A Real Treat

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October 31, 2005
A Real Treat

by Charles Spooner

The lowly Cleveland Browns (2-4) visited the winless and hapless Houston Texans this Halloween eve in a game that would frighten the most fearless NFL fan. Spectators in Houston were dressed as vampires, werewolves, grocery bags, and other ghoulish figures. Many came disguised as empty seats. But unlike the previous tricks the hometown team had played on their faithful, this Sunday the fans were treated to the first Texan victory of the 2005 season. Good Guys 19, Browns 16.

The Texans’ defense came out strong early, not allowing a first down to the Browns’ offense. A shanked punt would give Houston good field position at their own 40-yard line. On the fifth play of the series, Texans quarterback David Carr found rookie sensation Jerome Mathis in the endzone for a 34-yard touchdown strike. The score gave the Texans their first lead of the season, their longest pass completion of the season, and Mathis’ first touchdown reception of his career.

Cleveland drove the field following the score, featuring a power rushing attack behind the two-headed monster that is Reuben Droughns and William Green, which drove 69 yards in ten plays. On a gutsy fourth down decision by head coach Romeo Crennel, quarterback Trent Dilfer found a wide-open Aaron Shea in the endzone to even the score.

For much of the first half, the Texans’ offense reverted to the familiar paralysis displayed in the previous games this season. An interception here, a fumble there, dropped passes everywhere. We’ve seen this fright show before, as the Texans failed to produce a single first down over four consecutive possessions.

In the meantime, the Browns’ offense was taking control. A balanced Cleveland attack led to two long drives. But each time, the Texans’ defense was able to stiffen and hold the Browns to field goals. Cleveland had clearly outplayed Houston for much of the first half, but led only 13-7 with 4:14 left in the second quarter.
After Mathis gave his team good field position with a return out to the Texans 40-yard line, Carr went to work. David completed all four of his attempts to receivers not named Corey Bradford for 37 yards. Kris Brown’s first field goal of the afternoon cut the Browns’ lead to 13-10 going into halftime.

Unlike last week, the Texans’ defense came out strong in the second half. Gary Walker, coming off a shoulder injury, sacked Dilfer deep in Texans territory on the Brown’s opening series in the third quarter. The ball popped free, and Robaire Smith pounced on the pigskin for the Texans. The offense converted the turnover into a field goal, thanks in part to a big third down conversion by Carr and wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, a third-and-19 play.

Another Browns possession, another forced fumble. Hard-hitting safety Jason Simmons laid a blow to Droughns, who coughed up the football at the Browns’ 32-yardline. Texans linebacker Antwan Peek smothered the ball, becoming the team’s fifth turnover in three games. Brown converted the takeway into a 35-yard field goal, giving the Texans their second lead of the season (the last time I’ll mention this), 16-13.
Another horrid punt by the Browns’ Kyle Richardson, gave the Texans offense excellent field position inside midfield. The offense failed once again to enter the endzone, but this time Brown is unable to convert, pushing his 35-yard attempt to the right.

Dilfer took control from there, leading the Browns’ 52 yards in 11 plays on their next series. Antonio Bryant caught a 20-yard pass for a touchdown in front of Texan corner DeMarcus Faggins, who has switched sides with Dunta Robinson to right cornerback. However, Bryant’s right foot was ruled out of bounds and the call was upheld after a challenge by Crennel. Former Longhorn kicker Phil Dawson converted for his third field goal of the game, evening the score at 16-16 with 5:06 left.

On the ensuing kickoff return, Mathis followed Jonathan Wells’ block down the left side for a 63 yards. A nifty reverse by Gaffney picked up 10 yards and moved the Texans into Brown’s range. Brown then redeemed himself with a 40-yard kick that split the uprights, giving the Texans a 19-16 advantage.

Here comes the scary part. Coming out of the two-minute warning, Dilfer found his first round rookie wideout Braylon Edwards for a 26-yard completion into Houston territory. Needing only a field goal to send the game into overtime, Dilfer looked for Dennis Northcutt on the right sideline, just inside the 30-yard line. But, cornerback Phillip Buchanon (benched in week 2 for his lack of physical play) crashed into the receiver’s ribs, and broke up the pass. On third down, Walker came up huge with his second sack of Dilfer. On fourth-and-17 play, Dilfer saw Bryant in man coverage on the right side of the field, but his pass was slightly underthrown. Buchanon then made a leaping, and game saving, deflection.

A couple of kneel downs by Carr, and the Texans were in the win column. It was a victory for the Texans and their fans that was much sweeter than any Halloween candy.

How about a winning streak? Up next is a familiar foe, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Throw out the records (please) when these teams hook up. But if you are a stickler for statistics, remember that the Texans hold a 5-3 advantage against the Jags, including a 2-1 mark on the road at Alltel Stadium. When the Texans see teal, they see red.

What Went Right?

Not-So-Offensive Line The Texans’ beleaguered offensive line had allowed the most quarterback sacks in the league going into the Cleveland game. The Browns defense had the lowest total of sacks. Something had to give, and this time it was not the Texans. The lineup of Chester Pitts, Steve McKinney, rookie center Drew Hodgdon, Milford Brown, and Todd Wade gave David Carr ample protection for much of the day. The two sacks that Cleveland picked up should not be attributed to the Texans men up front. It was no coincidence that the Texans picked up their two longest pass plays of the season (34 and 26 yards). After a slow first half, the line helped Domanick Davis to 76 yards rushing over the last two quarters. Perhaps, this game will give this unit the confidence they were lacking. At least it showed what they are capable of.

Return of the Rookie First year wide receiver/returner Jerome Mathis has become the Texans’ most electrifying player during Andre Johnson’s absence. In fact, Mathis is responsible for the majority of the Texans’ big plays the past two games. His 34-yard first quarter touchdown reception (also the first of his career) gave the Texans their initial lead of the 2005 season. Mathis’ 63-yard kick return late in the fourth quarter led to the Kris Brown’s final field goal and the deciding points of the game. Look for the Texans to give Jerome some additional snaps at wide receiver and for opposing teams to kick away from the rookie speedster.

Comeback Kids Gary Walker and Phillip Buchanon have both taken criticism as key components to the failures of the Texans defense. Walker for his inability to stay on the field and his large contract. Buchanon for his poor coverage and unwillingness to hit opposing ball carriers. But against Cleveland, each of these players answered their detractors with inspired effort and big plays down the stretch. Walker’s sack of Dilfer in the Brown’s final possession left Cleveland with a tough fourth-and-17 dilemma. Buchanon did a solid job in coverage, as well as in stopping the run. "Showtime" came up huge when the Texans needed him most with two passes defensed during the game’s determining series. Now we know what the Texans brass saw in Phillip when making that trade with Oakland. Performances such as these by Walker and Buchanon could lift the Texans defense from the dregs of the league.

What Went Wrong?

…part 2 (can’t go negative this week)

Seth’s Speech Not sure what Seth Payne said in his address to the team after last Sunday’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts. But whatever was voiced, it seems to have been heard loud and clear by his teammates. There was a noticeable difference in the effort of the team across the board. So here’s to Payne continuing to breakout the fire and brimstone after every game (heck every practice). Other groups I would like Seth to speak to include world leaders involved in the Middle East conflicts; oil companies and OPEC regarding oil prices; Network execs who can remove reality programming off my TV.

Astros Magic Rubbing Off? Members of Houston’s National League pennant winner were honored in a pre-game ceremony at Reliant. The ‘Stros show up and it’s mere happenstance the Texans come up with their first win in seven tries? I think not. Hopefully, the Texans braintrust will realize the same and position a Killer “B” in the tunnel for each game. Each Texan will rub the designated Astros’ cap for good luck. Be careful with Baggy, he’s still rehabbing.

Stopped the Bleeding This win did more than just put a one up in the “W” column. There is a world of difference between a historically awful team and another run of the mill bad team. If the Texans had let this game get away, the pressure to win a single game would have been enormous. The confidence of many of the Texans’ young players could have been shattered. Now, these players can feel good about themselves…even if it may be just for a week. Who knows, maybe the Texans could get hot and finish as a mediocre team once again? I can dream, can’t I?

Key Play Of The Game

It’s fourth-and-17 at the Texans’ 46-yard line for the Browns, trailing 19-16. Many Texans fans, in the stands or at home in front of the tube, were asking themselves the same question: “How are they gonna blow it this time?”

Despite the fact that the Texans defense had come up big in the previous two plays, one could not help but think the home team would find another way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Would the Browns look at Braylon Edwards over the middle for the first down to set up a tying field goal? Maybe a Texan penalty would do the trick?

No, Trent Dilfer was going for the win. The much-maligned quarterback had been rattled by a Gary Walker sack a play earlier, yet Dilfer looked strong as he stepped up in the pocket and launched a pass to Antonio Bryant just inside the ten. In the time the ball came down, a fan would have time to ponder many questions. Could the team really finish 0-16? Should Garner have left Backe in during game four? Did I leave the coffee pot on? Was a third quarter hot dog on top of first quarter nachos a real good choice?

Then suddenly, a hand appeared where in previous games had not been seen. It was Phillip Buchanon, self-titled "Showtime", who leapt high to deflect the would be touchdown pass that then fell harmlessly to the Reliant Stadium turf. Joy in H-Town! Hey, this feels pretty good. Let’s do it again sometime?

Week 7 Recap Jerome Mathis pulls in a pass from David Carr for a 34-yard touchdown. Final Score Houston Texans 19 Cleveland Browns 16 Lookin’ Good

DaShon Polk
Set the tone for the defense with his physical play and his 8 first half tackles..

Oh, my eyes!

Corey Bradford
Texans completed one of five passes to The Playkiller. Come back soon, Andre Johnson.

2005 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.13 Denver 14-20 08.20 Oakland 19-17 08.26 at Dallas 9-21 09.01 at Tampa Bay 14-38 Regular Season 09.11 at Buffalo 7-22 09.18 Pittsburgh 7-27 09.25 Bye   10.02 at Cincinnati 10-16 10.09 Tennessee 20-34 10.16 at Seattle 10-42 10.23 Indianapolis 20-38 10.30 Cleveland 19-16 11.06 at Jacksonville 14-21 11.13 at Indianapolis 17-31 11.20 Kansas City 17-45 11.27 St. Louis 27-33 12.04 at Baltimore 15-16 12.11 at Tennessee 10-13 12.18 Arizona 30-19 12.24 Jacksonville 20-38 01.01 at San Francisco 17-20   Overall Record 2-14