Texans’ Hold ‘Em

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September 28, 2003
Texans’ Hold ‘Em

by Ric Sweeney

Down 20-17 with :02 remaining, his team less than a yard away from the end zone but facing a fourth down, Texan head coach Dom Capers pushed his chips to the center of the table.

"All in," he told his young team, "all in."

Capers’ gamble paid off big time as David Carr stretched across the goal line to give Houston a thrilling 24-20 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday. The win improves the Texans’ record to 2-2, with both wins this year coming against teams from Florida.

The winning score came after Byron Leftwich’s fourth turnover of the day, a fumble at his own 41 with 2:42 left in the game that gave the Texans a second chance at victory. And they needed that second chance because they squandered their first opportunity earlier in the quarter.

Still down three with 7:51 remaining, Carr rediscovered his favorite target, Andre Johnson, who caught four of Carr’s five passes on the drive, helping Houston move to the Jacksonville 21. The four catches were Johnson’s first since early in the third quarter. Inexplicably, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer took the ball out of Carr’s hand and placed it in… Stacey Mack’s.

Sweeping to his right, Mack pulled up and fired a duck to Johnson that Jason Craft intercepted with 4:24 left in the game, preserving, for the moment, Jacksonville’s 20-17 lead. But as they did most of the day, Jacksonville would soon give the ball back to Houston.

After faking a pitch to Taylor, Leftwich rolled out of the pocket, carrying the football in one hand, an ample target for Eric Brown who knocked the rock to the ground. Matt Stevens fell on the loose ball and the Texans were back in business for Carr’s late-game heroics.

Earlier, the Texans jumped out to a 14-3 lead by scoring on their first two possessions of the game. JJ Moses returned the opening kick 31 yards and Carr fed Johnson twice before riding the legs of Mack, who powered in from five yards out to give Houston the lead, 7-0. Mack’s score was the first rushing touchdown by a Texan back this year.

After a 29-yard field goal from Jacksonville’s Seth Marler, Houston was back at it, thanks again to a big 46 yard return from Moses. Seven plays later, Carr hit Jabar Gaffney on a slant which he took to the house from 24 yards out. Early in the second quarter, it looked like the rout was on, 14-3.

But Leftwich and the Jaguars got back into the game after Mack fumbled at the Texan 48. A 28-yard pass interference call on Jason Bell preceded a 3rd-and-11 conversion to Troy Edwards down to the Houston 4. Taylor then swept left to cut into Houston’s lead, 14-10, with 6:51 left in the half.

The teams then exchanged turnovers on back-to-back-to-back possessions as Kenny Wright’s interception was followed by Davis’ fumble which was then followed by Marcus Coleman’s fourth interception of the season, which ended the half.

Jacksonville’s largesse continued on their first play after intermission as Taylor coughed up the football, leading to a Kris Brown 48-yard field goal, pushing Houston ahead by a touchdown, 17-10. But another Jaguar miscue, this one a beautiful interception by Wright, went nowhere and Jacksonville tied things up on Edwards’ one-handed, 84-yard catch-and-run.

After Brown missed from 50, Jacksonville moved downfield on the strength of their own halfback pass as LaBrandon Toefield hit Marc Edwards for 31 yards to the Texan 3. But Taylor was stuffed and Leftwich’s two passes fell incomplete, leaving Jacksonville to settle for a 20-yard field goal, giving Jacksonville the lead after three, 20-17.

What Went Right?

Balls of Steel It only seems like a no-brainer now. Dom Capers’ decision to go for the win could have backfired in a big way — just think for a moment about all the ramifications if Carr’s lunge comes up short. Scary, isn’t?

The Emergence of Domanick Davis The former LSU tiger was so good, Capers refused to bench him after his third quarter fumble, something he’s done to both Stacey Mack and Tony Hollings (who was reportedly inactive because of his fumble last week). He ran for tough yards inside and out and was a key part of Houston’s game-winning drive. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him starting in two weeks against Tennessee

The Bugaboos One sack, four penalties and 7-for-16 on third down conversions. The usual suspects when assessing the Texans’ performance rarely reared their ugly head on Sunday. Only one of the four penalties was costly, the sack forgettable and the third down conversion was helped tremendously by terrific field position and efficient production on first and second down. Only four times did Carr and the offense face a third down longer than 7 yards.

What Went Wrong?

The Pass Rush The knock of Byron Leftwich has always been his inability to scramble. Yet the Texans got little to no pressure on the rookie, who had all day to find open receivers. Had Mark Brunell played and enjoyed that kind of time, the outcome might have been drastically different.

Enough with the Gimmicks They’re fun when they work, but Chris Palmer’s decision to take the ball away from a hot David Carr made no sense and Stacey Mack’s decision to force a pass that wasn’t there made even less. You’ve moved downfield without the trickery; why not dance with what brought ya?

Killer Instinct The Texans built a big lead and then allowed the Jags to chop away at it, primarily because the team was unable to take advantage of Jacksonville’s generosity. Leftwich and company turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions and the Texans could manage only 3 points. Granted, Houston took full advantage of Jacksonville’s fifth turnover, but they should have put the game away earlier.

Key Play Of The Game

Leading by three with 2:51 left in the game, Byron Leftwich bootlegged right, scrambling for 9 key yards. But the rookie, making his first NFL start, failed to tuck the football away, and it proved a costly mistake.

An alert Eric Brown tomahawked Leftwich’s right arm, jarring the ball loose, which rolled into the protective bosom of Matt Stevens, setting up Houston’s last-second heroics.

Week 4 Review David Carr lunges for the game-winning score. Final Score Houston Texans 24 Jacksonville Jags 20 Lookin’ Good

JJ Moses
He was such a weapon, Jacksonville was actually reduced to cheap shot tactics to try and slow him down. On the day, Moses finished with 173 return yards and his first two kick returns (31 and 46 yards) help shorten the field for the offense, which scored TDs on both drives.

Oh, my eyes!

Stacey Mack
Mack had a rough day. After a fumble, Capers sat him for a long stretch and after his interception deep in Jag territory (sure, it was a risky call, but Mack has to be held responsible for forcing a pass when nothing was open), he watched Domanick Davis lead the team on the game-winning drive.

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