For Houston Texans fans, the last month has been an interesting education in the whimsical nature of the football gods. In the same five-week period in which Houston was hit in its collective face with the bucket of cold water with the news that J.J. Watt can indeed break, now in the last five days come the retirements of the other two biggest icons in franchise history.
That Arian Foster and Andre Johnson both decided to retire within the last few days is metaphorically appropriate, given the fact that when the Texans franchise achieved any semblance of "glory days," it was on the statistical and literal sweat of two of the best to play their position over the last two decades. That Foster and Johnson finished their careers languishing in someone else's uniform was imperfect, but not important. We all know — they're Houston Texans.
For Foster, I summarized my thoughts (and several gigabytes of video) on the SportsRadio 610 website last week. As for Johnson, I'll share a few bulletined thoughts here before getting to the YouTube montage of his career:
1. When it's all said and done, the pecking order for the best players in the history of this franchise will be clear for a long time — 1. J.J. Watt, 2. Andre Johnson, 3. Arian Foster. However, while Watt might be the franchise's greatest player, Andre Johnson will forever be the organization's biggest and most respected icon, because he was its first, and for the longest time, he was the only thing this team had that even resembled a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
2. Stylistically, Andre Johnson was a lethal combination of power and speed, and it's sports-sad that we didn't get to see him flourish with better quarterback play or better fellow wide receivers to take some heat off of him. Andre Johnson finishes his career as the 10th leading receiver of all time, and if you look at some of the names in front of him — Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, to name a few — they all had either Hall of Fame quarterbacks or wide receivers (or both) as teammates. At his peak, Andre Johnson had Matt Schaub and Kevin Walter.
3. Andre Johnson is no doubt a Hall of Fame talent with gaudy stats at a crowded position. If there are two hurdles to overcome in getting him into Canton, they would probably be:
a. His lack of red zone production, just 70 career touchdowns (tied for 40th all-time); and
b. His lack of marquee games participated in, through no fault of his own. Johnson's two All-Pro seasons were spent playing for teams that needed other worldly Decembers just to finish 8-8 and 9-7. As a contrast, Foster's best seasons, 2010-2012, included two AFC South titles. (Put it this way — it was easier to come up with Foster's ten best games than Johnson's because Foster's best performances largely came in
games that mattered.)
So without further ado, let's relive us some Dre...
10. Week 12, 2010 vs. Tennessee (The Cortland Finnegan Game)
Ok, is this one of Andre Johnson's greatest performances as a wide receiver? Of course not. However, you can't discuss Andre Johnson's career as a Texan and not bring up the moment when he did what hundreds of other players had been wanting to do for years — beat the snot out of Cortland Finnegan. It's a testament to just how respected Andre Johnson was at the time (and perhaps how loathed Finnegan was) that Dre caught zero flak for doing this. Forget about retiring Johnson's number, let's give him a statue outside NRG Stadium in which he's pummeling a statue of Finnegan!
9. Week 5, 2004 vs. Minnesota (12 receptions, 170 yards, 2 touchdowns)
In a game where the Texans were going up against Randy Moss and on a day that Moss's sidekick, Marcus Robinson, went for 150 yards, the best receiver on the field was Johnson, who went for 170 yards on 12 catches (along with two touchdowns) in a losing effort. In his second year at the time, this was Andre Johnson's real breakout game.
8. Week 6, 2008 vs. Miami (10 receptions, 178 yards, 1 touchdown)
2008 was a strange season, especially in the very beginning, when Hurricane Ike forced the Texans to shuffle their bye week to Week 2, which contributed to an 0-4 start in Matt Schaub's second year as quarterback. The Texans finally got their first win of the season in Week 6, when a monster game from Johnson, including the fourth down circus catch in the above video late in the game, led to a Schaub QB sneak to win the game in the waning moments.
7. Week 15, 2008 vs. Tennessee (11 receptions, 207 yards, 1 touchdown)
Eventually, the Texans got their 2008 season back on the rails, as best they could, finishing 5-1 down the stretch, including this hard fought 13-12 win over a Titans team that would finish the regular season 13-3. Johnson was spectacular that day, with his first 200-yard receiving game of his career.
6. Week 14, 2009 vs. Seattle (11 receptions, 193 yards, 2 touchdowns)
The 2009 season was somewhat similar to 2008, in that the Texans were languishing heading into the home stretch, 5-7 through 12 games. However, they won their last four games of the season to finish 9-7, the first of which was this blowout of the Seahawks in which Johnson scored a touchdown on the first play of the game from scrimmage. After 193 yards in this game, Dre would pick up another 196 yards a week later against the Rams, effectively leaving the secondaries of the NFC West that season a smoldering mess (552 yards versus all four teams).
5. Week 6, 2010 vs. Kansas City (8 receptions, 138 yards, 1 touchdown)
This was the high point of the disappointing 2010 season, in Week 6, when the Texans were still a mathematical factor in the AFC, despite an historically bad defense. This game was in some ways emblematic and in some ways ironic in 2010. It epitomized the season, in that the Texans were involved in a ton of shootouts and high scoring games, yet it was ironic in that they actually won this one! Johnson's game-winning TD would lift the Texans to 4-2 at the time, but they would go 2-8 down the stretch, leading to wholesale changes on the defensive side of the ball that offseason.
4. Week 9, 2013 vs. Indianapolis (9 receptions, 229 yards, 3 touchdowns)
Johnson's first half in this game was perhaps the greatest half of football I've ever seen from a receiver — 7 catches, 190 yards, three touchdowns. It was Johnson's first and only three-touchdown game of his career, which is beyond remarkable that he only had one three-touchdown game. Of course, this game took place in 2013, so that astounding 21-3 first half was followed immediately by Texans head coach Gary Kubiak being stretchered off the field with a form of a stroke as the half ended, and the Texans being outscored by Houston native Andrew Luck 24-3 in the second half in what would be the sixth loss of a 2-14 season.
3. Week 17, 2014 vs. Jacksonville (10 receptions, 134 yards, 1 touchdown)
This was Andre Johnson's final game as a Texan, a finale in which he scored the winning touchdown. That afternoon, everybody sort of silently knew that this was it for Dre as a Texan, given his declining production (DeAndre Hopkins had become the go-to guy that season) and exorbitant salary cap figure. That two of Johnson's top five most memorable performances came with Case Keenum at quarterback in 2013 and 2014 is entirely (and unfortunately) appropriate.
2. Week 2, 2010 at Washington (12 receptions, 158 yards, 1 touchdown)
If you're looking for one Johnson play that Texan fans remember, my guess is most would bring up this fourth down touchdown in Week 2 of the 2010 season (before we knew the Texans were going to finish 6-10). This play helped them get off to a 2-0 start and epitomized perfectly the physical freakery of Andre Johnson. It's even better captured in this tweet by Texans voice Marc Vandermeer...
1. Week 11 and 12, 2012 vs. Jacksonville (14 receptions, 273 yards, 1 touchdown) and at Detroit (9 receptions, 188 yards)
If you're looking for a peak of Andre Johnson's career, where individual productivity intersected perfectly with team accomplishment, it was this four day period, between Weeks 11 and 12 of the division-winning season in 2012. Johnson had his biggest day as a pro on a Sunday against the Jaguars (including a game-winning touchdown in overtime) and followed that up with nearly 200 yards on Thanksgiving Day versus the Lions in an overtime win in Detroit. This was the most productive back to back games of Johnson's career from a yardage standpoint (461 yards), and the two wins put the Texans at 10-1 on the season. (Unfortunately, two weeks later, the team would wear letterman jackets to New England, and... well... yeah.)
Thank you, Andre!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.