rivers' Chargers.
In putting up those points, the Texans finally completed a game in which their passing and running games clicked simultaneously. Schaub threw for 305 yards, two touchdowns and no picks against the Chiefs (3-2), while running backs Arian Foster and Derrick Ward combined for 129 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries.
In wins over the Colts and Raiders and a loss to Dallas, the backs were good-to-great, but Schaub was inconsistent. In the victory over Washington, Schaub and Johnson dominated through the air, but Foster didn't break 70 yards. In the loss to New York, absolutely nothing worked.
Finally healthy, this was the first time when the Texans' offense executed like the well-oiled machine most expected.
"Receivers are like thoroughbreds," tight end Owen Daniels said. "You need them to be pretty much 100 percent healthy to be doing what they are doing, but [Andre] has been fighting hard for us. He showed up today."
Moreover, when the Texans took the ball down 31-21 with seven minutes left, everyone in Reliant Stadium knew they would primarily have to throw the ball. For the first time since the Washington game, the Texans were able to protect Schaub and make plays downfield in that situation.
"We balanced the field when we got them going," Kubiak said of Johnson and fellow recently injured receiver Jacoby Jones. "[Andre] looks like himself now with his legs being out of braces. Jacoby always gives us a big play threat. Today was pretty damn good and we're going to have to continue to play extremely well."
The offense should improve even more by the time the Texans next take the field on Monday, Nov. 1 in Indianapolis. By that point, Johnson's sprained ankle should have two more weeks to heal, and starting left tackle Duane Brown will return from his four-game suspension.
At least on paper, the Texans have ample reasons to feel very good about that.
But Schaub and Johnson will need to regularly play like the second coming of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice if the Texans expect to contend without any defensive improvements.
On Sunday, Cassel torched the Texans for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Perhaps more concerning, rushers Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones dashed for a combined 193 yards on 5.5 yards per carry against what had been the league's No. 5 run defense.
Particularly against Charles, Texan defenders whiffed on point-blank tackles time after time.
"The missed tackles, that just can't happen," said strong safety Bernard Pollard.
The unit also shot itself in the foot twice with undisciplined personal foul penalties, including a senseless fourth-quarter late hit against Pollard.
Patience has been stressed with the secondary, given its relative youth and the likelihood that players like cornerback Kareem Jackson should improve as the season moves along. Jackson actually made a great play on the ball on the Chiefs' first possession, denying Kansas City on a fourth-and-three before a phantom pass interference call kept the drive alive.
But part of the reason the Texans believed they could afford patience was a supposedly strong front seven. With the run defense springing a leak and middle linebacker Ryans done for the season, that group is far below expectations.
As a result, it appears more and more evident that the Texans need outside help -- either at linebacker, secondary or both -- to raise the defense's play to a remotely competent level most likely needed to seriously contend for the postseason.
The Texans were able to fix the run defense a season ago by finding Pollard, but a similar acquisition for the pass defense has yet to be found. And if it's going to happen, it probably needs to happen very soon, with the NFL's trade deadline on Tuesday.
"[General manager] Rick [Smith] and I have to sit down and work it out," Kubiak said.
All said, happiness should define the day for Texan fans -- at least for now. Despite being outscored by 14 points for the season and losing two significant starters to month-long suspensions, they're 4-2.
The offense is back in full force, and more importantly, the team has found a way to win games that go down to the wire, reversing a trend of heartbreakers a season ago.
It would be a shame to watch that all go for naught due to a historically awful defense.
With 15 days to adjust and Manning and Rivers looming in their next two games, the Texans have every opportunity and incentive to make moves.
Whether they do could be the defining legacy of the season and the Kubiak era in Houston.
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