As I was preparing my bleach cocktail last night during Monday Night Football, I couldn't help but marvel at the Packers' complete dominance. I thought to myself, "see what a team can do when their Quarterback doesn't have a broken foot?" After adding a hint of Windex to my drink (It's got a great kick), I got to thinking about the road the Packers took to their current penthouse suite atop the NFL. When looking at all Green Bay had to endure last year, it is actually very similar to our situation now.
Curious as to what I'm talking about? Then stop acting like these injuries are keeping us in a House of Pain and Jump Around.
The 2010 packers took an unlikely path to the Superbowl. Pre-season playoff favorites after a wild post-season shootout with Arizona in 2009, Green Bay took an early hit by losing star running back Ryan Grant for the season in the first game. The Pack adjusted for this loss by relying on the passing game and just doing what they did best - air it out. Even after becoming one dimensional, Green Bay willed itself to wins through sheer aerial domination. However, it seemed as though every week the team would suffer a set back. By the time week 17 rolled around, 15 players were on IR, including 6 starters and stand outs like Jermichael Finley.
Barely securing a wild card spot with a 10-6 record, most analysts thought the pass happy packers would fall to the surging Eagles in Philly, but 6th round rookie James Starks stepped up and delivered a 130 yard performance in place of the injured Grant, and lead his team to a first round victory. Riding that success and "next man up" mentality, the Pack won on the road in the Georgia Dome and at Soldier field, capping one of the most improbable playoff runs in recent memory. Even in the Super Bowl itself, star veterans like Donald Driver and Charles Woodson were injured and taken out of the game, but the Pack never quit and came out on top with a World Championship. It was truly amazing to watch such a battered team overcome so many hurdles to get to where it wanted to go, and I can't help but get the same feeling watching the 2011 Houston Texans.
In the preseason, your Houston Texans were heavily favored to win the division on hearing the news of Peyton Manning's injury. Buzz about Arian Foster's return, Wade Phillip's aggressive new system, and fantastic free agent acquisitions generated a lot of excitement around this franchise. In August and early September, that buzz was rewarded with commanding performances in all 4 games. The only major setback, at the time, was a hamstring injury to star runner Arian Foster which would sideline him for a few games both in the pre-season and regular season.
All eyes then turned to Ben Tate, a 2nd round pick before the 2010 season that had never seen an NFL snap. After two consecutive 100 yard games in the place of the league's most complete running back, Houston was doing well at 2-1, only falling to the high powered Saints offence with a Wade Phillips defense that still had not been completely installed. Despite the loss, Tate's performance sparked a sense of excitement in the Houston Fan Base, which felt that even without Foster, all was not lost. Confidence was still high going into a game against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers, and that confidence was rewarded with the return of Arian Foster. However, even though Foster had an extremely rare rushing explosion against the Steelers, notching 155 yards, Houston was again hit with a debilitating injury in the form of Andre Johnson, arguably the NFL's best wideout.
Keeping in theme with the "Next Man Up" mentality, however, Houston pulled out a narrow victory against Pittsburgh riding a strong rushing attack and a great defensive outing from a unit that seemed to be just hitting its stride. At this point in time, Texan nation felt pretty good about themselves and their team's ability to stay afloat after devastating personnel losses. After losing Foster, Tate stood up and made statements about his viability as an NFL running back. After losing Johnson, Wade Phillips and his band of merry men took over and vowed to limit the need to even have a passing game by ensuring every single team we faced played out of a hole.
Taking this survivability as a slight against their will, the football gods struck down star defensive player Mario Williams the very next week. Yet again Texans fans approached the edge of the cliff, asking themselves why such bad luck had to happen every single freakin' year. Lucky enough for us, however, we have Wade Phillips and an unknown rookie prospect by the name of Brooks Reed. These two men laughed in the face of these sports deities, and taunted their pathetic attempts to derail this team's playoff aspirations. In the weeks since, Reed has not only matched Mario's sack pace, but has 33% more tackles than his pro-bowl counter part. He truly has been the next man up, and is evolving into a cornerstone of this defense.
By week six, the Texans were 3-3, and somehow got through one of the most brutal stretches that any team had to face this season. They survived the loss of Foster on the legs of Tate. They thrived in the absence of Johnson by leaning on the brutality of their shiny new defense. Even when said defense took hits of their own in Williams and Manning, youngsters like Brooks Reed and Quintin Demps have stepped up to fill the void and helped this unit rise to become the league's best. The Texans have not lost since that week. In fact, they've actually gotten better despite losing their best offensive and defensive players.
This week is no different. Our Pro Bowl Quarterback, Matt Schaub, may be done for the season, but this TEAM is only getting warmed up. The Texans have not only survived but excelled despite going through every possible doomsday scenario thus far. With the emergence of "Shock and Awe" (read: Tate and Foster), the meat grinder formally known as the Texans defense, and an insatiable desire to prove everyone wrong, there is no way this team is not going all the way to Indianapolis in February.
Just like the 2010 Packers, there is no quit in these Texans. There are no excuses. Everyone from the 3rd stringers to the future Hall of Famers knows what this team is capable of, and there is not a single man on this roster that is not willing to bleed himself dry for the success of this team (just ask Cushing). How many other franchises would be the top AFC seed after losing your star rusher, receiver, linebacker, safety, and quarterback? (Spoiler Alert - none). No other team can do what this team is doing. It doesn't matter who or what gets in the way of these Texans. They have not and will not accept defeat, and after having so much success in the wake of so much loss, anything less than a Superbowl appearance is a failure for these men.
I'm feeling good about this one, BRB. You can't stop destiny.