This time last season, in the aftermath of a Week 13 Michael Vick-administered beatdown on a Thursday night in Philadelphia, the Texans began preparation for a Week 14 Monday night game with the Baltimore Ravens in Houston.
We all know how that Ravens game went. The Texans battled back furiously to send the game to overtime, only to see a Matt Schaub pick-six send their season to its ignominious, de facto finish. A week later, the Titans curb-stomped the Texans 31-17 in a game that felt like, for the first time, the team actually quit on head coach Gary Kubiak.
A month later, 2010 was over, a bitter 6-10 season in the books.
Man, what a difference a year makes.
As it stands today, the Texans will clinch their first ever AFC South title next weekend if they are able to go into Cincinnati and beat the Bengals (The Texans are three-point underdogs, in case you're wondering), and the Saints defeat the Titans.
Nine years of frustration, heartbreak and embarrassment along with a fear of the "jinx" are a collective logical reason for Texans fans to want to find me and tackle me before I hit "SEND" on this article. But if the 2011 Texans have taught us anything, it's that superstition and luck are just abstract nouns, not factors that will determine their fate this season.
This is a good football team, a solid football team. Is it a championship football team? Probably not this year, but who the hell knows? Yesterday's 17-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons was another reminder that this team is, at the very least, built to successfully play the style of football that could win a game (or two, or three) in January.
As always, there were winners and losers all over football this weekend. Here are a few of them:
4. Gary Kubiak I had a listener tweet at me during my show today asking if, because of all the injuries, whether Gary Kubiak clinched a return for the 2012 season, regardless of what happens the rest of the way. I bring this up only to point out that there is probably still a big faction of the Texans fan base who are conditioned to question Kubiak's job security regardless of how well the team is playing.
The question for Kubiak right now isn't about job security but instead about wondering, if the season ended today, where would he fit in in the NFL Coach of the Year race? I think it will take an act of Congress (or four straight losses to close out the season...or both) for Jim Harbaugh not to win the award. After that, Kubiak is firmly atop the second tier with a strong case for winning it, given the deluge of key injuries to his personnel. (Incidentally, other coaches in my Coach of the Year, Tier Two would be John Fox, John Harbaugh, Marvin Lewis and Mike McCarthy.)
If you want more on where Kubiak should stand with Texan fans, Ben DuBose had a great post this morning on this very topic.
3. Arian Foster I'm not sure what else you can say about Foster. There are very few backs in the league on whose shoulders you can rest the burden of a 19-play, 85-yard drive to chew up ten minutes of clock in the fourth quarter of a game. Foster is one of them. In a season full of crucial plays, the Texans' execution of that fourth-and-one call may be the one we look back at with the group they now have and see as the most crucial. It involved a normally conservative coach showing confidence in his offensive line, his bellcow back and his defense if the offense didn't get that one yard. Fortunately, if you need a yard, Foster usually gets you at least two.
2. T.J. Yates The numbers (12 of 25 for 188 yards) don't do justice to how well Yates stood up in his first start, especially against one of the league's better defenses. Among the things that don't show up in the stats -- Yates's ability to sidestep a pass rush and move around the pocket (solid A- in this area), Yates's toughness especially after getting steamrolled by Falcons linebacker John Abraham, and Yates's ability and arm strength to make all of the throws (easily the best of any quarterback on the Texans' roster). Whereas my confidence in Matt Leinart seemed to diminish as the first half against Jacksonville wore on, my confidence in Yates is fairly high and rising. I think he'll be fine. (Actually, truth be told, he is about two more good starts away from eventually getting a six-year, $60 million contract from the Arizona Cardinals.)
1. Tim Tebow I said in last week's Best Bets that I've given up on trying to go anti-Tebow. If the adopted son of God is going to shatter every reasonable, rational piece of analysis having to do with the quarterback position, then I may as well sit back and enjoy it. And enjoy it, I did (signed, Denver +110 on the moneyline). Extra points to Tebow this weekend for actually having to score more than 17 points to get the win and move to 6-1 as a starter.
4. Julio Jones Lost in all of the unbridled bliss of a Texans six-game winning streak is the fact the game yesterday probably should have at least gone to overtime. On the final play of regulation, Matt Ryan threw a jump ball into the end zone that hit wide receiver Julio Jones square in the hands and fell to the turf (and if you don't believe me, ask Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson, who had a great view while he was unsuccessfully trying to break up the play). On draft night, the Falcons gave up five draft picks (including two first-rounders) for Jones, and they did so for him to make plays like the final one of the game yesterday. 3. The Texans' overworked training staff This week, the injury toll looks like this: Andre Johnson's other hamstring, Brett Hartmann's knee, almost Brian Cushing's knee. Seriously, football gods, what did we do to piss you off? I want to know.
2. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett Whenever Jason Garrett's name is brought up, the first thing talking heads will point out is that he is an "Ivy Leaguer." Unfortunately, they don't have a course at Princeton on how to manage the last 27 seconds of an NFL game, because if they did Garrett would have hopefully enrolled in that course and, subsequently, avoided the complete mutilation of the end of regulation yesterday against the Arizona Cardinals.
In case you missed it, the Cowboys had the ball with 27 seconds left with the clock running and two timeouts at the Arizona 31-yard-line. Conventional wisdom there says to use a timeout to either a) run a couple more plays to make the field goal easier than the 48-yarder that potentially awaits or b) at the very least, get organized, center the ball, and use your other timeout to kick the field goal.
Garrett wisdom had the Cowboys let the clock nearly bleed dry, had Tony Romo spike the ball with seven seconds left, had Garrett calling timeout in the middle of a successful kick by Dan Bailey (yes, he iced his own kicker), only to have Bailey shank the subsequent kick. The Cardinal would go on to win in overtime, 19-13.
"We very well could have taken a timeout there," Garrett said. "We felt like we were in field-goal range. We have yard lines that we use as guidelines before the game. We felt like we were in range at that point. Tony (Romo) had them on the line of scrimmage quickly, so we went ahead and clocked it and used that as a timeout. ...
"You see so many situations where you have negative plays in those situations. We felt like we were in his range to give him a chance to kick the game-winner."
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You're right, Jason. This was a much better choice. If you get fired after this season, assume this was the turning point.
1. The poor saps who sat through Chiefs 10, Bears 3 Tyler Palko. Caleb Hanie. A game whose only touchdown was scored on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half that was batted right into Dexter McCluster's hands. And yet somehow, NFL Films would be able to find a way to make this game feel like Super Bowl XLII.
The Texans' 2011 interactive game card has been updated.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game weekday mornings from 6 a.m to 11 a.m., simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.