Sunday Believer

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September 10, 2007
Sunday Believer

by Ric Sweeney

It wasn’t too terribly long ago that opening day wins in these parts were rather commonplace. In 2002 and again in 2003, the Houston Texans shocked us, themselves and most certainly the citizens of Dallas and Miami by posting back-to-back week one triumphs against the Cowboys and Dolphins. It really and truly was unbelievable.

Sunday’s season-opening win against the Chiefs, on the other hand, was every bit believable.

When the final gun sounded, making the 20-3 score official, it brought with it enthusiasm, yes, but enthusiasm that stopped just short of a shrug. Not that we didn’t care; we certainly did. And not because any of us are taking for granted being above .500 for the first time since October 31, 2004. No, it was just that there was a level of expectation to the game’s outcome. Any other result BUT a resounding Texan victory would have been… dare I say it? Unbelievable.

It wasn’t always pretty. The defense started shaky and the offense never found a consistent rhythm, squandering too many opportunities while posting just a lone touchdown. In any other year, that would have been enough to sink the Texans, even against an inferior opponent. But not this year, and not this team.

Before we get too far into this: No, the Chargers, Colts and Patriots troika needn’t waste 1/1,000,000,000,000th of an ounce of energy making room atop the AFC for our Texans.

But make no mistake about it: while the Texans’ previous opening day victories were beacons amidst a sea of losing, Sunday’s was no fluke; it was the start of something genuine. Maybe the first crack in that new foundation will surface as soon as next week in Carolina. Regardless, this team is for real ("real" being a relative term when you’re dealing with a franchise that’s won 25 percent of its first 96 games).

As this season progresses, we should expect more fireworks from Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, who connected yesterday on a beautiful 77-yard touchdown strike. It’s reasonable to pencil Ahman Green and Ron Dayne in for 4-4.5 clock-chewing, chain-moving yards per carry most weeks. And you would be foolish to dismiss this defense, which has been steadily improving since the midpoint of last year and may in fact be hitting its stride.

Mention of the defense, of course, brings us to Mario Williams and his spectacular day. Enjoy it, big guy. Dogged his rookie season by shadows he didn’t create or couldn’t escape, hampered by injuries that were phantom on the surface (no surgery, no cast) but painful nonetheless, and then very nearly dismissed by an impatient fan base during the preseason this year, Williams drop-kicked his naysayers in the southern region of the pants with a coming out party Jake Gyllenhaal will one day admire. Five tackles, two sacks, a fumble recovery and the sweetest 38-yard touchdown you’ve ever seen. It’s very nearly impossible not to root for Williams to succeed at this point, to rise above all the flotsam that threatened to swallow his career whole. And if Sunday is any indication, we’ll be rooting for him a lot this year.

Sure, sure – the Chiefs were every bit as awful as advertised on HBO’s Hard Knocks. I wasn’t going to drink from a bottle of denial and pretend we sucker-punched the ’78 Steelers. Even if Larry Johnson eventually gets his wheels in gear, Kansas City may very well be among the ten worst teams in football.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Rarely have the Texans had the most talent on their sideline and even rarer have they risen to the occasion. They did both on Sunday and for the first time ever, an opening day win actually means something.

Ric Sweeney is disappointed that Jake Delhomme is healthy.

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