Check out our slideshow of the Texans beating the Ravens for the first time in franchise history.
The final score doesn't come close to showing it, but there were tense moments Sunday.
Three early possessions resulted in three Houston punts, with only a single first down to show for it. Receivers couldn't create separation. Arian Foster couldn't find holes. On the other side, Ray Rice gashed the Brian Cushing-less Texan defense for 27 yards on his first three carries. Joe Flacco opened 2-of-2 for 18 yards, picking on nicked-up Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
A hangover from the crushing Green Bay loss seemed in full effect. Boos rained down from the Reliant Stadium rafters. The majority went to ex-Texan Jacoby Jones, of course, but a few toward the home team.
Then, the Texans (6-1) did what truly elite NFL teams do. They adjusted.
"We got off to a slow start, but the defense made the big play to kind of spark the team," said head coach Gary Kubiak. "The thing I was most proud of today, I think everybody pitched in. Our leaders really stepped it up."
The momentum-swinging plays, of course, were back-to-back sacks from rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus and oft-criticized veteran Connor Barwin, the latter giving Houston its first points via a safety.
That seemed to re-energize the record crowd of 71,708 as well as the Houston offense, which responded with an eight-play, 67-yard touchdown drive, effectively starting the rout.
"I knew we were going to bounce back as soon as the week started," said quarterback Matt Schaub.
Perhaps, but it didn't look that way for much of the first quarter. Here's a rundown of what stood out as the Texans recovered, finally beating Baltimore (5-2) for the first time in franchise history.
5) Arian Foster Much of the offensive woes last week came because the Texans couldn't get anything going in the run game. Indeed, Foster carried 17 times for a meager 29 yards in that one. That changed in a big way Sunday, with Foster rushing 19 times for 98 yards, averaging over five yards per carry.
Most important were Foster's contributions to scoring efficiency. The Texans had six trips inside the Baltimore 30-yard line, resulting in four touchdowns and two field goals. Of the field goals, one may have been a touchdown except for time running out in the first half. Of the four touchdowns, two came directly on Foster rushes, and a third came on playaction at the one-yard line, when Schaub faked it to Foster and hit Owen Daniels in the back of the end zone.
Against the NFL's elite, trips in scoring territory must result in points, and preferably touchdowns. The Texans excelled at both Sunday, helping give them a two-game lead for the AFC's No. 1 seed. Their prized running back was a key reason for it.
4) Wade Phillips The Houston defense faced its first adversity in quite a while following the 42 points put up by Aaron Rodgers. Baltimore's opening eight-play, 45-yard drive (resulting in a field goal) didn't inspire much confidence, either.
As a result, Phillips and the Texans mixed things up, giving extended snaps to first-round pick Mercilus and fourth-round defensive end Jared Crick. Both paid immediate dividends. Mercilus's strip sack of Joe Flacco was a momentum changer, while Crick proved immensely helpful against the run. After Rice's fast start, he had just 15 yards on six carries for the remainder of the game.
"Hard work pays off," said Mercilus. "They told me early in the week to be ready, that I'd be rotating in early. I've been trying to show on special teams that I can play, so I'm just glad I got the chance."
The big play looked to rattle Flacco, who went down for a safety on the ensuing play. From there, he completed just two of his next 13 passes for 14 yards. One misfire came when J.J. Watt deflected a pass to Johnathan Joseph, who intercepted and ran it back 52 yards for a score, breaking things open.
In all, the high-flying Baltimore offense finished with 13 points and only 176 yards. Phillips's changes played a critical role.
3) Connor Barwin His safety certainly swung momentum Sunday, and it may have done so for Barwin's entire season. The sack, of course, was Barwin's first of 2012, removing the zero from his column.
"It was a huge weight lifted off of my back," said Barwin. "I was just happy that I finally got a sack."
The removal of that weight seemed to calm Barwin going forward. Equally impressive as the sack was a play in the middle of the second quarter, when Barwin swatted away an attempted bubble screen. Had Barwin taken the bait of a seemingly unprotected Joe Flacco and desperately chased the sack, the screen would have been successful. Instead, Barwin slowed down, sensed what was going on and remained in position to make the play.
"I just saw him walking out of the locker room," said Kubiak, speaking of Barwin. "Let's just say he was very happy to get [the sack] and move on." 2) Glover Quin Last week, we called out the Houston safety for dropping several potential interceptions in the season's first six games. Quin responded against Baltimore with his best game of the year, leading the Texans in tackles (6), passes defensed (3) and even adding an acrobatic, one-handed interception.
"We weren't pleased with how last week went," said Quin. "We wanted to atone for things. I'm really proud of our guys."
Quin and the Houston defense held Flacco to a completion percentage of below 50 percent and a quarterback rating of 45.4, easily his worst game of 2012.
1) Andre Johnson Much has been written about the 31-year-old Johnson seeming to lack his usual burst and explosion following two injury-plagued years. That may be true, but Johnson still holds tremendous value as one of the most physical receivers in football, with strong hands, precise route-running and veteran savvy.
Against the Ravens, the majority of Houston's deep routes were run by Kevin Walter and rookie DeVier Posey. The Texans adjusted their offense by allowing Johnson to instead work the underneath levels, where he caught nine passes for 86 yards, extending several drives with third-down conversions.
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"He's really starting to come along," Kubiak said of Johnson. "I think he's only going to get better throughout the season."
Truth be told, the majority of improvement seems to be from the Texans adjusting their gameplan to match Johnson's evolving skillset. After posting just one reception for 15 yards in New York and multiple failed deep balls, Johnson has 17 catches for a combined 161 in the past two weeks.
For Johnson and the AFC-leading Texans, shorter may be better.