See pics of the Texans' win against the Falcons in our slideshow.
One of the major criticisms of Gary Kubiak has been an alleged lack of guts. From his turning away on game-winning field goal attempts to generally conservative playcalling when ahead, Texans fans wondered over the years if he had the killer instinct to win big.
But the 2011 season has been one of dispelling old myths. And on Sunday, Houston fans learned that a Kubiak-led team can compete against the NFL's elite. Even without its top two quarterbacks, and even without Andre Johnson.
Facing a 4th-and-1 (a full yard, at that) in a tie game with seven minutes to go, Kubiak passed on the conventional decision to kick the go-ahead field goal, instead sending Arian Foster behind stud left tackle Duane Brown.
Even against the NFL's No. 2 run defense in Atlanta (7-5), it worked as Foster darted for seven yards to the two. Two plays later, he scored what became the winning touchdown.
It was one of several key and uncharacteristic gambles for Kubiak, whose Texans moved to 9-3 on a franchise-best six-game win streak. They can clinch the AFC South next Sunday with a win at Cincinnati coupled with a Tennessee loss to New Orleans.
These are what I saw as his four defining decisions, all in the second half with the pressure on.
4.) Trusting T.J. Yates after his near pick six: A pair of defensive holding penalties wiped away a horrid throw from Yates late in the third quarter -- one which was intercepted, returned for a score and would have given Atlanta a 17-10 lead. It would've been easy for Kubiak to go into a shell after that, hoping that his running game and top-ranked defense could find a way. Instead, he called passes on two of the ensuing three plays, with Yates connecting with Kevin Walter for a third-down conversion to keep the drive alive.
Yates didn't throw another pass on the drive, but it wasn't for a lack of attempts. Twice the Texans called for pass plays, but the rookie showed poise in not forcing poor throws and scrambled for gains.
3.) Sending Neil Rackers to kick a 54-yard FG: This one actually didn't work. Rackers looked excellent in pregame warm-ups, connecting on kicks from 58 and 60 yards. Nursing a 10-3 lead in the mid-third, Kubiak saw an opportunity to extend the lead to two possessions. So from the Atlanta 36, he opted against punting Atlanta back deep and aggressively went for points.
Rackers was short on the kick, and the gamble backfired. Atlanta started the drive on its own 44, and seven plays later scored a tying touchdown. What was most notable about that sequence, though, was that Kubiak still had the stomach to remain inventive later in the game -- even after seeing it fail.
2.) Calling a draw to Foster on 3rd-and-9. Kubiak outsmarted the Atlanta defense here. On the winning touchdown drive -- which went 85 yards on a club record-tying 19 plays -- the Texans finally found a way to use the Falcons' aggressiveness against them. John Abraham gave right tackle Eric Winston fits all day, and with Yates facing a third-and-long, Falcon pass rushers had their ears pinned back and were ready to come after the Houston rookie.
But with the defensive line quickly rushing upfield, Foster sliced through the right side of the line and gained 12 yards for a first down. Six plays later, Foster capped a 111-yard day with the game winner.
1.) Going for 4th-and-1. Yes, taking the go-ahead points with seven minutes left is the conventional play. But it was the wrong one, in this instance. Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense perked up in the second half, with both third-quarter drives reaching field-goal range and the second producing a touchdown. Moreover, both of their final two drives in the closing minutes made it inside the Houston 25.
A field goal, while giving the Texans a 13-10 lead, would likely have been equalized by Atlanta within minutes. A touchdown could give them a win. Kubiak trusted his star running back and great offensive line, the play was made and the Texans went home victorious.
"I didn't [kick a field goal] because of who we were playing," said Kubiak. "They are just too good on offense, and I think right there we needed to make a statement that first off, we can get a yard."
Though the Texans were 8-3 entering Sunday, adversity seemed to be facing them with injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart and the latest blow to Andre Johnson. After the Titans won at Buffalo, a loss would have dropped the Texans' division lead to one game.
Instead, Kubiak's guts led the Texans to a victory against a bona fide NFC contender, perhaps their most impressive win of the year. Reliant Stadium rocked like it rarely has before, with most of the sold-out crowd giving the team a standing ovation after the final whistle.
The Texans may now be six days away from clinching their first AFC South title and a home playoff game, and the coach who many wanted fired a year ago is leading the way.
The Texans' 2011 interactive game card has been updated.
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