See pics: Texans fans celebrate win in chilly Chicago.
It seems an eternity ago, but it's been less than two years since many considered the Texans soft.
Led by second-year defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the evolution is finally complete. The "Bulls on Parade" are now bullying long-established league bullies.
"I've been doing this a long time, and I don't know that I've ever been more proud of a team," said head coach Gary Kubiak.
Limited by rain, wind and a great Chicago defense, the Texans couldn't run their usual precision offense. Matt Schaub threw for just 95 yards, a career low for a full game, and had two interceptions. Andre Johnson caught only four passes despite being targeted nine times. The offense finished with a mere 215 yards.
The things the Texans historically do well went for nothing Sunday, all against a 7-1 opponent on the road. They still won convincingly and moved to an NFL-best 8-1 record.
"I think we showed that we can win any game, any situation, any time, any place," said star defensive end J.J. Watt. "It wasn't pretty, it wasn't clean, but we came out with a win."
What may have been most unclean were the jerseys of Chicago quarterbacks. The Texans knocked out Jay Cutler (concussion) in the first half and battered backup Jason Campbell in the second. Even though the defense recorded no sacks, Houston's physicality set the tone in forcing four turnovers and holding the Bears to a mere 2-of-13 on third downs.
"We were facing a defense who everybody said was better than ours," said defensive end Antonio Smith. "We wanted to go out and make a statement."
They certainly did. Here's a look at five players that made the biggest statements.
5.) Johnathan Joseph
At face value, this wasn't one of the cornerback's finer games. Joseph matched up with ace Chicago receiver Brandon Marshall and surrendered 107 yards on eight catches, frequently complaining about Marshall's physical play and seeking flags for offensive pass interference. They never came.
What made the outing noteworthy were the adjustments Joseph made in the fourth quarter. Realizing that officials were letting contact go, Joseph finally pushed back. It culminated with a 3rd-and-7 stop from the Houston 30, a play in which Joseph fought through Marshall to deny the pass. That forced a lengthy 48-yard field goal attempt, which the Bears missed. They never seriously threatened again.
Despite a brilliant game for the conditions, Marshall had just two catches for 17 yards in the final quarter. Joseph's adjustments were a big reason why.
4.) Kareem Jackson
Chicago receivers not named Brandon Marshall had a whopping three catches for 13 yards. For the entire game. That's largely because of blanket coverage from Kareem Jackson, who continues to make a case for being one of the best No. 2 cornerbacks in the league.
On this day, however, he did more than just deny passes. On a third down early in the first half, Jackson made a spectacular open-field tackle on Devin Hester, denying the speedy wideout the one yard he needed for a first down. And with the Bears on the verge of field goal range late in the second quarter, he slipped into zone coverage and baited Cutler into an interception, extinguishing the scoring threat.
Jackson is now tied for the AFC lead in interceptions with four on the season.
3.) Danieal Manning
Manning made the most of his return to Chicago, forcing a fumble on the game's first play and later grabbing an interception. The fumble resulted from a vicious (but legal) blindside hit, setting the tone for a night all about physical defense.
"Daniael Manning is a great player," said Phillips. "I don't know many safeties better than him."
"He played a lot of great football here, and I know it was important to him," added Kubiak.
Manning, who embraces a leadership role on defense, spoke to the Texans on Saturday night at a team meeting, telling them what to expect from his former team and from Soldier Field conditions. Specifically, he said the Texans would have to "grind it out". One night later, they did exactly that.
2.) Arian Foster
On a night of great defense and poor footing, the Texans' biggest offensive star still managed to shine. The stat line of 29 carries for 102 yards doesn't tell the full story, because the Bears clamped down on the running game in the second half, knowing the Texans wouldn't risk throwing the ball with a lead. When the Texans needed to score, Foster delivered - gashing Chicago for 91 yards on his first 14 carries and adding a spectacular diving catch in the corner of the end zone for the game's lone touchdown.
"He was exceptional," Kubiak said. "He kept battling. He came to me there with about eight minutes left in the game, and he said, 'Just give it to me.' They had nine or 10 guys in the box, and he said to just keep giving it to him."
Foster, normally reserved in his on-field demeanor, seemed particularly intense on Sunday, repeatedly making demonstrative first-down gestures after big plays. Fellow offensive playmaker Andre Johnson called it the biggest game of the season. Foster played like it.
"This was a huge win," said Foster. "They're one of the best teams in the NFL. We felt like we are, too."
1.) Tim Dobbins
Dobbins, better known as Brian Cushing's replacement at middle linebacker, opened eyes around the league with his play Sunday. His eight tackles led the team, and a fumble recovery and ensuing 32-yard return on Chicago's first offensive play put the Texans in position to grab the early 3-0 lead. On a night of dreadful conditions, the Texans benefited immensely by playing from ahead.
"It was obviously a very, very difficult night for offensive football, and we were going to have to find ways to win, just battling and playing great defense," said Kubiak.
Dobbins personally battled through a shoulder injury suffered on the return to later deliver the game's defining play. The Bears seemingly believed they had found a hole in Houston's pass rush, with Cutler opting to step up in the pocket and scramble up the middle on three of four plays late in the first half. On one of those, just as Cutler crossed the line of scrimmage, Dobbins laid a crushing blow on the Chicago quarterback, eventually forcing him to leave the game with a concussion.
The hit drew a flag, but it accomplished its purpose. The Texans showed there were consequences to exposing quarterbacks to Houston defenders, and the Bears had a much more conservative gameplan going forward.
"A grind-it-out, pound-it-out game shows that we can win in any environment, any situation," said Watt. "We got the win, and that's all that matters."
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