September 29, 2002
Signs of Life
by Warren DeLuca
After looking mostly like a hapless expansion team in their last two games, the Texans showed that even away from home, they are capable of giving a quality team a run for its money before the talent gap takes it toll. Houston lost to the Eagles, 35-17, in Philadelphia, but gave the home team more of a game than most had predicted.
After an early exchange of punts, the Texans got on the scoreboard first when QB David Carr fired a bullet to WR Corey Bradford and Bradford dove into the endzone for a 23-yard touchdown. The upstart Texans sough to add to their surprising lead after S Eric Brown intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass on Philadelphia’s next play from scrimmage, but the Eagle defense held.
Momentum shifted when Philadelphia cut the lead to four with a David Akers field goal. The Eagles then recovered a Carr fumble and moved ahead on a Duce Staley touchdown and, following an interception of a Carr pass, added a 41-yard field goal to make the halftime score 20-7.
The Texans appeared to stop the Eagles’ opening drive of the second half. However, Brian Mitchell, a former college quarterback, took the snap as an upback in punt formation and executed a shovel pass to Brian Dawkins, who ran 57 yards for a touchdown. McNabb added the two-point conversion with a pass to Chad Lewis to up the score, 28-7.
Following a 40-yard kickoff return by Avion Black, who subbed admirably for the injured Jermaine Lewis, the Texans answered back with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Carr to Bradford. Houston sought to cut the lead even further after Marcus Coleman recovered a Chad Lewis fumble. The drive ended, though, with an interception in the endzone.
Kris Brown hit a 48-yard field goal later in the third quarter. The Texan defense delivered one more opportunity when Jamie Sharper recovered a fumble that Gary Walker had stripped from Cecil Martin. However, penalties and incomplete passes soon put Houston into a 3rd-and-25 situation and Carr could not connect with Bradford on a bomb down the sideline.
James Thrash iced the game for Philadelphia with a 38-yard catch and run for a touchdown off a short pass from McNabb with five minutes left. The Texans got the ball back twice more, but failed to generate much positive yardage on either possession.
No team wants to claim a moral victory, but the Texans gave the Eagles more of a fight than most observers thought that they would. The Texans had every excuse to crumble in the third quarter (overmatched expansion team with a rookie quarterback down by three touchdowns to a Super Bowl contender in a hostile environment) after the Eagles went up by 21, but instead they answered with a quick touchdown and then forced a fumble on Philadelphia’s next possession. Only time will tell, but this game may be even more of a boost to the young team’s psyche than was the win over the Cowboys.
Stopping the Run
With a few exceptions (most notably WR James Thrash’s 19-yard gain on a reverse), the Texans did a good job of shutting down the Eagles’ running game. Houston held Philadelphia’s running backs to less than three yards per carry and contained the ground efforts of the dangerous Donovan McNabb.
Despite their huge gaffe on the fake kick, the Texans did an excellent job of containing the Eagles’ Brian Mitchell, one of the top return men in NFL history. Entering the game, Mitchell averaged 14.3 yards per punt return and 27.6 yards per kickoff return for the season, but the Texans held him to 4.0 yards and 21.0 yards per return, respectively. Jason Simmons and Jay Foreman each had an impressive tackles on punt coverage.
Even though they picked him off once, sacked him three times and hurried him on numerous others, the Texans never really had an answer for Donovan McNabb. The mobile quarterback did not do much damage as a ballcarrier, but time after time he escaped the pass rush and was able to find a receiver who had broken open, completing passes to nine different Eagles.
The Eagles harassed and hurried Carr all day, as they sacked him seven times and batted down several of his passes at the line. The Philadelphia front seven had its way for the most part with the outmanned Texan line, although the rookie quarterback deserves a share of the blame for holding the ball too long at times. Tony Boselli and Ryan Young would shore up the tackle positions if they return for the Buffalo game as expected, which would allow Chester Pitts to move back inside and possibly improve one of the guard spots.
The Running Game
The Texans were unable to consistently get anything going on the ground. Only 41% of all rushes by the Houston backs went for four yards or more, which set up too many obvious passing situations for Carr to be successful against a top defense like the Eagles. The team’s longest run of the day was Jonathan Wells‘ fourth-down rumble for nine yards. The expected upgrades to the line should also help in this area, although neither James Allen nor Wells has shown that he is a homerun threat capable of breaking off long runs.
With an 11-point lead and five minutes left in the game, McNabb scrambled away from pressure and hit WR James Thrash about eight yards downfield.
Thrash cut across the field, picking up several blocks along the way, and outran the defense to the endzone. The 38-yard score proved to be the back breaker for the Texans, as they never threatened the Eagles afterwards.
Corey Bradford emerged as Carr’s go-to receiver with seven catches for 97 yards. In the first quarter, Bradford beat Pro Bowl CB Troy Vincent on a slant to score a 23-yard touchdown, giving the Texans the early lead. In the third quarter, he victimized Vincent again, this time on a flag pattern, for a 29-yard score that gave the Texans new life after the Eagles seemed to be pulling away.
Jamie Sharper led a solid defensive effort with seven tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. He also gave the Texans a glimmer of hope late in the third quarter by recovering Eagle FB Cecil Martin’s fumble in Philadelphia territory.
Brian Mitchell is a dangerous return man, but the Texans held him in check, thanks in large part to another great effort from Chad Stanley, who’s seven punts averaged 42.7 yards. As has been the case all year, Stanley’s boomers allowed teammates to get into position to contain Mitchell. Stanley also added a gorgeous 49-yarder from the back of his own end zone.
Final 1 2 3 4 F Texans 7 0 10 0 17 Eagles 3 17 8 7 35 PASS ATT CMP YDS TD/IN Carr 29 16 188 2/2 McNabb 42 24 259 1/1 RUSH ATT YDS AVG TD Allen 14 41 2.9 0 Staley 12 33 2.8 2 REC NO YDS AVG TD Bradford 7 97 13.9 2 Pinkston 6 70 11.7 0
2002 Record: (2-2)
10.13.02 | 12pm
3-23 9.29 @ Eagles 17-35 10.06 OPEN 10.13 BILLS 24-31 10.20 @ Browns 17-34 10.27 @ Jaguars 21-19 11.03 BENGALS 3-38 11.10 @ Titans 10-17 11.17 JAGUARS 21-24 11.24 GIANTS 16-14 12.01 @ Colts 3-19 12.08 @ Steelers 24-6 12.15 RAVENS 19-23 12.22 @ Redskins 10-26 12.29 TITANS 3-13 OVERALL 4-12 click on a team to read the GameDay Preview; click on the score to read the GameDay Review