Check out our photos from the Texans' Wild Card weekend.
In the grand scheme of things, none of us really wanted to be there at Reliant Stadium on Saturday. Yes, the NFL is awesome, and we love our Texans, and it was (cue hokey Clay Walker voice) football time in Hoooussston!! But up until the time Christian Ponder was scrambling around the Texans' defense like the second coming of Fran Tarkenton in Week 16, the expectation was for this past weekend to be a weekend of rest (for everybody -- the Texans, the media, Toro) and then we'd go to work on the winner of the Ravens and Colts next weekend.
But it didn't work out that way. Losses in Weeks 16 and 17 of the regular season made yesterday's game against the Bengals a reality, a nerve racking football sequel to Ground Hog Day with virtually the same cast of characters as last season's playoff game between these two teams, save one major cast change -- in place of T.J. Yates, playing the role of "Texans' quarterback" was regular starter Matt Schaub.
And in a Texans' 19-13 victory, a game that was much closer than it should have been, the quarterback is probably a good place to start this week's edition of "4 Winners, 4 Losers":
4. Matt Schaub, survivor Make no mistake, this game was way closer than it needed to be. The Texans more than doubled the Bengals in total yardage (420 to 198), held the ball for nearly 39 minutes on offense, and converted nearly fifty percent of their third downs (8 for 17). The failures in the red zones could have killed this team (and we will discuss those more in just a second), and Schaub certainly shoulders a lot of the blame there. But considering how the last month of the season has gone, and the huge "Is he a big game quarterback?" cloud that's been hanging over Schaub's head all season, merely holding serve yesterday in his first playoff game and going to the podium a winning quarterback in a January game had to privately be huge relief to Schaub and his ultra-supportive teammates, even if publicly they profess to support him unconditionally.
3. Johnathan Joseph How do you know you've established your reputation as a star player in the league? Well, when you're selected as a Pro Bowl starter and those who follow you closely (Texan fans, media) are a little surprised. Joseph was selected a Pro Bowl starter a week or so ago, but anyone who's watched the Texans this season week to week knows for much of 2012 he's been a fraction of the player he was last season, largely due to injuries. Well, Joseph was stellar on Saturday. He gave up one big play down the field to A.J. Green where he had no safety help, and he probably caught a break in the last couple minutes on Andy Dalton's third down overthrow to Green in the end zone, but he tackled well, had two passes defended, and a monster pick in the third quarter to set up the field goal that put the Texans up two scores at 19-10. (Not to be confused with the Texans' five billion other field goals on Saturday.)
2. Arian Foster, the offensive line, that whole "predicated on the running game" deal With 140 yards on 32 carries, Arian Foster became the first player to go over 100 yards in each of his first three playoff games. That's nice. The really nice part is that Foster's game signified some basis for optimism that the Texans will be able to move the ball on the ground against the Patriots next weekend. Brandon Brooks has been getting a lot more playing time lately, and he's looked good (outside of a red zone holding penalty on Saturday). This matters greatly because at 330 pounds, Brooks is much better equipped to take on Patriots' nose tackle Vince Wilfork, whose performance in the Monday night game back in December still has Ben Jones' family searching Foxboro for some of Ben's body parts.
1. J.J. Watt and that defense I'm trying to articulate the performance of the Texans' defense in a way that Texans' fans will best understand. Um, how about this? The Texans' defense made Andy Dalton look like Matt Schaub over the last month of the 2012 season! Yeah, THAT bad, right? The Bengals were 0 for 9 on third down, which is the equivalent of getting "no hit" in the MLB playoffs. And how do you know J.J. Watt is really good? Well, he led the team with five solo tackles, batted down two passes, had a sack and two tackles for loss...and it felt like just your normal, average "J.J." game. I've done the math, and if Mario Williams is worth $96 million then J.J. Watt is worth roughly $3.6 billion. Crunch the numbers, it's true.
4. Matt Schaub, "big game" QB All right, Matt Schaub. Yes, he came away with the win, and yes, he had more on his plate than T.J. Yates did in last season's blowout win over the Bengals. (If you remember, Yates was barely asked to do much more than cleanly handle snaps and hand the ball to Arian Foster, going 11 of 20 for 159 yards with one deep hit to Andre Johnson.) Many will put the red zone failures on Schaub's ticket, but if you look deeper at the three possessions that ended in Shayne Graham chip shots, that would only be partially true:
- 2nd Quarter, 3rd and 8 CIN 14: Schaub threw a five yard safety valve to Kevin Walter. Not really Schaub's fault, nobody open.
- 2nd quarter, 3rd and 3 CIN 4: Schaub threw a less than perfect pass to a wide open Andre Johnson on the goal line. More Schaub's fault than Andre.
- 3rd quarter, red zone possession got scuttled right out of the shoot by Brandon Brooks holding on first down from the nine. Not Schaub's fault.
The criticism would be that the Bradys, Rodgers, and Mannings of the world make those throws, find a way to score even with negative plays like the holding call. Yeah, well, Schaub's not in their class. We know that. However. the most chilling Schaub play of the afternoon if you hold out any Super Bowl dreams was the pick six to Leon Hall. One thing to be unable to make the Brady/Rodgers/Manning throws, another thing to actually make the Sanchez/Skelton/Gabbert throws.
3. Andy Dalton, "big game" QB I don't live in Cincinnati so I don't know what that fan base's threshold is for "Tarzan regular season, Jane post season" quarterback performances. Frankly, they've had so few Tarzan regular seasons, I'd think Bengals fans would still be patient with Andy Dalton. But two postseason losses in two seasons with no touchdown passes and four interceptions, not to mention a passer rating of 48.6 in those two games can make fans very feisty. If you're Dalton, one way to trump bad numbers is to make a play when it matters, steal a game you don't deserve to win. On Dalton's chance to do that Saturday, he overthrew an open A.J. Green in the end zone on third down with about three minutes to go in the game. A touchdown would've given the Bengals a 20-19 lead. On fourth down and 11, Dalton threw an 8 yard pass to Marvin Jones. So yes, a "December Schaub-ian" performance for Dalton.
2. Alcoholics Completely my bad this weekend on no "BATTLE-DRINK" Bingo drinking game card this week. Holidays got away from me a little bit. I trust all of you drunks out there still found a framework that allowed you to get rip roaring wasted. I promise this Sunday, I won't let you down. We will have playoff BATTLE-DRINK!
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1. "Plan ahead" gamblers Most of the tough "gambling beat" stories involve an occurrence at the very end of whatever game the wager has been placed on. A Hail Mary touchdown, a half court shot, a questionable coaching decision that directly effects the outcome of the game in the waning moments of the game. When is there such thing as a tough gambling beat before a game even starts? When you've placed a wager on the Minnesota Vikings during the week expecting Christian Ponder to be their quarterback and finding out in pregame warmups that Ponder has a triceps contusion and Joe Webb will be the starter. That happened this weekend. Nothing like being penalized for planning ahead, eh Vikings in-week wagerers?
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.