Turning the Corner

September 18, 2003
Turning the Corner

by Ric Sweeney

On their way to 2-0, the Texans took an unexpected detour to ’02.

With 10:43 remaining in the third quarter, the Saints went up by four after one of those “Uh-oh” drives, as in, “Uh-oh, the floodgates are now officially open and the ass whipping we’ve somehow been staving off all afternoon is about to commence en masse.” (And don’t pretend you don’t watch Texan games this way because, until they’re consistently better, we all watch Texan games this way, bracing ourselves for the inevitable.) Whenever the “Uh-oh” drive dropped last year, the Texans immediately fell into the fetal position; game over, let’s get ready for The Sopranos in four hours. But they didn’t cower last week against Miami and damn me to all kinds of hell, they didn’t cower this week, either. Were the Texans possibly turning its first corner of their young existence?

Third-and-8, with three and out looming and momentum hanging in the balance, Domanick Davis turns the consistently ineffective screen pass into a 15-yard first down rumble. Three plays later, David Carr tucks the football as the pocket collapses around him and scrambles 9 yards for another third down conversion, moving the team into Saint territory. Sure enough, it’s looking all the world like the Texans are on a collision course with answering New Orleans’ salvo. Even more certain, my pants are getting happier by the second. Gravity momentarily sets in after a sack, followed by a run, which brings up another third down, but Carr beats the odds again, zipping a pass to a wide open Andre Johnson.

All good — great, in fact, except the ball bounces off of Johnson’s chest and falls to the turf, beating by mere seconds my stomach lining. Images of Carr and the Texans celebrating the go-ahead score are suddenly being co-opted by images of Chad Stanley jogging onto the field. You’re not sure what, exactly, is happening, but you’re scared, you’re alone and you need someone to hold you…

The Saints add another field goal, Carr’s sacked again, the Saints move up from fied goals to touchdowns, the Texans go three and out and before you know it, Derrick Rodgers is returning an interception for a touchdown and the Texans are feeling like Joey Porter’s ass check. And just like that, reality ups and delivers a blow to the crotch. An errie “been there, done that” feeling hangs in the air.

Which hurt because I really thought, at halftime, the Texans were headed in the right direction and I mean in both the big and small picture. Their 8-play drive with 1:33 left in the first half, which set up Kris Brown’s go-ahead field goal, looked unlike anything we saw last year. Carr aggressively attacked downfield, completing two passes for 51 yards, and the Texans seemed to play with an urgency, not content to go into the locker room tied at 7. For all the talk about how poorly the team played last year following a win, Houston actually strung together two impressive quarters of football Sunday.

Their offense outgained the Saints 161 yards to 74; their defense contained Aaron Brooks and Joe Horn and squashed Deuce McAllister, who managed 28 yards on 8 carries, 24 coming on one run. It’s easy to assume the Saints were looking past Houston, but, as with last week against the Dolphins, it’s an excuse that holds little water with me. The shocking Miami win alone should have grabbed the Saints’ attention. To further come out flat in your home opener after losing in week one is a little hard to fathom. Which begs the inevitable question: Did Johnson’s drop unwittingly remind a young team of their place in the football heirarchy, dooming them to another string of miscues, penalties and blow outs, circa 2002, or did it merely coincide with an explicable meltdown, on the road, to an obviously superior team? That’s a heck of a question, and we’re going to find out a lot about these young Texans Sunday when they host the Chiefs. Is this a team on the fast track or is it a team on some other… non-fast track?

The percentages would indicate fast track: they’ve turned in six outstanding quarters, on the road, against playoff caliber opponents in a mere two games. At no point last year could you make a similiar claim.

Which means, for perhaps the first time in their existence, my expectations for the Texans have jumped up a notch. Maybe two. And frankly, I don’t want to be wrong about this. I just know I saw a different Texan team in the season’s first two games. I know it. It wasn’t a playoff team, but it wasn’t an expansion team, either. Say what you want about Miami and New Orleans’ December records but these guys are tough early and Houston out scored ’em by a combined 31-27 over those first six quarters.

Now, before we all get carried away, beating the Chiefs is a tall order, and it’s not one I’m not necessarily placing. But hanging tough, making plays and pushing a superior team to its limit, making it earn the victory… Am I asking too much too soon?

Let’s talk on Monday.

Burning Question of the Week: Can the NFL please make the ridiculously moronic rule that a ball kicked out of bounds gets spotted on the 40-yard line go the way of my respect for Cameron Diaz-Timberlake? This nearly cost the Texans in week one when Brown’s squib kick made like a Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez movie and flailed aimlessly out of bounds, giving Miami a chance to at least knock on last second victory’s door. On Monday night, it DID burn the Giants, who should henceforth officially change the name of their special teams unit to special ed – Yikes, is that an awful group.

Anyway, up by three, the Giants’ Matt Bryant followed what should have been his game-winning field goal with a kick out of bounds, setting Dallas up at their own 40. The Cowboys’ five previous drives started at their own 28, 20, 20, 28 and 9-yard lines, meaning, on average, their starting position was the 21, making the out of bounds penalty, potentially, a 20-yard infraction. Putting any team within field goal range on the strength of one perfectly attainable pass is cheapening the game, isn’t it?. I’m not even sure I agree that teams should be penalized for kicking out of bounds (isn’t that a sane strategy in some cases) – especially when it leads to a cheap win for the Cowboys.

Hey, Ric Sweeney told you it was a give-up. If you’re still reading and having a post-Matrix: Revelations-like feeling about this article, you have no one but yourself to blame.