September 10, 2003
by Ric Sweeney
This year, it was different.
Make no mistake, beating Dallas last season still ranks as one of my all-time favorite moments ever, and notice I’m not bothering to qualify that with something like, “sports-related,” either. But, really, if you give it even a passing thought, the Cowboy upset can’t compare to what the Texans did Sunday in Miami, “in Miami” being one of the key reasons why.
Nothing should ever be taken for granted with this team while they’re still learning he ins and outs of, well, virtually everything, but looking back on last year’s win against Dallas, the Texans were at home, in front of a rabid, hungry fan base, playing against a mediocre team… Still unbelievably satisfying, but unfathomable?
Sunday was the very definition of unfathomable. Miami is every bit as good as Dallas was bad. This is a team that, on paper, should have had their way with Houston. Run here, pass there, sack this, tackle that. But that never happened, primarily because the Texans didn’t allow it to happen, and that’s another big reason why this win had more oomph to it than Dallas’ last year. In routing the Cowboys, Houston played well (don’t forget, they left 10 points on the table), but I always thought that win had a fluke feel to it; that if the Texans and Cowboys played each other ten times, we were likely witness to Houston’s lone victory. But Sunday’s win against Miami didn’t have that feel at all.
There’s no way I could ever counter an argument that said Houston didn’t get the Dolphins’ A game, but I sure as h-e-double hockey sticks can, and will, contend that there’s not a single reason why they shouldn’t have gotten Miami’s best effort. Dave Wannstedt and his staff had all summer to get his troops ready for battle and even had a rally cry, “Remember the Cowboys” to help keep his team focused. Opening the season, at home, with big expectations… there’s not a single viable excuse for Miami losing that game. Not one.
Which means the Texans deserve a lot of credit for what they did. They made plays throughout the game, controlled the line of scrimmage, won the field position battle, shot holes in a top defense and contained one of the NFL’s most dangerous backs. I don’t know if we should start writing the Texans in as AFC favorites just yet, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by what took place Sunday. The real test, of course, will come this Sunday, but nothing about Houston’s victory felt false.
Last year against Dallas, opening drive aside, the team had trouble moving the football. But not on Sunday. Their backs, Stacey Mack and Domanick Davis, moved piles and ran hard. Two runs in particular stand out: Davis’ 15-yard romp in which he made three Dolphins look an awful lot like Matt Stevens and Mack’s game-clinching third down rumble, on a sweep no less, in which he cut upfield, had his eye on the first down marker and just exploded to it. Corey Bradford’s touchdown aside, the Texans’ offense against the Cowboys was very… well, Cowboy-like.
Speaking of Bradford, Houston’s trio of wide receivers have the makings of being a three-headed monster for opposing defensive coordinators, and they, too, came up big against Miami. I wasn’t Bradford’s biggest fan a year ago, but he certainly has wheels and the ability to break a game wide open. Andre Johnson’s fast, too, but built like a linebacker. A linebacker that hangs out with Bill Romanowski. He made Dolphins miss; he made Dolphins drag him to the ground; best of all, he made my pants happy. And how about Jabar Gaffney, running hard – and smart – after the catch? Hill, Givins, Jeffires they’re not (not yet, anyway), but Bradford, Gaffney and Johnson offer David Carr an array of multi-faceted weapons that will challenge opponents for years.
And here we are, nearly to the end of the piece, and Carr’s name is finally mentioned for the first time, which should not be construed as an indictment of his performance. Quite the contrary, actually. But it does shed some light on how much better his supporting cast is this year.
Carr was accurate, he was efficient; given time to throw, he looked poised and confident in the pocket. I’ve been secretly worried about Carr’s prospects, primarily because everyone seems to have just taken for granted that he’s the real deal and gone about their business, drawing that conclusion from, I have to assume, the fact he managed not to get hurt last year. It was certainly an accomplishment, but, frankly, I’d rather judge women by how they perform on their backs, not future franchise quarterbacks. Sure, I saw flashes from him in 2002, but was anxious to see just how far he’d actually progressed over the summer.
Against Miami, Carr did the little things – played within himself (can you remember one ball that traveled more than 10 yards?), made smart decisions (and I don’t just mean when passing) and minimized his mistakes. No interceptions, no fumbles, no running out of bounds to avoid a sack and no holding onto the ball too long.
Carr may not carry this team; he may need components around him to be successful, but that’s OK. Troy Aikman won a ton of Super Bowls playing the exact same role with Dallas and last I checked, he’s headed to Canton… assuming he doesn’t have a concussion along the way and speed off the side of a cliff.
And it’s not like Aikman in his prime was playing for the Cowboys last September. The Dallas game was great, no question, but fleeting. What I saw on Sunday put the “gid” in giddy. This team has potential, and we may not have to wait much longer for it to be fully realized. And if that’s the case, we’ll all point back to Sunday, September 7, 2003, as the beginning of what should be a glorious ride.
Burning Question of the Week: Why did ABC hire Lisa Guerrero’s mom to be their sideline reporter to replace the sweet and clean Melissa Stark on Monday Night Football? Good God, who made this hire, the cast of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?
One thing’s for certain — they didn’t ask me. So, for what it’s worth, my choice, all the way, was Jill Arrington. And frankly, I can’t even contemplate how anyone could disagree with it, unless, of course, you were only interested in T-and-A, in which case, Armen Keteyian was the obvious no-brainer.
Ric Sweeney did not spend his summer watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He didn’t, he didn’t, he didn’t! OK, maybe once… a week.