On the surface, it could seem silly to characterize a 3-point overtime escape in Washington as more of a season-defining moment than a blowout of rival Indianapolis. But when you consider where the now 2-0 Texans have been, that appears to be exactly the case.
Ask New Orleans Saints fans about the games they remember from their 13-3 ride through the 2009 regular season, the prelude to their Super Bowl triumph in February. What made that team special weren't the highs, even in big wins over playoff teams such as the Eagles and Jets.
Instead, New Orleans truly showed its mettle by recovering from awful starts at Miami and Washington, rallying from major deficits to post victories.
In the modern era of NFL parity, perfect teams don't exist. The gap in talent is small enough to where if one team comes out flat, they can be beaten by almost anyone.
In 2008, the Saints had the same explosive playmakers they did in 2009 -- but they went 8-8. They didn't bounce back in games where things didn't perfectly click.
In 2009, they took the next step.
It culminated months later, when the Saints fell behind the Colts 10-0 in the Super Bowl -- and yet there was no panic. New Orleans knew exactly where it had been, and responded accordingly.
The rest of that story goes without saying.
By contrast, the '09 Texans could rarely recover. They fought back from a 21-0 deficit at Arizona to briefly tie things up, but were rejected at the 1-yard line in the closing seconds. They rallied from a 13-0 hole at Indianapolis, but Kris Brown's attempt at a tying field goal in the closing seconds sailed wide.
Again, they didn't finish.
Sunday's game with the Redskins was the Arizona game all over again. Donovan McNabb played one of the best games of his career, throwing darts all over the field with laser-like precision against an inexperienced Texans secondary. Matt Schaub threw an early pick that led to Washington points. Andre Johnson left for the locker room with an ankle injury. The Texans' recently-strong offensive line surrendered five sacks.
It produced a 27-10 deficit late in the third quarter.
Then, the Texans rallied. And this time, they did finish.
Arian Foster didn't have the running lanes he had when he rushed for 231 yards against the Colts, but he kept plugging away and scampered 50 yards on a crucial 3rd-and-15 screen pass late in the third quarter, setting up a Texans touchdown to bring Houston within 10. The Texans are now 6-0 in games in which Foster has played.
On fourth down with two minutes left, Johnson pushed off his ailing right ankle and leaped over a Washington defensive back, hauling in the tying touchdown. On the same play, Schaub held the ball long enough to allow Johnson to get downfield, knowing he would be leveled when he released it.
Mario Williams was a disruptive force on the defensive line, and his pressure on McNabb, including three sacks, kept the Redskins scoreless for the fourth quarter and overtime. Safety Bernard Pollard was one of many victimized by McNabb downfield, but he swatted a field goal with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to keep Houston within a score.
Even head coach
Gary Kubiak, who could have been the goat for his overtime decision to punt from the Washington 35-yard line, had the presence of mind to call a last-second timeout to "ice" Washington kicker Graham Gano. Gano, of course, missed his ensuing attempt.
This was the game the Texans of old consistently found ways to lose -- particularly after emotional wins like last week's romp over Peyton Manning and the Colts. After all, the '09 group followed dramatic wins at Tennessee and Cincinnati with losses to Jacksonville (home) and Arizona.
The new Texans? They found a way to win it, capping it when Neil Rackers drilled the game-winning 35-yard field goal right down the middle. Fittingly, it came in perfect contrast with the poor late-game execution of kicking counterpart Brown a year ago.
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The Texans know and understand that they didn't play particularly well, and said they have work to do before a desperate Cowboys team visits Reliant Stadium on Sunday. There were and are lessons to learn.
But unlike prior seasons, the Texans were able to overcome the hard times and still post a victory. The flashes of greatness from a Sunday ago weren't always there, but grit and resolve were.
It wasn't always pretty, but the final result was beautiful.
Those characteristics defined the Super Bowl champion Saints of 2009, and at least through two weeks, they appear fitting for the 2010 Texans as well.