Check out our photos of Sunday's hard-fought game against the Jaguars.
The life of the sports fan is a brutal, tortured one most of the time, with heavy emotional investment yielding very few true payoffs. It's this battered existence that fosters a "sky is falling" negativity even when your team is, in the big picture, doing well.
Make no mistake, after the 9-1 Texans escaped with a 43-37 overtime win against the 1-9 Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon, this phenomenon will be out in full force during the Texans' upcoming short week leading up to the Thanksgiving Day game with the Lions. The fan-driven talking points from Sunday will be the secondary's getting torched by a backup quarterback, Arian Foster's fumbling problems returning, and just a collective "um...WTF, Texans! It was JACKSONVILLE!!! Why did you make us sweat like that?!?"
If anything, the shortened week will augment the angst, as sports talk radio callers will feel the need to get five days worth of worry into a three-day stretch (a true case of "six pounds of shit in a one pound bag," if there ever was one). So in an effort to preemptively try to counterpunch with a flurry of sanity, PLEASE consider the following, Texans Fan, I beg of you:
4. The Texans won the game. They're 9-1, and still have a functional two game lead in the AFC for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The hour glass is rapidly running out of sand for the rest of the AFC, and at this point, the only thing they can hang their hats on is the fact that the Texans' schedule is fairly difficult the rest of the way, thanks to Indianapolis and Minnesota being legit playoff contenders.
3. The Texans proved, in about as poignant a way as you possibly can, that they are capable of winning games that unfold in exact opposite ways. Last Sunday in Chicago, the Texans won a wet, sloppy, bruising 13-9 defensive struggle in which they gained a total of 215 yards on offense. (Andre Johnson exceeded that himself against Jacksonville yesterday.) Conversely, yesterday the Texans and Jaguars combined for more than 1,000 yards of offense, and for the first time in NFL history each team had a 200-yard receiver in the same game. The Texans fell behind by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Jags and not only came back, but had a chance to win in regulation. If they had fallen behind by 14 in Chicago, it would have taken till Wednesday to come back.
Point being, when the playoffs roll around, there's every bit as good a chance that the Texans will face teams that try to turn the games into a slugfest (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Chicago) as there is that they will face a team that wants a track meet (New England, Denver, Green Bay, New York Giants). This game (and YES, I know it was against Jacksonville) proved that they at least have the "come from behind" club in their bag.
(NOTE: About the only thing the Chicago and Jacksonville games had in common was that the Texans knocked the opposing team's quarterback out of the game, and even that had completely opposite effects. Against Chicago, the Cutler TKO essentially ended any chance the Bears had of putting together an extended drive. Against Jacksonville, knocking out Blaine Gabbert was the best thing that could have happened...to the Jags. Hell, if there were in-game spreads and live wagering available, the spread on the game probably moved from 16 points to single digits when the words "Gabbert's return is questionable" were uttered by the press box announcer!)
2. The Texans got out of the game relatively healthy. Other than cornerback Johnathan Joseph having to leave the game with a slight hamstring tweak, (which sounds like it should be okay, knock on wood) the injury report was just the usual dings and bruises. Tight end Owen Daniels (nursing a back injury) made it through all right, and even if he hadn't, three of the Texans touchdowns were scored by Daniels' backups, James Casey and Garrett Graham.
1. And this is the biggest one....Andre Johnson. All season long, Texan fans have had to endure the endless string of talking heads discussing elite receivers around the league without Johnson's name ever coming up, largely because the Texans haven't really needed to pound the rock to him in most of their games. The reason Arian Foster is on pace to shatter all sorts of records for carries in a season isn't because he's the Texans' best player and that's what they "have to do." (Foster will tell you himself that Andre is their best player.) It's because they've been in lead nursing, clock killing mode for 90 percent of the season. The byproduct of that had been, especially early in the season, fewer targets of Andre Johnson.
Fortunately, Andre himself is the person in Houston who cares the absolute least about the number of times he catches the ball. He's also the one marquee wide receiver in the league (maybe Larry Fitzgerald, too) who couldn't care less about his stats.
That said, Sunday was a nice reminder to the rest of the league -- yes, the Texans can grind you into dust with their defense and, when it's working, their running game. But if you want to play a game where we start comparing downfield threats, where both teams are using their heavy artillery and turning it into a global thermonuclear war played with each team seeing who can get to 30, 35, 40 points first, then our best nuclear weapon is still stronger than your best nuclear weapon. We still have 80, and you don't. Our guy can throw it up there, and 80 will come down with it. And if you lay off him, we will take the 15 yard come back routes all day long, the football equivalent of taking even money on a black jack.
In retrospect, I'm glad we got to see some overtime and that the game unfolded the way it did. Not only are games like this good character builders (even against shitty teams), but that winning play was the perfect exclamation point for a career day from the best wide receiver in the game. Bubble screen, inches given, miles taken, game over.
14 catches, 273 yards, the winning touchdown, and one big "Fuck you" to the talking heads questioning Andre Johnson's eliteness.
So if you still want to pick up that phone on Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday) and dial my radio show, Texan fan, have at it. I'd love to talk to you. I'll even let you vent about the negative, if you'd like. 713-439-1560. Call me.
All I ask is that before you do, go look at the standings. All those other teams have issues, too, most of them far worse than anything plaguing the Texans.
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Your team is 9-1. Your team is still good. Your team is still favored to win the Super Bowl. So smile. And if you can't, well, you're probably a sports fan.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.