Have the Texans gotten their swagger back?
Although the Boys in Vegas had the Houston Texans favored by five points over the Cincinnati Bengals in Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game at Reliant Stadium in Houston, there wasn’t an overwhelming number of Texans fans who honestly thought the team could shake its month-long trip to the doldrums and be competitive in this game.
But the ones who counted the most—the players and coaching staff—preached all last week to the team that they merely needed to get the swagger back that accompanied their march to an 11-1 record during the first three months of the 2012 NFL season.
Defensive coordinator and Orange native Wade Phillips reminded his unit that before “Bulls on Charade” became a popular term in these parts, his defense was one of the NFL’s best.
“We said early in the week, ‘Let’s get our swag back,’ ” Phillips said in a post-game interview for the Houston Chronicle after the Texans ousted the Bengals 19-13 Saturday afternoon. “I thought it was something we needed to emphasize. They showed today that the swagger has returned.”
Everything that had the Texans flying so high before December, returned for Saturday’s playoff contest against Cincinnati. They did just about everything positive EXCEPT score multiple touchdowns. They only scored one, but it certainly was enough, thanks to the four field goals by kicker Shayne Graham.
The win was the first playoff victory for quarterback Matt Schaub, who was forced to watch last year’s victory over the Bengals from the sidelines as he recovered from foot surgery.
Although Schaub didn’t throw for a touchdown, he helped the offense generate 420 yards and control the clock for 38 minutes and 49 seconds. The Texans were able to beat the Bengals without perfection, but by making the big plays at the most opportune times.
Cincinnati’s only touchdown came on a bad pass by Schaub that was intercepted by cornerback Leon Hall and returned 21 yards for the score. But Wade Phillips’ defense completely shut the door on the Bengals, keeping them out of the end zone and limiting them to 80 yards rushing and only 118 yards passing.
Houston running back Arian Foster had a big day, rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries in addition to catching eight passes. He is the first back in NFL history to reach 100 yards rushing in his first three playoff games.
Defensive lineman J.J. Watt had another outstanding game for the Texans with one sack, two deflected passes and a team-leading five tackles.
As well as Houston played Saturday against Cincinnati, the Texans will need an even better performance Sunday against New England in Foxborough.
Foster will have to continue his strong rushing game to help the Texans’ offense control the football and keep quarterback Tom Brady off the field. Houston is 8-0 this season when Foster rushes for at least 100 yards.
The defense will have to play as well or better than it did against the Bengals. The Texans must avoid a repeat performance of their effort in December when Brady lit them up for 296 yards and four touchdown passes. The defense will have to force turnovers and not give up the big plays that plagued them in the first game at New England.
And Matt Schaub and the offense must improve immensely in the red zone and score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals. The Texans scored only three touchdowns but have kicked 14 field goals in the last four games.
This Korner believes Houston will need at least four touchdowns to have a chance to upset the 9 ½-point favored Patriots Sunday. But all of the pressure is on New England. They have to win. There’s no pressure on the Texans because nobody expects them to win.
New England has certainly proven it can compete in big games and the Patriots have the rings and Super Bowl appearances—five during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Era—to prove it.
All the Houston Texans have to show is two division titles and a pair of playoff victories over the Cincinnati Bengals. And they have their swagger back.
KWICKIES…In other games during the Wild Card Weekend, the only wild card team to emerge victorious was the Seattle Seahawks who downed the Redskins 24-14 at Washington. All the news was about Robert Griffin III re-injuring his knee. Lost in the hubbub was the brilliant interception by Seattle free safety Earl Thomas of Orange that stymied a Redskin drive after they had jumped out to a 14-0 lead. The other two games came out as expected with Green Bay avenging last week’s loss to Minnesota by downing the Vikings 24-10 and Baltimore ending Indianapolis’ great season with a 24-9 win. Divisional playoff games this weekend feature Baltimore at Denver 3:30 p.m. and Green Bay at San Francisco 7 p.m. both on Saturday and Seattle at Atlanta noon Sunday followed by Houston at New England at 3:30 p.m.
The NFL coaching carousel is really beginning to spin with deposed Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid landing on his feet at Kansas City and the Buffalo Bills finding their next head coach in the collegiate ranks two hours down the New York Thruway and hiring Syracuse’s Doug Marrone. But Oregon’s Chip Kelly has decided to stay put with the Ducks after interviewing with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. The Houston Texans granted the Chicago Bears permission to interview offensive coordinator Rick Dennison as a possible replacement for fired coach Lovie Smith, who hails from Big Sandy, TX. The Arizona Cardinals plan to speak with Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, brother of former Oakland and Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden.
If the handful of National Hockey League fans in this area are interested, after 16 hours of intense negotiations last weekend, the 113-day lockout of the players by management is over and there will be an abbreviated 48 or 50-game regular season which will start on a date to be determined and end in early May, followed by the full playoffs. The owners and players will divide hockey-related revenue 50-50 (as does the NBA). Under the previous deal, players received 57 per cent.
Although he has always disliked the American League because of the designated hitter, former Houston Astros slugger Lance Berkman couldn’t turn down Nolan Ryan’s offer of $11 million to be the Texas Rangers DH for the 2013 season. The deal—pending a physical exam—will pay Berkman $10 million this season and includes a $1 million buyout and a vesting option for 2014 that kicks in should he reach 550 plate appearances. As often as The Puma is on the DL, it looks like a one-and-done deal to me.
I didn’t realize that former New York/San Francisco Giant shortstop Alvin Dark was still kicking. But the Lake Charles, La. native, who mentored several of my home-grown McNeese State teammates during his off-seasons, celebrated his 91st birthday Monday.
JUST BETWEEN US…Today (Wed.) when the ballots by the Baseball Writers Association of America are released naming the players eligible for the 2013 Hall of Fame class, I wonder if former Houston Astros players Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and most of all Roger Clemens will have the necessary number of votes to be inducted later this year. Clemens has made the most news and after he retired for about the fifth time in 2007 commented, “You think that I played my career because I’m worrying about that damn Hall of Fame? I don’t need the Hall of Fame to justify that I put my butt on the line and I worked my tail off. And I defy anybody to say I did it by cheating or taking any shortcuts, OK?” His lawyer Rusty Hardin added recently, “To say Roger Clemens doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame is like saying Michelangelo was a fraud.” I believe if only one of the three former Astros gets in on his first year of eligibility it should be Biggio.