September 7, 2003
Texans "Practice" Kicking Miami’s Ass
by Ric Sweeney
On opening weekend last year, the Texans did the unthinkable by winning their first game in franchise history. Amazingly, they may have topped themselves Sunday, shocking the Miami Dolphins, 21-20, improving to 2-0 all-time in season openers.
Miami began the day a prohibitive Super Bowl favorite, one of the AFC’s elite teams. But against the Texans, it looked like their annual December swoon jumped the gates by three months. So much for Sunday’s game being a "practice," as one Dolphin proclaimed during pregame warmups.
The Texans were led by last year’s most maligned group: the offensive line, which did not allow a sack on the afternoon and opened rushing lanes to the tune of 127 yards. LT Chester Pitts squared off against, and dominated, last year’s NFL sack leader, Jason Taylor, who was rendered a non-factor on the afternoon.
But it was the two players picked ahead of Pitts in last year’s draft that helped Houston strike first on the team’s second drive. QB David Carr hit WR Jabar Gaffney twice, for 21 and 36 yards, leading to a 36-yard field goal from Kris Brown, giving the Texans the early 3-0 lead. Brown would later miss a 43-yard field goal after Houston failed to convert a 3rd-and-2 on their first drive of the second quarter.
Miami’s offense stalled at the outset, but finally came to life with 9:20 left in the half. QB Jay Fiedler hit WR Chris Chambers near the sideline as S Matt Stevens gave chase. Somehow, despite Chambers’ tenuous footing and Stevens’ momentum, he whiffed at the Dolphin receiver, who danced down the sideline untouched for a 57-yard touchdown.
But just as it seemed the Dolphins had regained control of the game, shutting Houston down on their next possession, CB Marcus Coleman knocked the ball loose from RB Ricky Williams and LB Charlie Clemons scooped up the fumble at the Dolphins’ 36-yardline. But conservative playcalling forced Houston to settle for another field goal, this one from 50 yards out, cutting the Miami lead to one, 7-6, with 6:22 left in the half.
Miami answered on their next possession as Fiedler, flushed from the pocket, hit Chambers again, this time in the back of the end zone in which it appeared Fiedler was merely trying to throw the ball away. But Chambers leapt up and made an unbelievable one-handed catch to increase Miami’s lead, 14-6, at the half. The Texans, behind two big runs from RBs Stacey Mack and Domanick Davis, were able to try a 54-yard field goal as time expired, but Brown’s attempt sailed wide left.
After a 48-yard Ricky Williams rumble to the Texan 2 was wiped out by a penalty, the two defenses held serve until Carr split four defenders and zipped a bullet to WR Corey Bradford, who caught the pass in stride and then outran Miami’s defense 78 yards for the score. The touchdown is now the longest in the Texans’ brief history. But Houston’s two-point conversion, a draw play to Mack, failed, and the Texans still trailed, 14-12, with 4:22 left in the the third quarter.
On their next possession, Carr hit WR Andre Johnson for 22 yards and Davis rumbled 15 yards, breaking three tackles, en route, to again set-up Brown, who nailed a 23-yarder with :25 left in the third quarter. After 45 minutes of play, the Texans were back on top, 15-14.
Miami countered by turning Williams loose. The former Longhorn took a well-designed screen pass 35 yards, shredding Stevens in the process, to again give the Dolphins the lead. But Miami missed its two-point conversion as well, and led by only five, 20-15, which would prove to be big down the stretch.
Back came the Texans. Gaffney converted a huge 3rd-and-8 with an 11-yard reception and Johnson made two big catches and drew a unsportsmanlike face mask penalty on DB Jamar Fletcher. But TE Billy Miller dropped a pass in the end zone and the Texans had to settle for Brown’s fourth field goal, from 24 yards out, cutting the lead to two, 20-18, with 4:59 left in the game.
Then Miami did the unthinkable — they put the ball in Fiedler’s hand. On 2nd-and-12, Fiedler threw a deep out that Coleman read perfectly and intercepted with 3:53 left in the game. Mack then converted a gigantic 3rd-and-6 with a 10-yard sweep to Pitts’ side, which allowed the Texans to drain the clock, leaving Brown a 35-yard field goal with :25 left, which he nailed, his fifth of the afternoon.
Next up, the undefeated Texans travel to the Big Easy to face the New Orleans Saints.
The Number Zero Zero sacks. Zero turnovers. You could even stretch that to include zero backbreaking penalties. And let’s not forget, All-World DE Jason Taylor dropped a zero, too, as in zero sacks, zero tackles. To beat a team as good as Miami demands a nearly flawless performance and the Texans were obviously up to the challenge, especially Pitts.
The Offensive Line Like night and day when compared to last year’s unit. And Miami’s defense is no pushover, either. Yet, Pitts contained Taylor and the line consistently opened holes for Mack and Davis while giving Carr legitimate time to throw the football.
The Playmakers Mack, Davis, Bradford, Gaffney and Johnson all made big plays Sunday. Bradford broke the game open with his 78-yard touchdown, Gaffney and Johnson, two former college stars in the state of Florida, each made big catches and ran for tough yards after the catch and the combination of Mack and Davis moved the football forward, a drastic change from last year’s rushing attack. Both repeatedly made the first man miss and showed they have the power to drive the pile at the line of scrimmage. Neither goes down easily.
The Return Game JJ Moses has a lot of talent and was obviously eager to show it off on Sunday after a productive preseason, so we can excuse him returning one kick out of the back of the end zone when he should have downed it, but not twice. He also let a punt bounce that he should have fielded and ran backwards on another return inside his own 20 when field position was critical.
Third Downs The Texans were 6-of-17 on third down and faced, on average, 3rd-and-7 on the afternoon, which makes the offensive line’s performance even more impressive. One of the Texans’ stated goals this year is to be more productive on first and second down. They have some work to do.
Field Goals The Texans’ win was by no means a fluke — just look at the stats, which they won handily. So how did the Dolphins stay close? Primarily because the Texans too often played for field goals when on Miami’s side of the field. They were certainly more aggressive than they were a year ago, but Chris Palmer needs to give up on the draw play and screen pass — this team simply doesn’t yet have the talent to pull either off in normal circumstances and they need to mix it up a bit more. And likely will with the playmakers they have.
Ricky Williams is great. Jay Fiedler isn’t. So why, with under four minutes to go, and the Dolphins up two, did offensive coordinator Norv Turner drop Fiedler back to pass inside his own 20, especially with Houston down to a lone timeout?
About the only person in the state of Florida who wasn’t obviously thinking run was CB Marcus Coleman, who jumped on Fiedler’s weak throw to the sidelines and intercepted the pass, which eventually set up Kris Brown’s game-winner. Earlier, Coleman jarred the ball loose from Williams and even made a reception on offense. Great day for him. Week 1 Review Kris Brown celebrates his game-winning field goal. Final Score Houston Texans 21 Miami Dolphins 20 Lookin’ Good
It’s been three years since Jason Taylor last dropped a zero: zero sacks, zero solo tackles and zero assists. Pitts rendered the reigning sack king the very definition of a non-factor on Sunday. The Texans also converted a huge third down running a sweep to Pitts’ side late in the game to ice it.
Oh, my eyes!
It’s hard to imagine someone in the NFL that tackles worse than Stevens. His inability to simply shove Chris Chambers out of bounds — when Chambers was leaning that way already — led to a momentum-shifting 57-yard touchdown.
2003 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.09 Denver 12-20 08.15 at Dallas 6-34 08.23 San Diego 17-19 08.28 at Tampa Bay 3-34 Regular Season 09.07 at Miami 21-20 09.14 at New Orleans 10-31 09.21 Kansas City 14-42 09.28 Jacksonville 24-20 10.05 Bye — 10.12 at Tennessee 17-38 10.19 New York Jets 14-19 10.26 at Indianapolis 21-30 11.02 Carolina 14-10 11.09 at Cincinnati 27-34 11.16 at Buffalo 12-10 11.23 New England 20-23 11.30 Atlanta 17-13 12.07 at Jacksonville 0-27 12.14 at Tampa Bay 3-16 12.21 Tennessee 24-27 12.28 Indianapolis 17-20 Overall Record 5-11