Texans 41, Titans 7: Suddenly, Everything Is Back on Track
Matt Schaub stays hot.
Photo by Marco Torres
In a game worthy of the oft-overused and dramatic "biggest in franchise history" distinction, the Texans finally delivered.
Reeling from consecutive defeats and still missing Andre Johnson, questions swirled all week as to whether these Texans could do what they didn't in 2010 and keep things from spiraling out of control.
They did exactly that on Sunday, all under the pressure of the most critical game in recent memory.
"The NFL is like a soap opera," said Arian Foster, who led the way with three touchdowns. "Every week has big storylines. But you have to prove it every single day and not stay trapped in the past."
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Don't be fooled by the ease of the Texans' 41-7 romp. This was a monumental game with everything on the line for Houston.
The impressive win not only puts the Texans (4-3) in first place in the AFC South, but also places them in the driver's seat for any potential tiebreaker with Tennessee (3-3). Beat the Titans again on January 1 at Reliant, and Houston owns any necessary tiebreaker by virtue of a head-to-head sweep.
Even if Tennessee, which looked completely outclassed on Sunday, were somehow to win in a rematch and split the season series, they're now 0-2 in the AFC South (the second tiebreaker). The Texans, who have so often struggled in division games under Kubiak, are now 2-0.
"Our coaches did a great job staying positive this week, when things could've gotten negative," said head coach Gary Kubiak. "You have to do that [stay positive] to be successful in the NFL. We were finally able to put four full quarters together."
The Texans played down the win afterward, with many repeating their "one game at a time" mantra.
Truth is, this wasn't just one game. With Jacksonville and Indianapolis a combined 1-12, the Titans are the only thing between the Texans and an AFC South crown and at least one home playoff game.
In the grand scheme of things, Tennessee is the only other team that matters.
Had the Texans lost Sunday, as so many in the national media expected them to, they'd have been 1.5 games back in the division and on course to losing a potential tiebreak.
Instead, they dominated and are in complete control. In a similar spot to where so many prior Texans teams found a way to lose, the 2011 group never even gave things a chance to go wrong, throttling the Titans from the outset.
"It was a good win for us after a couple tough weeks," said quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw for two touchdowns. "We executed really well."
It started up front, where the Texans completely flipped the script after back-to-back punishing defeats at the hands of the physical Raiders and Ravens.
Foster and Ben Tate rushed for 115 yards and 104 yards, respectively, becoming the first pair of Texans to each rush for over 100 yards in the same game. Foster also added another 119 yards receiving, including a breathtaking 78-yard touchdown after a bootleg from Schaub.
On the whole, the Texans put together 518 yards of offense and held the ball for nearly 38 minutes -- both season highs. They also went without a turnover.
"This game is big because it shows what we're capable of as a team," Schaub said. "We played smart and clean as a team." Of course, the execution was even more flawless on defense. Wade Phillips's revamped unit limited Tennessee to a season-low 148 yards and picked off two passes from Matt Hasselbeck, who entered the game with the second-highest quarterback rating in the AFC.
After the game, the defense that was No. 30 in the league a year ago is now statistically in the top five.
"We were able to get after the QB," said linebacker Brian Cushing, who after a lackluster second season appears back in the form that made him the 2009 Rookie of the Year.
"[Connor] Barwin and [Brooks] Reed shut down the edges and it helped us make plays," he added.
The game didn't come without cost. Prized offseason safety acquisition Danieal Manning fractured a bone in his leg, putting him out a minimum of four weeks and possibly as many as 10.
But backup Troy Nolan looked capable in his absence. Moreover, the Texans play host to Jacksonville and Cleveland, led by Blaine Gabbert and Colt McCoy, over the next two weeks -- not exactly passing juggernauts.
With the weak schedule and the likely return of Johnson, it would take a catastrophe for the Texans not to make it to 6-3, which would put them three games above .500 for the first time in club history.
From there, the team plays at Tampa Bay on Nov. 13 -- a relative tossup -- before finally reaching their bye week on Nov. 20.
Whether at 6-4 or 7-3, the Texans should be in control of the AFC South by late November. With any luck, they could have most of their injured stars back in the lineup as they enter the season's stretch run.
A season that looked oh-so-typical one week ago is suddenly coming up roses.
After 10 years, it's about time.
Click here for our updated Texans interactive season game card.
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