It feels like virtually every fall Monday the last two years have been spent listening to callers to my show, co-workers around the office, people around town all saying "same ol' Texans." And to be sure, it's much harder to argue that it hasn't been "same ol' Texans" than argue that the team has been making some kind of esoteric progress.
That is, until yesterday.
I think the fact that the Texans were able to win a game against the Steelers, a game that felt much more "Steeler" than "Texan" in terms of physicality and toughness, is a sign that this is not the same ol' Texans.
The Texans punched. The Steelers punched back. The Texans finished the fight. End of story. The rumors of "real" football in Houston appear to be true.
WINNERS 1. Owen Daniels If Arian Foster was the Texans' best player offensively yesterday, then Owen Daniels had the most important offensive play of the game. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Texans having only possessed the ball once the whole second half (an uninspired three and out), they faced 3rd and 6 from deep in their own territory. Matt Schaub threw a pass that was aimed squarely at Daniels' shoestrings and he managed to pluck it just before it hit the ground. That play saved the Texans, because two plays later Arian Foster was strolling into the end zone giving the Texans a 17-10 lead and re-establishing the momentum for the home team. Huge play by Daniels, who is having a Pro Bowl season.
2. Arian Foster Gary Kubiak had intimated that Foster's workload might not approach the usual "bell-cow back" burden we'd seen in 2010, but injuries to Ben Tate and Andre Johnson changed that plan. Foster wound up with 30 carries for 155 tough yards, including two plays that showed me that not only is he back, but (assuming he stays healthy) he's even better this year. On 2nd and 11 from deep in Texans territory, Foster was stopped for what appeared to be no gain, but he instinctively put a hand on the ground to keep himself up and burst to the left for an 18-yard gain. Then, on the clinching touchdown run, it was just vintage Foster as he ran left then cut back all the way to the right and there was nothing but daylight between him and a Namaste Bow. Foster, Daniels, and the Texans defense were not going to let the team lose yesterday.
3. Mario Williams I don't know what they will call Mario Williams on the Pro Bowl ballot. A defensive end? An outside linebacker? A bad ass? I just know that whatever it is, if he plays the last three quarters of the season like he has the first quarter, he will deserve votes. LOTS of votes. Mario has been awesome and he was really good again yesterday. (And no, I'm not going to ruin the fluffy feelings everyone has right now by reminding all of you this is a contract year for him. I just won't.)
4. November 5 With Alabama's thrashing of Florida in the swamp this weekend, they're virtually assured of being undefeated going into their November 5 matchup with LSU. (Apologies to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Tennessee. Also, apologies to the bug for the time I touted the windshield.) LSU has a more difficult road with home games against Florida and Auburn sandwiching a trip to Knoxville, but I think LSU gets the job done. This would set up the biggest regular season matchup of #1 vs #2 perhaps since Florida State took on Notre Dame in 1993. And both teams have a bye week leading up to the game, so you know the hype machine will be treating it like it's the Super Bowl. I'm giddy.
LOSERS 1. Kareem Jackson's second contract Granted, the way he's played the first 18 games of his NFL career, it was in some doubt as to whether Kareem Jackson was going to make it to the end of his first contract, so the whole "second contract" thing in this bullet is more my own personal snark than anything else, but after Jason Allen's making one game-changing (pop on Hines Ward on a Steeler third down play in the second half) and one game-clinching play (interception to close out the game) against the Steelers yesterday, if Jackson regains his starting cornerback spot, then we will know --- Jackson indeed has some compromising pictures of Gary Kubiak in drag. 2. Tony Romo It does very little good to point out that the two pick-six's against the Lions on Sunday weren't totally Romo's fault because that's a much less sexy story than the four-week circle of life that Romo just went through -- choker in Week 1 to wounded war daddy in Weeks 2 and 3 back to choker in Week 4. But the facts are Laurent Robinson (who sounds more like a warrior poet from 14th-century Scotland than an NFL wide receiver) gave up on his route on the second interception, and Tony Romo didn't give up the touchdowns to Calvin Johnson in the fourth quarter. And now reading what I just typed, I realized I took up for Tony Romo. I now must shower and burn my clothes.
3. Ohio State's football program If you want to check out the scorched earth left behind by Terrelle Pryor and his memorabilia business. From this past Saturday's game against the Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State managed the following in 14 drives:
-- 5 drives that went "three and out" -- No drive longer than 6 plays until the final five minutes -- Three consecutive drives that went for negative yardage in the fourth quarter -- 178 total yards, 62 of which came in the final drive against a prevent defense -- Ten punts
Against average Big Ten teams, Ohio State's offense barely functions at a high school level right about now. I hope Luke Fickell is renting.
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4. Johnny Jolly If you get caught with codeine (a crucial ingredient to the "purple drank") once, then that's an unfortunate mistake. If you get caught with codeine a second time, you're just not very smart. If you get caught a third time, then you have some serious addiction and discipline issues. If you get caught a fourth time, you're all of the above. You're Johnny Jolly. Seriously. WTF.
(Side bar: My radio colleague Travis Rodgers had the most poignant observation on the "purple drank" that I've heard -- "I would joke about it, except if I tried it I'm pretty sure I'd like it.")
See Sean's updated 2011 season game card here.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on Yahoo! Sports Radio and 1560 The Game weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Central Time, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.