October 20, 2003
Fear of Flying: Texans Fall to Jets
by Bob Hulsey
In the twilight of Reliant Stadium’s glorious afternoon, Houston kick returner J.J. Moses provided a perfect summation of the Texans’ effort against the New York Jets. Desperately needing a touchdown, Moses took the kickoff at his own 10 and swerved upfield along the left sideline. He turned on a dime and ran across the field, avoiding men in green until he was in the open and headed for the end zone down the right sideline. Only one Jet had a chance to catch him and that was a linebacker – somebody the mighty mite should have easily outrun. But all that juking and darting had taken its toll and Moses was dragged down at New York’s 27-yard line. J.J. had run out of gas. And so did the Texans in a come-from-ahead 19-14 heartbreaker.
Live by the last-minute drive. Die by the last-minute drive.
When David Carr’s fourth-down bullet bounced off the pads of Andre Johnson five plays after Moses’ 63-yard gallop, Houston fell to 2-4 on the season, losing their first game they really should have won.
Like an aging opera diva, nearly 40-something New York quarterback Vinny Testaverde saved his best aria for the end, closing with an eight-play 86-yard drive that gave New York their only lead of the game with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter. Although Lamont Jordan crashed in from eight yards out on a play that looked suspiciously like the Texans were conceding the touchdown so as to get the ball back, the drive showcased why Testaverde is still lobbing footballs at an age when Carr will be sending his children off to college.
With under three minutes left at his own 14, Testaverde fired a strike to Santana Moss who made a fingertip grab that netted 25 yards. Spotting nobody open, Vinny then summoned his ancient legs to scramble 13 yards into Houston territory. Next, Curtis Martin bounced outside for gains of 14 and 20 yards. In between, Testaverde launched a perfect rainbow to Moss who failed to get the second foot in bounds. On his second attempt, Jordan put the Jets ahead. Martin had a surprising 88 yards on the ground for the day despite a pedestrian start.
In fact, the Jets went through the first 25 minutes of the game as if they had been awakened during REM time. The Texans played probably the best quarter in franchise history to start the contest. They looked crisp and confident marching on drives of 61 and 64 yards to take a 14-0 lead. The defense, shredded the week before in Tennessee, looked to have an answer for every Jet offensive. They held New York without a first down in the first quarter.
Stacey Mack scored both Houston touchdowns, the first on a sweeping 10-yard run which capped an eight-play drive that looked as easy as kicking an extra point. Mack demonstrated on his second touchdown that he can at least do something like David Carr, breaking the ball through the plane of the goal line on a 4th-and-goal, holding on to the pigskin just long enough before losing control. It looked like the Texans might have their first blowout win on the horizon.
While Mack had the scoring honors, the day’s true star was Mack’s replacement, rookie Domanick Davis. With a combination of tough runs and receptions in the flat, Davis earned 43 yards on six touches during the first scoring drive then 25 yards on five touches on the second scoring drive. It was a grand coming out party for the fourth-rounder making his first NFL start. He became the first Texan to rush for over a 100 yards and he had the milestone achieved in the third quarter. Davis finished with almost 200 yards of total offense, 129 on the ground in 27 carries and another 70 yards receiving.
But the Texans couldn’t quite find that third gear to throttle New York. Both teams crossed midfield only to punt then the Jets woke up with 3:38 left in the first half. Testaverde hit four straight passes, the last one an 18-yard bullseye to Moss who gathered it in before new Texan Marlon McCree KO’d teammate Kenny Wright while delivering the hit to Moss.
It was costly since Wright was substituting for injured Aaron Glenn at cornerback and now he was going to be replaced by nickel back Jason Simmons. It was a mismatch Testaverde exploited the rest of the game.The offensive line was similarly vulnerable after RT Greg Randall left with an injury and was replaced by rookie Seth Wand. Still, Houston could hold their heads high with a 14-7 halftime lead.
Carr and the offense were not ineffective in the second half but they just couldn’t come up with the play that would have led to points. Anyone who remembered all the "three-and-outs" Houston had last year, would be happy to see that the Texans were at least moving the ball, only to get bogged down just outside of field goal range.
The Jets were having a similar second half but Testaverde warmed up near the end of the third quarter, driving New York to the Houston 22 where Doug Brien nailed a 39-yard field goal. Brien connected on a 40-yarder on the Jets’ next possession to shave the deficit to 14-13. The Jets came thisclose to grabbing the lead when Curtis Conway held a Testaverde pass in the end zone but reserve dime back Jason Bell swatted it out of his hands just before Conway could convert it to points.
Five of the six Houston drives in the second half made it into Jet territory, but the first five ended with punts from Chad Stanley whose 35-yard punting average shouldn’t be held against him. The most frustrating drive ended when the Texans had a third-and-four at the New York 30 as Carr was sacked for a loss of seven by Shaun Ellis who blew through the line untouched. Either Seth Wand thought somebody else was blocking Ellis or he thought his assignment was to chip the defensive tackle, but the gaffe cost the home team their best chance for points in the second half.
With 4:28 left in the game and nursing a one-point edge, the Texans started on the Jets’ 48 but two runs by Davis netted only a yard then Carr was forced to scramble for six more. Moss caught Stanley’s punt at the 14-yard line and Testaverde went to work on the winning drive.
After the breathtaking return by Moses, Carr had one last chance to re-enact his Jacksonville miracle. It started out well with a 12-yard pitch to Davis to the New York 15. After an incomplete pass, Carr found an otherwise silent Corey Bradford on the sidelines at the eight with 39 ticks left on the clock.
The next play was a baffling short-side sweep that the Jet defense was all over for a loss of one. The Texans used their final timeout. But it was now fourth down and their last hope bounced off Johnson’s chest to bring the curtain down on an afternoon that had begun with such promise.
The Texans will need to regroup next Sunday for a road trip to division-leading Indianapolis. Had they won, Houston could have put some pressure on the 5-1 Colts. Instead, they may have seen their last glance at a possible .500 season fade into the heavens.
The First Quarter
Offense, great! Defense, great! Hey, do you think this is what quality pro football is supposed to look like? If they could just bottle that first quarter, mass manufacture it and use it four times a week, we could be playing in our own Super Bowl.
Any doubters of Charley Casserly’s drafting skills had to take a big gulp watching the fourth-round pick run for 199 total yards, the first-round pick catch three balls for 71 yards, the third-round pick get a sack, two tackles and two assists and another third-rounder step in at offensive tackle. Add in last year’s draftees like David Carr, Jabar Gaffney, Chester Pitts and Ramon Walker and you’ve got to admit this is a big step up from some of those old Oiler drafts. Remember George Amundsen and Don Hardeman? I didn’t think so.
The playcalling might have seemed conservative, particularly after taking a big early lead, but at least the Texans didn’t beat themselves with fumbles and interceptions. You can thank Mo Lewis, in part, for that. In the first quarter, Carr threw a no-looker straight at the Jet linebacker who proved why he plays defense for a living.
The Vertical Game
After a 370-yard performance, Carr never tested the Jets’ two-deep secondary scheme with a deep ball to keep the defense honest. There was one completion to Andre Johnson for 37 yards but the rest of Carr’s passes were dinks and dunks in front of a beat-up secondary that was starting a street free agent. It was great seeing 169 rushing yards, but the mere 156 passing yards offset it.
Third Down Conversions
If the Texans are ever to be taken seriously as a playoff contender, they will need to do better than 25% success on third downs. That’s particularly true since, unlike last year, they aren’t all 3rd-and-longs.
The Jets played even more mistake-free than Houston, even while playing from behind. Coach Capers got to throw almost as many flags at the Jets as the zebras did. Part of that is from a lack of Houston defensive pressure and part of that is good ball control on the part of New York. At least the Texans got two sacks, although they came early.
On a first and ten at their own 39 with 2:11 left in the game, Testaverde took another seven-step drop. The Texans pressure came from both directions and Vinny could not find an open receiver. He took two steps up, veered to his left and found nobody home.
He scampered upfield for 13 yards as Jamie Sharper gave a belated pursuit. Testaverde made it to the sidelines while Houston defensive end Gary Walker sat lame on the turf, forcing an injury timeout at the 2:02 mark.
This allowed the Jets to get in another play before the two minute warning and Curtis Martin made it count by running at the spot Walker vacated, bouncing outside and picking up 14 yards to move the Jets into field goal range. For those without an abacus, that was 27 critical yards in 17 seconds. Less than a minute later, they were celebrating in the end zone.
Week 6 Review Stacey Mack collides with Derek Pagel (25) and Sam Cowart (56) for the score. Final Score Houston Texans 14 New York Jets 19 Lookin’ Good
The final score was the only unhappy thing about Davis’ day – one where he became the first in franchise history to rush for over 100 yards – and he did more than enough, piling up 199 total yards in 34 touches. He seems to be the right balance of inside punch and outside speed to become the every-down back we keep hoping we’ll find. James who? Jonathan who? Stacey who? Tony who? Take a seat fellas – the Domanator is begining to make us believe he could be the NFL’s next great back.
Oh, my eyes!
Jason Simmons and Seth Wand
It’s really not fair to pick on either player since they were both brought in as injury replacements and found themselves in over their heads. Simmons was matched up with Santana Moss in the second half (where was Marcus Coleman?) and, like a rolling stone, couldn’t contain the speedy receiver. Every time I watch Wand, he makes me think of that big fat kid in high school that can’t block but is told to just get in somebody’s way. I’ve heard of raw, but this guy plays like sushi. 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