That's how long it had been since the Houston Texans have walked off of a football field having scored more points than their opponent. September 15, 2013, to be exact.
If you recall, that was the second regular season game of the tumultuous 2-14 train wreck the city endured last year, an overtime win against the Tennessee Titans in which DeAndre Hopkins scored the winning, walk-off touchdown to push the Texans to 2-0 on the season. Also, if you recall, the halftime show that afternoon was a performance by Vanilla Ice.
On Saturday night, walking through the club level with my radio partner Ted Johnson, we walked past a cover band who was playing (perhaps coincidence, perhaps by design) "Ice, Ice Baby."
Hey, if you're looking for signs, that's the best I can do, ok? A cover band playing a possible lucky song to get the Texans a preseason victory (appropriately, a preseason win being the "cover band" version of an actual NFL win).
So on Saturday night, the Texans dismantled the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 32-7. As always, there were winners, there were losers. Let's examine...
4. Jadeveon Clowney So it looks like Clowney's recovered from the sports hernia all right, I guess, huh? WOW. In one series, Clowney gave the home crowd a taste of what he plans on serving up for the next decade or so. Here are the two plays that had everyone talking, a stick in the backfield on Antone Smith that nearly took the running back's head off (must be something about the last name "Smith") and then a sack on Matt Ryan in which Clowney's first four steps seemingly swallowed the field:
Players in the front seven for NFL teams are generally grinders, and even the stars are guys whose full value is realized in plays that don't necessarily make a crowd go "WHOA." There are a rare few front seven players with that ability to produce a "WHOA" from the crowd. The Texans now have two of those guys. This may be the most fun a city has had watching games being played in the teens.
Clowney wasn't alone, though, among the newbies...
3. The rest of the rookie class With as questionable, unlucky, or flat out bad as the last couple draft classes have been for the Texans, it's imperative that the team hit big, in quality and quantity, with this first year group so they can rebuild the depth chart. So with that said, a quick rundown of last night's performance from the Class of 2014 (by round selected):
1. Jadeveon Clowney, OLB See above.
2. Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL Solid game while being moved in and out of multiple spots along the offensive line.
3a. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE Two catches in tight space in the first half. Will get regular snaps throughout the season.
3b. Louis Nix, NT Returned from injury this week, should see game action soon.
4. Tom Savage, QB Work in progress.
6a. Jeoffrey Pagan, DE In rotation at defensive end early. Didn't do much.
6b. Alfred Blue, RB Six carries for 22 yards, and a tough goal line run for a touchdown, escorted by....
6c. Jay Prosch, FB One handed battering ram.
7a. Andre Hal, CB Pick six off of T.J. Yates and several solid plays in the secondary and special teams.
7b. Lonnie Ballentine, S Injured, didn't dress. Time is running out for him to make an impression.
Undrafted Free Agents ILB Max Bullough had an interception, WR Travis Labhart had three catches for 36 yards, C James Ferentz played every offensive snap, TE Anthony Denham blocked a punt, OLB Jason Ankrah looks to be in decent shape to make the team as a backup linebacker.
If I put the over/under at 11.5 for rookies to make the 53 man roster, are you going over or under?
2. Special teams I can't remember which special teams play had just transpired, but at one point Saturday in the press box, I think in the second quarter, I turned to the producer of our radio show Will Grubb and said "Man, special teams look good tonight." And this was a full quarter (at least) before Anthony Denham tipped a punt that turned into a Jonathan Grimes touchdown and before Jawanza Starling blocked a field goal. Good special teams is going to be crucial for a team that will be challenged to put together a lot of 70-80 yard type drives on offense. So far, so good in the preseason.
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick After going three and out on his first drive, Fitzpatrick bounced back with a 12 play, 69 yard drive that gobbled up six minutes and ended in a touchdown run by Alfred Blue. Then, he re-entered the game with under two minutes to go in the first half and provided a seven play, 74 yard answer to Atlanta's only score of the game, finding DeVier Posey in the end zone for a 13-7 lead heading into the half. The best part about each drive? They both prominently featured a Fitzpatrick scramble, the first one a 10 yard scamper on third down to keep the drive alive and the second one a 15 yard run to get the Texans out to near midfield. (Here is where I make the obligatory Matt Schaub joke -- actually, it's not even a joke, it's a fact -- Fitzpatrick had more yards rushing on those two plays than Schaub had the last three seasons combined.)
4. T.J. Yates Well, in my preview Friday, I talked about how interesting the post game chatter would be if Yates came in and tore it up on Saturday. In actuality, the only thing he might have torn up would be whatever time is remaining on his contract with the Falcons. Simply put, Yates was awful. His first throw should have been a pick six by Josh Victorian. He then overthrew an easy touchdown to Julian Jones on a deep ball, before eventually throwing a pick six (he had to, right?) to Andre Hal, and capped it off with a pick to inside linebacker Max Bullough. It was a disastrous return to Houston for Yates, and begs the question "Should Gary Kubiak retroactively get the 2011 Coach of the Year award for coaxing a playoff win out of T.J. Yates?"
3. D.J. Swearinger Swearinger played fine, making four tackles and breaking up a pass. The problem with Swearinger is that his act on the field is over the top clownish at times, especially for a guy who really hasn't done anything in the league yet. Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said this about Swearinger after the game:
"Not really my flavor," White said. "Any guy that goes out there and talks all day -- you know, you've gotta be able to play. All that rah rah at the end of the day means nothing if you don't go out there and make plays."
Then there were the two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Swearinger. This one, after the pass breakup, was a little ticky tack by this officiating crew:
The penalty on Swearinger (and, it appeared, Kareem Jackson) for chasing Hal down the sideline on his pick six, though, was utterly ridiculous. Yes, given the score and the fact the game didn't really count, it was harmless, but if you're trying to act like it's the season, then Swearinger needs to be able to control his urge to leave the bench area, which should be easy enough to do (although Swearinger strikes me as one of those hyperactive first grade kids who are nice kids, but in trouble all the time because they can't keep their hands to themselves).
The unsportsmanlike stuff is a point of emphasis for referees in the preseason, and there are probably examples that have been shown to the refs to clarify what to watch for. In fact, I like to think that Dean Blandino (NFL head of officials) has a deck of cards like W had for Al-Qaeda, with the celebration terrorists depicted in order of severity. If he did, D.J. probably isn't the ace of spades (what up, Jimmy Graham?), but he's a solid face card, for sure.
2. Brandon Harris If the Texans take six cornerbacks into the season, Brandon Harris probably makes the team, but I don't know that I can think of a player who's been less impressive in being on an NFL roster for what will wind up being four seasons. Right now, he's at best, the sixth cornerback I would trust on this team (Joseph, Jackson, Hal, Bouye, Mack, all ahead of him), and has done nothing to distinguish himself in my mind to be firmly ahead of Victorian or Marcus Williams. Honestly, I could see Harris making the 53-man, or I could see him getting cut when they go down to 75. Neither scenario would shock me.
1. Chris Boswell The league moving PAT's back to the 15 yard line for the preseason seems like a fairly innocuous experiment. I have no idea how the conversion percentages have been effected, but I hadn't seen any misses in the games I'd watched, until Saturday, when Boswell missed two. What is probably a low level talking point among people who work in and cover the league might end up costing Chris Boswell his chance at an NFL job. My guess is, at the traditional distance, his misses on Saturday probably slip inside the upright and we're not even talking about him today. Instead, he needs a minor miracle to beat out Randy Bullock for the job now.
Rough game, man.