"I still don't like them, and I have no respect for them at all. It was just the dirty stuff they were doing. I don't want to get into specifics; I just don't like them. . . . I'm not going to get into names or anything like that, but we play them again." -- Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Terrence Knighton
So look at this, what have we here? The Jacksonville Jaguars, after hanging in yesterday for as long as they could with our big, bad Texans, are complaining about their dirty tactics and issuing warnings about the rematch in a few weeks.
Part of me wants to pat the Jags on their collective head, muss their hair and say, "God bless your little souls" (in a quaint Southern accent, like Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side) like a kindergarten teacher would to the weakest kid in the class.
Then there is the other part of me, the one that is looking at the Texans like a proud father. The Texans are now considered a DIRTY TEAM! That's AWESOME! Indeed, our little team is "all growns up!"
The big takeaway from this week's episode ofPlayoff Run 2011
is that the Texans are continuing to win with solid, bruising defense and an opportunistic offense. At 5-3, it's still way too early to make plans for January (REMINDER: The Texans were5-3 in 2009
), but unlike the team of the last two years, this is trending toward being a team that WINS with defense and the running game, as opposed to a team that is CAPABLE OF WINNING with defense and the running game. The latter implies a degree of unreliability. Those two elements have shown signs of becoming exceedingly reliable.
Put simply, the Texans scored 24 points yesterday and won the game. Last season, 24 points would have been good enough to win TWO games all season.
As always, Sunday gave us winners and losers. And in honor of the Texans' new feisty mojo and their 5-3 record, we go with a "feel good" FIVE WINNERS and THREE LOSERS today! How about it? Let's go to the film....
WINNERS 5. Jacoby Jones Just a couple weeks ago, after a one catch for nine yards performance against the Raiders, I insisted that Jacoby Jones would never become an NFL wide receiver. I still have much doubt as to whether his productivity will ever match what the Texans' front office sees in him, but yesterday he made three big catches, and more importantly changed field position a couple of times with big plays in the return game, which is something that almost never happened last year. In short, in a game where field position was at a premium, Jacoby was impactful; he was actually worth three years, $10 million yesterday, which is as nice a thing as I've said about his play all season.
(Twitter SIDEBAR on Jacoby: My favorite tweet of the day came from my buddy @malikthomas when he tweeted "For someone whos scored like 10 times in 5 yrs Jacoby Jones ACTS like he's crazy nice." So true.)
4. Texan tight ends As well as Matt Schaub has played, he does have the tendency to throw the occasional "Tebow" (my new term for a headscratch-inducing soft toss where you immediately scream "Holy shit" -- and not in a good way -- as soon as it leaves his hand). Yesterday, Schaub had two "Tebows" and each time he was bailed out by a Texans tight end -- first, the touchdown pass to Joel Dreessen to put the Texans up 14-7 where JD wrestled what looked to be a possible pick away from a Jags safety, and then late in the game on the final drive when Owen Daniels picked a low pass off his shoestrings and converted a huge third down (the second time he's done that this season; he did it against Pittsburgh, too, to set up Arian Foster's 42-yard game-winning touchdown run).
3. Brian Cushing This is actually a bullet point in favor of the entire defense. At the halfway point in 2010, the Texans defense was the worst in the league, to the point where if there were a way to finish 33rd out of 32 teams in some stat, the Texans defense would have found a way. At the halfway point in 2011, they are THIRD in yards per game. And no player more epitomizes the complete 180 of this unit than Cushing. He's not only productive again, but he is vicious and tone-setting, and in a season where DeMeco Ryans is still recovering from his Achilles injury to some degree and Mario Williams is now out for the season, Cushing's value cannot be understated. 2. The chick who started sobbing about cats on her eHarmony bio Thanks to Matt Schaub's two-yard run for a touchdown in the first quarter, this video is only the second-strangest, most disorienting thing we've seen in 2011.
In all seriousness, Schaub was just good enough again yesterday, the second quarter fumblesack to keep the Jags hanging around notwithstanding. And here's the thing, actually two things -- first, he's going to get Andre Johnson back in the not too distant future and I would have to imagine that, with Andre, running the offense will feel significantly less cumbersome, kind of the way your legs feel after removing ten-pound weights from each ankle.
Second, take a look at the quarterbacks the Texans face the rest of the way (in order of and numbered by their ranking in passer rating) --
12. Matt Hasselbeck 13. Cam Newton 18. Andy Dalton 21. Matt Ryan 25. Colt McCoy 28. Curtis Painter 29. Josh Freeman 33. Blaine Gabbert
Three rookies (albeit one pretty good one and one über-talented one), a second-year guy and a Painter, all with an average QB ranking of 22nd place. The Texans get the quarterback edge in every single one of those games, and the only quarterback that really scares you is Newton (but Carolina's defense is so bad, who cares if we see a good ol' fashioned Texans shootout on December 18, right?). The future is bright.
1. Degenerates As you know, the Texans were one of my plays in the Weekend's Best Bets last week at minus 9 1/2 over the Jags. And with the hometown team driving the field, comfortably ahead by 14 in the fourth quarter, I was in the process of committing the mental sin of counting the game as a win. Then, Ben Tate decided to put the ball on the ground, the Jags got it back and scored to make it 21-14. (SIDEBAR: On a reliability scale, Ben Tate's ball security is somewhere just north of the rhythm method.)
So now all of a sudden, with just five minutes left in the game, my Texans wager (recreational purposes only, kids) was going up in smoke and, in turn, so was my afternoon (because this shit affects my mood far more than it should, it's a sickness). And then the magic happened -- an Owen Daniels shoestring catch and run on third down, a long Arian Foster run and the Texans were in business. This all led to the ultimate degenerate move -- rooting for your team to get stopped on third down so they have to attempt a spread-covering field goal instead of taking a knee and winning the game by 7. Hey, all's fair in love, war and gambling. Rackers's field goal got the job done.
(Also, 5-1 on the Best Bets this week. Just sayin'....well, just sayin' because it never happens.)
LOSERS 3. Whoever provides healthcare coverage for the Texans players When my first two kids were born (twins, now 13, James and Judy Anne, what up kids...), they were in the NICU for like seven weeks. At the time I was working for a startup company with decent healthcare coverage. Well, seven weeks times two kids in the NICU equals like hundreds of thousands of dollars in money shelled out by the provider. No joke, our company had to change healthcare providers because of the premium increase due to my two kids (partially a function of our corporate infancy and partially a function of ridiculous healthcare costs). Well, I don't think the Texans are quite there yet, but damn, ANOTHER injury? Really, football gods? Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Mario Williams, James Casey, Danieal Manning and now special teams ace Darryl Sharpton, out for the season with a blown quad. I'm starting to think Reliant was built on an ancient burial ground.
2. Fans who coax Gary Kubiak into detrimental behavior Another Sunday, another two lost replay challenges for Gary Kubiak. The first one (Kevin Walter's trying to tap a second foot in bounds on a catch down the sideline) was marginal at best, the second one (Ben Tate's fumble in the fourth quarter) was a joke. The common thread, however, in BOTH instances was that the crowd (presumably far drunker than Kubiak) goaded him into throwing the challenge flag and, therefore, costing his team a timeout in each half. So at this point, I'm really more disappointed in the fans than I am Gary Kubiak.
The coach is almost like one of those five year olds at a party that get goaded into doing some random act of mischief by a playful adult (who more often than not has no kids of his own). Said playful adult thinks it's hilarious when they can coax the kid into putting a pebble up his nose or peeing on the dog. When that happens, the blame should be more on the adult (who should know better) than the kid (who is merely trying to please a perceived authority figure). So when it comes to these replay challenges -- drunk Texan fans equal playful adult, Kubiak equals five year old, and the sober fans and players equal the five year old's parents in that they (we!) are left to deal with the fallout.
(Somewhere, Kubiak is throwing a red flag contesting my assertion, and once again, he would be wrong.)
1. Kareem Jackson You know it's bad when you're a player and when you actually do make a play, like Kareem Jackson did when he deflected an incomplete pass in the first half of the Jags game, and the reactions in the press box are as follows:
- "Wait, is Johnathan Joseph wearing number 25 now?" - "I'm fearful the Texans are going to sign Kareem to a six-year extension before he gets back to the huddle..." - "This AND a Schaub rushing touchdown in the same quarter? Keep an eye out for Bigfoot!"
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Basically, Jason Allen had another interception this week, and Kareem Jackson got beat for the Jags' first touchdown. And I'd bet my left nut that Kareem starts the Cleveland game.
I guess things haven't totally changed in Texan-land yet.
We've updated Sean's interactive game card.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on Yahoo! Sports Radio and 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian