Falcons Soar, Texans Bore

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September 30, 2007
Falcons Soar, Texans Bore

by Mike Kerns

You know that you have turned the corner as a franchise when a loss like this really bothers you. In the past, you would have expected a game to go like this for Houston. You wouldn’t have been surprised to see Kris Brown miss a chip shot 25-yard field goal to douse your comeback hopes. Nor would you have been surprised to see Joe Montana- err, I mean Joey Harrington, look like a superstar as Atlanta upset Houston for their first victory of the post-Michael Vick era.

Things didn’t start horribly for Houston. The defense forced a quick three-and-out to begin the game. But after some questionable play calling, they did the same after three straight Ron Dayne rushes. Trailing 3-0 midway through the first quarter, Matt Schaub threw deep for backup WR Andre Davis, filling in for the injured Pro Bowler, Andre Johnson. After an incredible one-handed catch for a 35-yard touchdown, Houston was in the driver’s seat with a 7-3 lead. It would be the last time they held the upper hand.

Harrington, who was booed and ready to be shown the door by Atlanta fans when the team signed former Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich, looked every bit like the gunslinger he was during his college days at Oregon. With the Houston defensive line not applying much pressure to him, he had his way with the poor Houston secondary (a recurring theme lately). He connected with WR Michael Jenkins for a pair of touchdowns, and 46-year-old Morten Andersen added a field goal to raise the score to a comfortable 20-7 lead. The Texan offense, already facing a disadvantage with several key injuries, was forced to play catch up.

Getting a quick field goal to end the first half and another the begin the third quarter pulled Houston within a touchdown with plenty of game left. Then the all-time leading scorer in NFL history traded field goals with Kris Brown for the rest of the third quarter.

Late in the game, Matt Schaub tried to put his team on his back and lead a significant comeback. Again, he connected with Andre Davis for a gain of 45 yards. But, inside the red zone, Ron Dayne couldn’t get the ball over the goal line, which led to another Kris Brown field goal. Andersen again connected from 46 yards to keep a two score lead.

The Texans needed to quit settling for three and put the ball into the end zone. With that on their minds, they decided to come out throwing on first down of the next possession. But Atlanta defensive end John Abraham had other plans. He stripped the ball from Matt Schaub and Atlanta recovered inside the Houston 20. Playing by the percentages, Atlanta rushed the ball three straight times to set up another Andersen field goal. This time, Dunta Robinson got a piece of the ball and the kick was no good. Houston was still alive… barely.

Again, Schaub marched his team down the field, looking very sharp all the way. On a big third-and-4, he hit WR Kevin Walter for a pick-up of 35 yards. A few plays later, Schaub threw a touchdown that was negated by Ephraim Salaam’s holding penalty. Two plays later, the exasperated QB tucked the ball and ran 13 yards for a Houston touchdown that brought the team within three points with under three minutes to play. However, rookie Atlanta coach Bobby Petrino decided to challenge the play, believing that Schaub was down at the one. Sure enough, the score was over turned. With third-and-goal on the one, Dayne couldn’t handle a pitch from Schaub and fumbled the ball out of bounds. Deciding to get the field goal now and assumingly attempt an onside kick, Brown looked like he was kicking for that #1 draft pick again. He missed a 25-yard attempt badly that all but closed the book on any potential Houston comeback.

It was a completely embarrassing loss that will surely bring out a lot of the naysayers to proclaim “Same Ol’ Texans…”. Being truthful, this was a game that should have been won, a game that cannot be pinned on injuries. The team isn’t making excuses about injuries and neither will I. Let’s be honest here, the backups played very well. Davis filled the role of gamebreaker extremely well. Dexter Wynn had 117 yards returning kicks, and Schaub only got sacked once. No, I’m pinning this one on the Houston defense.

The significant injuries were on the offensive side of the ball. But it was the defense that was offensive. You cannot allow a QB like Harrington to abuse you like that. The front guys got virtually no pressure on him. Mario Williams is becoming a ghost again, and please do something about this secondary in the 2008 draft. At times, it seemed like DeMeco Ryans was the only one on the field who knew how to make a read and then make the play. Also, this game isn’t going to get anyone to climb off of Demarcus Faggins’ back.

On a positive note, there were no cataclysmic injuries today. There was a scary moment where Dunta Robinson jammed his fingers and had to go to the locker room in the second quarter. Imagine how bad the secondary would be without him. But he was able to return at the start of the second half. Also, Amobi Okoye had another strong showing, earning his fourth sack. Can anything I say make you possible enjoy watching DeMeco Ryans any more?

Unlike last week, the team can’t be taking too much positive from this game. They laid an egg against arguably the worst team in the league. On a day where the offense needed the defense to step up, they let the team down. Only thing you can do after a loss like this is regroup and try to have a short memory. Every team is going to usually win a couple you shouldn’t, and lose a couple you shouldn’t. Just move on and try to get them next weekend. Playing the winless Dolphins next weekend is a much more favorable draw than we could have gotten. Any Texans fan would have taken a 2-2 record before the season began. So let’s not start any “The Sky Is Falling!” calls yet. It can always get worse, but lets try to make it better.

What Went Right?

Back Me Up, Will Ya? Andre Davis played out of his mind for the second straight week, amassing 117 yards on five catches. Included is a 35-yard one-handed touchdown grab that will surely make Sportscenter’s top plays tonight. With his performance the past two weeks, again I question if we will be looking at an all-Andre WR tandem when the other Andre is done healing.

The Nigerian Nightmare, Part II I am as guilty as anyone in not expecting much from first round pick Amobi Okoye this season. But, much like DeMeco Ryans last year, he is on the fast track to the defensive rookie of the year award. He has totaled four sacks in as many games. Remember, Mario Williams only had 4.5 sacks all of his rookie campaign. Best part is Okoye is only 20. Wait until he really “gets it”.

Homecoming King While the game didn’t have quite the ending he would have preferred, you can’t complain about Matt Schaub’s gutsy performance. Tallying 317 yards and a touchdown in his return to Atlanta had to make a good handful of Falcons fans wonder ‘What if’? I know Joey Harrington played well for Atlanta, but do you really think he is in their long-term plans? Not like Schaub is going to be here in Houston. You can’t call him soft either, after sacrificing his body to try and run in a score late in the fourth, a play that left him noticeably limping back to the sideline.

What Went Wrong?

The Whole Ten Yards Several times today Houston came up short on third and very short. Ron Dayne just couldn’t seem to get those few extra inches. The team was forced time and time again to kick short field goals when they need to learn to put the ball in the endzone. Usually a good third down team, they were exposed today. A healthy Ahman Green will fix this in the future, but today this was a glaring weakness.

A Return to Form The much-hailed Houston defense has reverted back to their old ways the past two weeks. Everyone was willing to write off the performance last Sunday due to it being against the Colts. But against an Atlanta team that has severely struggled on the offensive side of the ball, there are no excuses. There was virtually no pass rush unless they blitzed, and even then no one could get to Harrington. They just couldn’t get Atlanta off the field, as the Falcons converted on third down 46% of the time. Even a QB as criticized as Harrington is going to make plays when given nine seconds to find someone to throw to.

Please, No More Penalties! Penalties really hurt the team on both sides of the ball today. Demarcus Faggins was like a magnet for yellow flags, and Ephraim Salaam caused the team to take a touchdown off the scoreboard with his holding penalty in the fourth quarter. Houston was penalized seven times for 78 yards and handed Atlanta four first downs in the process. I’m not jumping on the blame Petey Faggins bandwagon, but he is giving up big plays at an alarming rate.

Key Play Of The Game

With 10:56 remaining in the second quarter, with Houston trailing 10-7, Matt Schaub dumped the ball off to Vonta Leach for a short gain. Before going down though, Leach fumbled the ball and Falcons LB Stephen Nicholas recovered it on the Houston 34. The turnover resulted in another Harrington-to-Jenkins touchdown that forced the Texans to play from behind the rest of the way. It was a hill Houston was never able to climb.

Week 4 Texans pass rush can’t get to Joey Harrington fast enough.. Final Score Houston Texans 16 Atlanta Falcons 26 Texans Leaders Matt Schaub
28/40, 317 yds, 1/0 Ron Dayne
15/62, 4.1 YPC, 0 TD Andre Davis
5/117, 23.4 YPC, 1 TD Falcons Leaders Joey Harrington
23/29, 223 yds, 2/0 Warrick Dunn
18/62, 3.4 YPC, 0 TD

Michael Jenkins
6/64, 10.7 YPC, 2 TD

Lookin’ Good

A Fantasy QB
Matt Schaub had his first 300-yard game. It won’t be the last…

Oh, my eyes!

A Collection of Flags
Seemed like every time they threw his direction, DeMarcus Faggins was hit for a penalty…

2007 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.11 Chicago 19-20 08.18 at Arizona 33-20 08.25 Dallas 28-16 08.30 at Tampa Bay 24-31 Regular Season 09.09 Kansas City 20-3 09.16 at Carolina 34-21 09.23 Indianapolis 24-30 09.30 at Atlanta 16-26 10.07 Miami 22-19  10.14 at Jacksonville 17-37 10.21 Tennessee  36-38 10.28 at San Diego   11.04 at Oakland   11.11 BYE  — 11.18 New Orleans   11.25 at Cleveland   12.02 at Tennessee   12.09 Tampa Bay   12.13 Denver   12.23 at Indianapolis   12.30 Jacksonville     Overall Record 3-4