This might actually be the year the Texans make the playoffs
Lopsided win over Tennessee shows Houston is more of a complete team
Texans were missing one of their best defensive and offensive players
Houston should now be immune to long slumps that have killed it in the past
What's the biggest win in the 10 seasons of the Houston Texans?
a. The 19-10 victory over Dallas in the team's inaugural game, in 2002.
b. The 34-27 win over New England in the last game of 2009, keeping them in the playoff chase for a few hours on the last day of the season.
c. The 34-24 victory over Indianapolis to open 2010, giving the Texans hope they could finally slay the Goliath of the AFC South.
d. The 41-7 win at Tennessee Sunday, giving the Texans -- playing without their best defensive player and, arguably, their best offensive player -- a lead in the AFC South over their prime competitor.
My vote: D.
An underpublicized topic after a weekend full of news around the NFL is that the wounded Texans went into Nashville and dominated in every way. Tell me you weren't stunned that, on the road and without superstars Andre Johnson and Mario Williams, the Texans had the most lopsided win in franchise history against the first-place Titans. It's because they're more of a complete team than they've been in their history. And if Johnson comes back healthy for the season's second half after rehabbing his pulled hamstring, this should be the year the Texans finally win the South and host a playoff game in January.
Making up for the missing Johnson in the passing game, Matt Schaub played shortball against the suspect Tennessee linebackers, feeding Arian Foster with five throws, one of which he turned into a 78-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Houston's been a team that's often filled the air with football, and Schaub has had some inflated stats while not winning enough over the past few seasons. Now this team wins as much because of Foster as Schaub, and the undrafted back-turned-2010-rushing-champion was masterful Sunday with 115 rushing yards and 119 through the air.
Making up for the missing Williams, rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed (mark my words -- he's going to be a very good NFL pass-rusher) had Houston's two sacks, and the Texans held Tennessee to 148 yards. That might be because, in part, Chris Johnson is making no one miss and the next tackle he breaks will be his first this year. But give Houston credit. It played a wounded team and didn't let it breathe.
"It shows what we're capable of when we put on our blinders and tune out what we don't have,'' Schaub told me. "With those guys out, we all know we've got to play our best to beat good teams. I think that's what you saw here.''
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I told Schaub I thought this was a different team than the one that played so shoddy down the stretch last year -- and the one that blew so many second-half leads in the last two of three years. Watt's run- and pass-playing ability helps, and the underrated Antonio Smith is getting consistent pressure from different spots on the line. And the versatility of Foster has been a godsend.
"We're just a more balanced team, on both sides of the ball,'' said Schaub.
It's showing -- and I say that despite the two straight losses before Sunday. I don't think the Texans are the best team in the AFC by any stretch. But I do think they're immune to the kind of long slumps that have killed them in the past.
Now for your email:
YOU'RE ALMOST CERTAINLY RIGHT. "The Chicago Bears' three losses this year are to Green Bay (7-0), New Orleans (5-2) and Detroit (5-2). They have played two teams with the same record as they have (Atlanta and Tampa Bay) and beat both, crushing Atlanta in the opener and having their way with Tampa in a game whose score ended up closer than the game really was. On what basis do you have those two teams ranked in your top ten and the Bears not ranked at all?''
-- Mark L., Muscatine, Iowa
Mark, you and many others are probably right. I had the Bucs too high and the Bears should have been in the Fine Fifteen this week, somewhere. I can't sit here and defend the Bucs so high and Houston and Chicago not in there at all. My mistake.
I DOUBT IT. "Peter, given the Indy fiasco this year, is there any possibility that flex scheduling for Sunday night will be accelerated to earlier in the year? I think five to six games into the season is long enough to identify potential non-interest games. Having the potential for games like Sunday's does nothing for the NFL or NBC."
-- Davis, Denver
Agreed -- and not just because I work for NBC. But understand one thing: CBS, FOX and ESPN don't like one bit the fact that NBC has the flex scheduling in Weeks 11 through 16, with the league picking the game in Week 17. If there were flex scheduling last Sunday, and NBC wanted San Diego and the Jets, how do you think CBS would have felt about losing that one? If CBS had to give up Chargers-Jets because NBC didn't want a potential Colts-Saints blowout, understand that there's another network minus a great game in favor of a bad one.
THEY'D ALREADY OFFERED TO PUT HIM IN ADRIAN PETERSON'S LEAGUE. "Why can't the lesson of the Chris Johnson story also be that GM's should pay the man what he wants early enough for him to get into training camp?''
-- Miguel, Los Angeles
Because this was a hard negotiation to figure. Johnson had three years left on his rookie contract, and the team was willing to make him one of the league's highest-paid running backs. But Johnson was insistent that those years, in effect, should be erased because of his terrific performance. So it was going to be hard to build a bridge until the Titans realized he would have sat instead of honoring the contract. Lots of players have threatened that over the years and then caved; Johnson didn't.
HE LIKES SANCHEZ. "I am a long time reader and big fan of your work. However, I cannot for the life of me continue to understand why someone with your immense football knowledge continues to refer to Matt Ryan like he is an elite QB, while at the same time bashing Mark Sanchez. The two entered the league a year apart, both top five picks with good running games, solid defenses and first year head coaches. Matt Ryan does have better stats over the course of their careers, albeit with one more year of experience. However Ryan plays the majority of his games in a dome, while Sanchez gets to enjoy the friendly throwing confines of Met-Life Stadium. I know Sanchez is not great, but in the playoffs (4-2 with a 95.2 QB rating all on the road) he has performed while Ryan is 0-2 while throwing three picks to four). Please explain to me why Ryan is always listed as among the top quarterbacks in the game when he clearly is not.''
-- Brian, Glastonbury, Conn.
Ryan is not in my top six of (alphabetically) Brady, Brees, Manning, Rivers, Rodgers and Roethlisberger. He'd be somewhere among the next eight: Cutler, Freeman (hanging by a thread), Eli Manning, Romo, Ryan, Schaub, Stafford, Vick -- with Cam Newton close to invading their space. Why I like Ryan? He's 6-5, 26, 37-16 as a career starter, a 61-percent thrower with a plus-33 touchdown-to-interception differential. OK, he benefits from dome-field advantage. That's where he plays half his games. Do you mark Peyton Manning down because he's good in domes?
INTERESTING AND SMART. "In considering your comment about wide receivers (Art Monk and all who follow), I wonder if the HOF voters might not steal a pitch from the baseball statisticians and attempt to normalize the number of receptions of current receivers relative to something like the total number of passes being thrown. I bet there are a number of imaginative statistics one might explore that might help separate the good from the great.''
-- Michael Zwick, of Atlanta
Good point. I've thought of it but never acted on it specifically. Of course we understand that Don Hutson catching 488 passes in the '30s and '40s is just as big of an accomplishment (and probably more of one) than a player catching 1,100 today. When I'm doing my studies for the Hall class later in the season, I'll remember this. Thanks.
WALTER PAYTON'S A PUBLIC FIGURE. THS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. "I don't care how well-written the book is, Walter Payton's story is his story. If he'd wanted to tell it, so be it. If he doesn't, so be it as well. Do I really have the right to know everything I can find out about you, just because you are on TV? Does privacy mean nothing?''
-- Brandon, of Chicago
I doubt my story would be interesting enough to write a book about, but if it is, so be it. In my own very small way I am a public figure. In a far, far bigger way, Walter Payton is a public figure, just like a politician or a movie star. Public figures have books written about them all the time. You have the right as a consumer to buy the book or ignore it. It is perhaps an unfortunate part of our society, but a part of it nonetheless, that public figures have books written about their private lives. People buy them. The Payton book is 34th on the New York Times' nonfiction bestseller list this week, so some people must want to read it.
YOU ARE 100 PERCENT CORRECT, RON. "Enjoyed your tribute to Kent Hull today (Ode to the Everyman), and it made me think. Wouldn't it have been nice to have said those things when Kent Hull was alive? It is so rare that the 'Everyman' gets to hear accolades about their lives. If you are ever looking to add a segment to MMQB, my vote would be to add an Ode to the Everyman segment -- a weekly feature on one of the league's unsung heroes -- and a real chance for us to appreciate the true heroes of the game.''
-- Ron Greasley, of Winnipeg
Gee, that is a fantastic idea. It really is. I am going to think about it.
Swim Daily, Elsa Benitez in Montauk
Bears and Cowboys fighting to gain ground in their divisions