November 30, 2003
Texans Survive Painful Win
by Bob Hulsey
Dan Reeves blinked. Staring at a 4th-and-goal from the Houston 23-yard line, behind by seven points, down to one time out left and 1:24 remaining in the game, the coach of the Atlanta Falcons decided he had a better chance of recovering an onsides kickoff than tying it up with that field position. He sent Jay Feely into the game to boot a 42-yard field goal which narrowed the Houston lead to 17-13.
That would prove to be the final score, too, after Marcus Coleman leapt and secured the subsequent kickoff. David Carr kneeled a couple of times and Houston walked off with their fifth win of the season – a franchise first.
Reeves has guided two teams to four Super Bowls, so he’s not a bad coach, but he essentially took away his team’s last chance to tie the Texans. The Reliant Stadium crowd breathed a sigh of relief after having flashbacks of last week’s last-second meltdown against the Patriots.
Both teams started their backup quarterbacks but neither finished the game. Doug Johnson was ineffective, forcing Reeves to play Michael Vick. It was his first live action since breaking his leg in the pre-season.
Tony Banks was also ineffective, but he gave way to David Carr by default. Banks broke his hand on the helmet of on-rushing Ellis Johnson just before halftime. Carr, healing from a strained right shoulder, played the second half and won more on grit than precision.
A mostly forgettable first half saw the Falcons leading, 7-3, on a one-yard touchdown run by T.J. Duckett countered by a 40-yard field goal from Houston’s Kris Brown.
Carr entered to start the third quarter and promptly put himself in scoring position with a 36-yard scramble. The problem was the play ended with Carr tackled and grabbing his sore shoulder. He would need that shoulder one more time, flipping a screen pass to Domanick Davis on 3rd-and-11 for 15 yards, keeping the drive alive. Davis found paydirt two plays later on a seven-yard scamper that gave Houston the lead.
Johnson misfired on the next play, tossing an interception that Marcus Coleman returned 22 yards to the Falcons’ 13. Four Davis runs later and the Texans led, 17-7. Davis would finish with 101 yards on the ground and another 27 yards through the air, along with a pair of touchdowns.
From there, Houston just needed to control the clock and hold Atlanta’s offense at bay. But it wasn’t that easy. Carr threw an interception on the next possession and Reeves brought Vick out of mothballs try to put points on the board. Vick marched the Falcons 14 yards but could only muster a 35-yard field goal from Feely.
Davis ran seven of the next eight plays, interrupted only by a short pass to Jabar Gaffney – on which Carr was noticeably wincing and pawing his shoulder. The Texans ran 6-1/2 minutes off the clock before surrendering a punt.
Vick shook off the rust, driving the Falcons deep into Houston territory on 13 plays, leading up to Reeves’ critical fourth-down decision.
Besides Banks, the Texans also lost reserve safety and special teams maven Ramon Walker for the season due to a torn knee ligament.
The victory gives Houston a 5-7 season mark, firmly cementing them in the no-man’s-land between a good draft position and playoff contention with four weeks to play. Next up is the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team they’ve beaten 2-of-3 times in their short lives.
The Running Game
Davis plowed 101 yards on the ground but, more importantly, ran time off the clock in the second half when the Texas needed to protect both the lead and an injured quarterback. How refreshing, after last season, to see the Texans do this, even if it was against one of the league’s worst run defenses.
We’ve come to expect solid punting from this street free agent, but he showed extra grit, shaking off a solid hit to his left leg on a roughing-the-kicker penalty to finish with a 47-yard average on five kicks. He had one punt inside the opponents’ 20, and could have had a second with a little better coverage.
When the other side throws the ball 39 times and comes away with just 174 yards passing, the pass defenders should take a bow. Marcus Coleman was surely the star of the secondary but Aaron Glenn and Kenny Wright also kept receiver under wraps.
Let’s hope the Texans have a good insurance plan because their players have been dropping like flies. Tony Banks is the latest serious injury but he’s got plenty of company on sidelines. Seth Payne, Stacey Mack, Gary Walker, Ramon Walker, Bennie Joppru… The Texans may need some Rice Owls to finish the season for them.
Third Down Conversions
Another poor day converting on third downs (5-of-14). Palmer needs to find a few bread-and-butter plays for next season that are good third-down calls. That’s one of the biggest things holding this team back.
Tony Banks was a pinata in the first half, sacked four times before breaking his hand on another pass rush. It was not a good day for Chester Pitts and Todd Washington while moving backwards even if they did fine moving forwards.
With two minutes left in the game and Atlanta knocking at the Houston 11, the Falcons tried to pass on a 2nd-and-10 play. OLB Shante Orr, mere weeks from Practice Squad duty, blitzed and found himself unblocked against the mercurial Vick.
Earlier in the drive, Vick had done a backpedaling spin move to avoid Marcus Coleman and complete a 28-yard pass. Vick tried the same move on the rookie but Orr stuck out a paw and grabbed Vick by the left arm. Vick continued to spin and, in desperation, tossed the ball feebly into the ground.
Officials called "intentional grounding" on Vick at the Houston 24 for a 13-yard loss. Even though Orr wasn’t officially credited with a sack or a tackle, he gets one in my book. It forced Atlanta into trying a field goal instead of a potential game-tying pass. Week 12 Review Kevin Mathis tracks down David Carr near the end of his 36-yard run. Final Score Houston Texans 17 Atlanta Falcons 13 Lookin’ Good
If seven tackles and a game-turning interception weren’t enough, Coleman plucked the onsides kick that sealed the win. He also took turns defending Peerless Price and Alge Crumpler, seemingly there whenever a pass needed defending. It wasn’t a flawless game for Marcus, but it was among his best ever.
Oh, my eyes!
It wasn’t so much his performance (2-for-5 for 25 yards, 1 pick, 30 yards rushing) as it was the obvious pain he was in during it. After dashing for 36 yards on a scramble, he fell on his ailing shoulder rather than sliding to safety. From then on, every pass was punctuated by grabbing his right arm and wincing in pain. This is our $60-million franchise quarterback we’re talking about here. Gutty effort, kid, but I’m not sure it’s worth risking a career over.
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