As in 2010, the Texans started the season playing the Colts in Week One. Other than that, everything else was different. At the time, nobody knew if Peyton Manning would play in 2011; thanks to the power of hindsight, we all know how this story played out. Peyton would miss the entire season after having neck surgery, and Colts fans would have to endure one, and only one, terribly miserable season. Then in 2012, Peyton left to play for the Broncos while the Colts replaced their former franchise quarterback with another one in Andrew Luck. Once and for all, Manning's time scowling from the top of of the AFC South throne had come to an end. The witch's broom had been snapped in half, and his days of toils and troubles in the AFC South would cease to exist. The Texans and the rest of the division pranced merrily around in a stupor filled with ecstasy. Never again would they see him terrorizing their defenses in a divisional battle. Peyton's numbers against the AFC South, for your education:
After years of injuries, terrible luck, one aspect of the game not being up to par while the rest of the team suffered, and the Manning dictatorship, things finally seemed to fall into place for the hapless turned mediocre Texans.
Houston manhandled the Colts 34-7, who for the first time in thirteen years saw someone other than #18 starting at quarterback. It also put an end to "Colts backup quarterback" being one of the cushiest jobs in America.
Weeks later, Houston headed to Tennessee with a 3-3 record after losing two in a row to Oakland and Baltimore. Everyone had seen this narrative before: "Promising Texans can't close games and are too soft to contend". They answered these qualms and erupted against the Titans in a game they won 41-7. Ben Tate and Arian Foster both ran for one hundred yards, they outgained Tennessee 518-148, accrued a time of possession of 37:38, locked Chris Johnson down to 18 yards, and Jake Locker threw his first NFL completion when he subbed in for Matt Hasselbeck at the end of the game. It was a total dismantling. After years of almosts, the Texans finally put together a full team effort and turned their season around. In the next two weeks, Houston trampled Jacksonville and Cleveland by an average margin of 14 points, heading to Tampa Bay playing the best football they've ever played.
The universe, like football, is filled with infinite possibilities. It's amazing to see mundane events in the past rear their wart covered heads in the future. Entering the Tampa Bay game, the Texans had finally come together. The Matt Schaub led offense turned into a hydra of Schaub, Foster, Johnson, and Daniels, devouring defenses. It's also worth noting that during the first ten games of the season, Schaub only had two games where he threw for more than 300 yards, and the Texans lost both of them. The balanced offense Kubiak devoted four years to developing finally came together, and the defense became something more than eleven carcasses of skin wearing blue jerseys. The offense with a PH balance of 7 combined with Wade Phillips' attacking defense (not to mention new acquisitions Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning) turned the "weak and soft" Texans into one of the best teams in the NFL.
Against the Bucs, the Texans exploded at the first blow of the whistle thanks to field spanning catches and runs. On the first offensive play of the game, Jacoby Jones caught a pass down the right sideline, broke a tackle, and then spurted for an 80 yard touchdown. In the second quarter, Foster did his best Jacoby impersonation and turned a short pass in the flat into a 78 yard touchdown. The defense suffocated Josh Freeman like a plastic bag.
At the end of the first half, the goodwill and love turned into a Greek tragedy. At least in the past, bad luck happened in seasons where playoffs, not titles, could have have been possible.
The Lisfranc injury is a vile beast. Discovered by the surgeon and gynecologist Jacques Lisfranc de St. Martin in 1815 after dissecting a foot consumed by gangrene during The War of the Sixth Coalition, Lisfranc is an injury to the foot when one of the metatarsals is displaced from the Taurus. A player suffers an injury like this as a result of having his foot crushed or a sudden rotational force placed on a downward pointing foot. It's like ripping the nub off a puzzle piece that's neatly glued in place with another.
In the second quarter, with 1:31 remaining, on third down, with the ball on Houston's own goalline, the Texans ran a simple quarterback draw teams run throughout the year to buy the snapper and punter some breathing room when it's their turn to shine. The play seemed innocent, just like every other quarterback sneak. The offensive line and defensive line collided into a mash of bodies. Schaub submarined into the pile. Albert Haynesworth did too. He crushed Schaub's foot. Schaub shrieked.
Matt continued to play the rest of the game, but only threw three passes after "The Sneak". He eventually came out of the game for future Texans starting quarterback Matt Leinart, with the score 37-9. Leinart handed the ball off three times, took a knee and then the team headed back to Houston. On Tuesday, the reports came in: Matt Schaub lost for the year; needs surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury. Thanks to Albert Haynesworth, the Texans' hopes, dreams, and desires came crashing down like a bucket of bowling balls knocked down a flight of stairs. The same player who was signed in the week leading up to this game and previously claimed Sage Rosenfels was a better player than Schaub (after knocking Schaub out, mind you with a helmet to helmet hit, mind you) had this to say:
"You know me; I love to hit Schaub. It was on the goal line. He actually screamed like normal in the pile."
Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Albert Haynesworth.
After panicking in misery early in the week, the attention turned to Matt Leinart at the tail end of it. Thoughts of "could he be any good?" during the bye slowly turned into hope by Sunday. Like a meteorite with a green tail shrieking across the sky, Leinart too saw his season come to an early end against Jacksonville. On 1st and 10 with 1:45 remaining in the second quarter, Leinart fell directly on his collarbone while releasing a screen pass to Arian Foster. It was the same injury that displaced him for Kurt Warner when he was the 5th overall pick in Arizona. The mundane follies of the past just kept poking their heads out in 2011.
T.J. Yates, a rookie fifth round draft pick, was the next in line that day, and he managed the most boring game in Texans history to a 20 to 13 win. We know the rest. The Texans signed Jake Delhomme for depth purposes and Houston would clinch the AFC South. thanks to a win against the Bengals that capped off a seven game win streak. We watched as spectators, just as Matt Schaub.
In the playoffs, they devoured the Bengals again and exacted their revenge again for Cincinnati resting their starters in 2009. They lost the next week to the Ravens in the divisional round thanks in large part to T.J. Yates completing 17 of his 35 passes for 184 yards with three interceptions (two of which led to 10 Ravens points). It was a game where any type of competent quarterback play could have seen the Texans win and head to Foxboro to play the Patriots for the AFC Championship. You know, the type of quarterback play Matt Schaub could provide.
It's the greatest "what if?" in Texans history. What if the Bucs didn't sign that no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather Albert Haynesworth the week leading up to the game against Houston? What if Chris Myers was not called for holding the previous play? What if Arian Foster did not lose two yards on second down? What if they handed the ball to Arian Foster again rather than let Schaub dive into the pile? What if they ran the quarterback sneak to the other "A" gap? What if Schaub started against the Ravens in the divisional round? What if the 2011 Texans played New England in the AFC championship?
Oh, well. At least we will always have this shirt.
Schaub's stats in 10 games in 2011:
Yates' stats in 8 games :
Schaub's best game: Week 7 vs. Tennessee: 18-23, 78.26%, 296 Yards, 2 Touchdowns, 147.7 Rating.
NFL Game Rewind Must See: Week 14 vs. Cincinnati or Week 10 vs. Tampa Bay (14).
For the first time, Houston was the preseason division favorite and possible Super Bowl contender, even though Matt Schaub was their biggest offseason acquisition. All reports pointed to Schaub being healthy; the cinderblock sized foot had finally shrunken down to the size of a normal, perfectly good foot. With Schaub back at the helm the Texans were a machine coming out of the gate. They moved the ball on the ground and pounded opposing front sevens into dandruff. They duped defenses into thinking run while Schaub floated passes over the top. They got out to leads early and often, which allowed the defense to unleash the hounds and attack the passer. They took teams in and churned them out and put games away at the half. After watching T.J. Yates start seven games last year, it was beautiful to watch #8 at the helm doing what he did best. Houston won five in a row to start the season. Rather than thinking playoffs, the team and fan base was thinking Super Bowl.
After five wins and an average winning margin of 15.2 points, the Texans finally lost to the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers befuddled Wade Phillips with a spread attack, throwing for 338 yards and six touchdowns. The sky began to fall. Clouds bombarded the ground, leaving holes the size of Meteor Crater. Then everything was back in order the following week as Houston beat down the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens 43-13 and headed into the bye.
Following the loss to the Packers, Houston won six in a row. However, two exhilarating games turned everything around. Houston became the first team to win two overtime games in a week, but they came at a cost. After beating the Jags in overtime in a game filled with terrible tackling and beating the Lions in a controversial game (Justin Forsett may or may not have been down), Matt Schaub's arm died. He played as though it was 2010 and threw 103 passes in five days, which was the second most passes thrown by him in a span of two games. After that, he was never the same player. He routinely missed deep passes, lost his confidence and he, and the machine that was the Houston offense, sputtered down the stretch thanks to too much O-Octane gook.
Schaub's passing stats before the consecutive OT games (Weeks 1-10):
Schaub's passing stats after the OT games (Weeks 13-19):
The Texans careened off a cliff to end the 2012 season. In Week 14, on Monday Night Football, in a contest hyped to the moon, they lost to New England 42-14 in a remote shattering game. They then beat the Colts 29-17 before losing to the Vikings 23-6 and the Colts 16-28 to end the season, costing themselves homefield advantage in the AFC Playoffs.
Houston spent the entire season making As on every test and then showed up to the final red-eyed, still drunk, and reeking like cigarettes. As a result, they lost their #1 seed and home field advantage to the Patriots and a first round bye to the Broncos. Rather than watch the first round of the playoffs at home in a Snuggy, Houston was forced to put the pads on against the Bengals for the second season in a row. They barely scraped past Cincinnati; the Bengals were just a A.J. Green downfield completion away from upsetting Houston. Schaub was, how should I put it, alright, in his first career playoff game. He finished the game completing 29 of his 38 passes for 262 yards and one interception...which was a pick six.
Then, in New England, Bill Bellichick and Brady's spread attack made Wade Phillips look as foolish as he did against Green Bay in Week 6 and the Patriots in Week 14. The Texans were unprepared for the no-huddle after seeing it a few weeks before (15), Wade consistently blitzed even though you can't beat Tom Brady that way, and we watched with our mouths agape as Barrett Ruud, Bradie James, and Tim Dobbins were burned up and down the field by Shane Vereen and Aaron Hernandez.. Matt Schaub waited five years to start a playoff game for the Houston Texans. Ending that experience like this was not how we or he envisioned it.
After 2012, something was not right about Schaub. We all knew it and felt it, but we could not put our finger on it. I assumed he was injured during the 2012 season because (a) other Texans had secret injuries they had surgically repaired in the offseason and (b) he didn't play like himself. He flat out lost it down the stretch. His touch on deep passes completely dissipated and those crisp throws to the hash marks became wobbly. I was blind to the matter and still thought he would be fine in 2013. Now looking back on it, it was pretty obvious--age, injury or mental exhaustion caught up to him. Schaub's abysmal stretch that ended the 2012 season would carry him into 2013 and eventually be his demise.
Schaub's stats for the 2012 season:
Schaub's best game: Week 11 vs. Jacksonville: 43-55, 78.18%, 527 Yards, 5 Touchdowns, 2 Interceptions 121.7 Rating.
NFL Game Rewind Must See: Tie: Week 3 Houston vs. Denver or Week 10 vs. Chicago.
Check back tomorrow for the conclusion to the series!
(14) If you do watch this game, make sure to cover your eyes or shut it off when "The Sneak" happens. Kind of like when you were a child and your parents covered your eyes when Forrest was in Jenny's dorm room.
(15) This was the most ridiculous aspect of the game and should never be forgotten. New England torched Houston in Week 15 by running the spread and the no-huddle. In the playoffs, they did the exact same thing a month later. Aaron Hernandez caught a touchdown pass with no one covering him because the Texans were totally unprepared. Again.