A Tough Loss to Swallow

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November 28, 2005
A Tough Loss to Swallow

by Charles Spooner

The have been many heartbreaking losses in Houston sports history. The Mets over the Astros in Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series. John Stockton’s three-pointer clinching the 1997 Western Conference in The Summit. Phi Slamma Jamma’s 1983 buzzer loss to North Carolina State at the Pit. The Oilers meltdown in Buffalo in the 1993 Wild Card Playoffs… the king of them all.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg stuck in the throats of Houston sports teams over the years. Choke City is a well-deserved moniker, but Sunday’s overtime loss to a St. Louis team down 10 with 34 seconds left in regulation does not rank with these “great” choke jobs. The real surprise in this game was that the Texans held that 21 point halftime lead, not that they handed over the victory to an injury decimated Rams team in overtime, 33-27. This was just the tenth loss in the disaster movie also known as the 2005 Houston Texans.

Down 27-17 with 2:41 left in the fourth quarter, rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick faced a daunting challenge in his first NFL game. When Fitzpatrick’s first two passes of the possession fell incomplete, his mission looked even tougher. The Harvard graduate stepped up on third down and ran through the gut of the Texans for 12 yards and a first down. The Rams’ drive endured a 10-yard sack and two false start penalties, reaching the Texans’ 43-yard line with 42 seconds left on the game clock.

With Fitzpatrick facing fourth down for the second time in the possession, his Rams went for broke, sending Bruce on a deep corner route down the right sideline. This time, Bruce got two steps on Glenn Earl, and Dunta Robinson was late on his deep responsibilities. The rookie passer hit the veteran receiver at the 3-yard line and Bruce waltzed into the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Rams a hope and prayer.

Many teams line up for the inevitable onsides kick with their “hands team”. These are players who are not usually on return teams but have shown the proclivity to catch the ball. The Texans choose to go with their usual kick return team with players such as Andre Johnson and Jabar Gaffney remaining on the bench. Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins bounced his kick into the ground, and the ball vaulted 15 yards to a waiting Marcus Coleman. Two Ram special teamers hit Coleman as he tried to bring the kick in, and the loose ball was scooped up by Rams receiver Torry Holt at the Houston 48-yard line.

Still, the Rams needed a field goal with only 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But Holt came through again, beating Robinson on a slant and catching Fitzpatrick’s second down toss inside the Texans 30-yard line. With nine seconds remaining, kicker Jeff Wilkins nudged a 47-yard field goal just past the crossbar forcing what seemed to be an improbable overtime minutes earlier.

In overtime, the Texans won the toss and quickly moved past midfield. But quarterback David Carr’s incompletion and sack forced the Texans to punt. The Rams were called for holding on the return, pushing them back to their own 10-yard line. On third down from the 11, Holt again beats Robinson to extend the Rams possession. After Holt beats former practice squad member Chris McKenzie for a 19-yard reception, the Rams called for a wide receiver screen to the speedy Kevin Curtis. Curtis got a block from tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, put a juke on Glenn Earl, and raced 56 yards for the game winning score.

It was a different story in the first half though as the Texans broke out their secret weapon, Andre Johnson. Carr looked for the 2004 Pro Bowler heavy in the team’s first scoring drive of the game, which culminated in Johnson’s first touchdown of the 2005 season.

The Texans also played some good defense in the first half too, as the Rams offensive line struggled with the Texans zone blitz. Rookie linemen Claude Terrell and Alex Barron both picked up penalties on their ensuing drive, and linebacker DaShon Polk’s third down sack forced the Rams to punt and quarterback Jamie Martin to leave the game with a concussion.

The Texans went back on the attack as running back Domanick Davis picks up 50 all-purpose yards on the drive. Carr then caught the Rams defense in a zone blitz with defensive end Leonard Little trying to cover Davis. Davis made the Rams pay for the error, rambling into the end zone for a 30-yard score and a 14-0 lead.

After trading field goals, Texans star rookie returner Jerome Mathis fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but the Rams are flagged for offsides. The rams tried to pooch kick on their second try, but the upback Wells returned the ball 40 yards to the Rams 29-yard line. Four plays later, Carr rolls left and finds Corey Bradford in the end zone for the first three-touchdown game for the Texans in the last 365 days.

The first half was easily the finest all-around half of the 2005 season, with the Texans’ having a 237-117 advantage in total offense and a 24-3 lead on the scoreboard. Let the celebration begin?

To start the second half, the Texans defense stiffened to force a fourth-and-six from the 33-yard line. Going for it, Fitzpatrick threw an interception to a diving Marcus Coleman. The Texans safety got to his feet and tried for a return but had the ball stripped by receiver Isaac Bruce. Three plays later, Holt beat reserve corner Jason Bell to the end zone and brought in Fitzpatrick’s toss for the Rams’ first touchdown.

Fitzpatrick made the most of a Carr interception, guidinghis offense 77-yards on a scoring drive aided by two costly third down penalties by the Texans defense. Despite the flags, the unit held firm until Jackson’s fourth-and-goal touchdown trimmed the Texans lead to just a touchdown.

The Texans needed a fourth quarter scoring drive to hold off the resurgent Rams, and that’s what they got from Carr and company. Andre Johnson put the Texans past midfield on the opening play of the next series with a 21-yard reception. The Texans were able to reach the 22-yard line and Kris Brown hit his second field goal of game giving Houston a 27-17 margin with 2:52 left in the fourth quarter. Enough to secure the victory? Not on this Sunday.

Next week, Houston will face a disappointing 3-8 Baltimore team coming off a 42-29 drubbing in Cincinnati. Will the Texans be the vaccine for whatever bird flu from which the Ravens are suffering? Will the Texans win “nevermore” in the 2005 season? Will the NFL move this game to the Animal Planet’s “When Birds Attack” time slot? Consult your cable company for scheduling details.

What Went Right?

Carr-to-Johnson This was how it was supposed to be. Two high draft choices playing pitch-and-catch at will against NFL defenses. Okay, maybe a Rams secondary ravaged by injury is not quite up to NFL standards. But David Carr and Andre Johnson have the talent to put up big numbers against any defense. Coming back from one of the worst games of their careers, Johnson tied a career high with 12 receptions, and Carr tied a career high with three touchdown passes. This is how it should be from now on.

Zone Blitzkrieg The Texans defense entered this game next to last in the NFL in sacks. It was past time for coordinator Vic Fangio to try something new to get his players to the quarterback. Against a Rams offensive line riddled with injuries, the Texans launched a zone blitz assault, keyed by inside linebackers DaShon Polk and Morlon Greenwood. The two combined for 4.5 sacks and put pressure on Rams quarterbacks from the middle. The Texans collected a franchise high seven sacks, all told. Yes, the defense allowed rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for over 300 yards in his first NFL action, but imagine how high that total would have been without the blitzes? Fangio must continue to send blitzers on a consistent basis for the Texans defense to succeed.

Enthusiasm Of course it is easier to show excitement when your team is up on the scoreboard as the Texans were for much of the game Sunday. But, it is that type of outlook and effort that this team needs to show week in, week out. While some may say that David Carr hugging Corey Bradford is stale in Year Four, what’s really tired is seeing players not showing any energy. These guys need to play like they care, just as they did for about 58 minutes on Sunday.

What Went Wrong?

Secondary is a Primary Weakness I guess it was not all Showtime’s fault. While the Rams have an outstanding pass scheme and two premier wide outs in Holt and Bruce, the Texans secondary should have played much better, especially Dunta Robinson, who was burned by Holt and Bruce late in the fourth quarter and overtime. Yes, the Texans played without Buchanon, Faggins, and Simmons, but their replacements are paid to play as well. And the secondary cannot point fingers at the pass rush, which was more than just adequate. It’s time these guys came to play this year, and Robinson must lead the way.

Finishing Touches The Texans offense entered Ram territory on every second half and overtime drive. Yet, they came away with only 3 points for their efforts. What was the difference from the first half? As Texans head coach Dom Capers would say, execution. Bad snaps, missed blocks, poor throws, dropped passes. Every time the Texans needed to make just one play, someone screwed the pooch. The offense can look back at any of five plays in the second half and overtime that could have sealed a victory.

Dom Capers and the Dike Capers must feel like the little Dutch boy who saved his town by staying up all night plugging a hole in the wooden dam with his finger. Re-discover Andre Johnson, watch the running game falter. Create a pass rush, see the secondary torched by an Ivy Leaguer. I would feel sorry for Dom and his staff, except that they had a major hand in building this structure. Maybe the next engineer will have an improved design.

Key Play Of The Game

Down 10 points with only 34 seconds left in regulation, the Rams needed a series of key plays to win this game. If you have to pick just one, may as well go with the game winner.

With the ball on their own 44-yard line and just under nine minutes left in the overtime period, the Rams had the defense on their heels. Rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had burned the Texans downfield during their fourth quarter comeback, and the safeties were playing back. Still concerned with the Texans blitz, the Rams went to the wide receiver quick screen. Fitzpatrick looked to Kevin Curtis for the first time in the game, and the burner took the pass on the left side. Big tight end Brandon Manumaleuna moved to his left and picked off Curtis’ cover man, Lewis Sanders. Curtis’ first move to the left sideline forced safety Glenn Earl to over pursue. Curtis cut back inside and put on the burners. No Texan defender stood a chance at catching the Ram wideout. Game over.

Week 11 Recap Steven Jackson dives for a score as the Texans surrender a 21-point lead. Final Score Houston Texans 27 St. Louis Rams 33 Lookin’ Good

Jonathan Wells
Be it running, receiving, or on special teams, Wells is making an impact.

Oh, my eyes!

Glenn Earl
I’ll take CC Brown’s youthful mistakes over Earl’s lack of speed and agility.

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