Marco Torres, Houston Press The Texans needed Matt Schaub to be a gunslinger, and for one night he was.
That's the situation the Texans found themselves late Monday night. But somehow, they pulled themselves out of it and opened the season 1-0 for a fourth consecutive year.
The heroes were almost too many to count. Matt Schaub, everyone favorite "game manager", directed two long touchdown drives to bring the Texans within striking distance and later led them down the field for the winning field goal. Gary Kubiak, a coach known at times for being stubbornly conservative, called a successful fake punt from inside his own 40-yard line. A defense that was torched for the game's first 35 minutes didn't allow a single first down on San Diego's final four drives.
The end result was 24 unanswered points over the last 25 game minutes, and it brought the Texans one of the most memorable come-from-behind wins in franchise history.
Here's a look back at several plays that stood out:
Randy Bullock's winning field goal. Sure, it was a kick on paper that should be easy. Inside 50 yards in perfect weather from the middle of the field. In reality, Bullock showed nerves of steel. In his first ever NFL regular-season game, he drilled a game-winning kick from 41 yards out that likely would've been good if the goalposts were two-feet wide. That's how dead center it was. Kickers can make or break a season for an elite team -- just ask the Ravens about Billy Cundiff. Bullock still has more to prove to be considered among the league's best, but Monday night was a promising start for the rookie from Texas A&M.
Shiloh Keo's fake punt. This easily makes the list had it directly led to points. However, the Texans did ultimately punt on that drive. Even so, calling for a fake punt on their own 36-yard line, trailing in the fourth quarter, was one of the gutsiest decisions I've seen Kubiak has made in Houston. And the team embraced him for it, jumping up and down on the Houston sideline. Momentum was strongly with the Texans, and only a few plays later, Brian Cushing's spectacular diving interception tied the game.
5.) 3:56, third quarter. Chargers lead, 28-14. Shiloh Keo breaks up a deep pass on 3rd-and-9.
At this point in the game, the Houston defense was a laughingstock. They had been shredded all night by Philip Rivers -- 28 points in barely over a half -- and despite the 3rd-and-9 from near midfield, it felt like the Chargers had a chance to convert. Rivers again found Eddie Royal open on a seam route, but Keo -- starting at safety in place of Ed Reed -- delivered a crushing hit to jar the ball loose for an incompletion, forcing a punt. It felt like the first meaningful stop for the Texans, and it signaled a change in momentum for Rivers that continued the rest of the night.
4.) 1:49, fourth quarter. Tie game, 28-28. Schaub hits Andre Johnson for a first down on 3rd-and-4.
This was more notable for the decision than the execution. The Texans have settled for long attempts at game-winning field goals before (think Thanksgiving Day in Detroit), and considering they were on the San Diego 32-yard line, they were technically in Bullock's range. But kicking on fourth down in that spot would have put Houston in a precarious position. Should Bullock miss the 50-yarder, the Chargers would have taken over at their own 40-yard line with 1:30 left, only needing a field goal themselves to win it.
Fortunately, Kubiak stayed aggressive and allowed Schaub the opportunity to make a play. Schaub found Johnson on a quick curl route outside, which gave the Texans a first down and allowed them to bleed the clock until the final seconds for Bullock's eventual game-winner.
Marco Torres, Houston Press Houston's favorite player was clutch.
It feels awkward to criticize Watt, but he had a disappointing first three quarters. His most notable play came when he missed a point-blank tackle in the backfield on a 4th-and-1 play for San Diego, a drive that ended with a touchdown to put the Chargers ahead.
When it mattered, though, Watt turned it on. After the Texans closed to within 28-21 early in the fourth, J.J. "Swatt" made his 2013 debut by deflecting a Rivers pass on 3rd-and-9, forcing a second consecutive three-and-out. This was the point where you could start to feel Rivers becoming rattled. Much like the Keo play, it helped set the stage for Cushing's heroics later on.
2.) 8:48, third quarter. Chargers lead, 28-7. Schaub connects with Johnson for a 3rd-and-18 conversion.
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This was truly a game-saving play. Down 21 points midway through the third quarter, a punt to the surging Charger offense would've essentially waived the white flag. But Johnson found a hole in San Diego's soft zone coverage, and Schaub rifled a perfect throw in between two defenders to keep the drive alive. Seven plays later, Schaub hit Garrett Graham for a 7-yard touchdown, and the Texans were back in the game.
1.) 9:38, fourth quarter. Chargers lead, 28-21. Enter Brian Cushing.
Quite simply, it was one of the finest defensive plays you'll ever see, given the timing. Pressure from Whitney Mercilus forced a hurried throw from Rivers. Cushing read the quarterback's eyes. Then, on a full-extension dive, Cushing had enough coordinator to both catch the ball and then clearly put his arm underneath it, preventing any part of it from touching the ground. Cushing then had the presence of mind to realize he wasn't touched and run into the end zone for the tying score.
From that moment forward, it felt inevitable that it was Houston's night. To no surprise, Brian Cushing looks like he's worth every penny.