By Nate Griffin
Football fans nationwide have seen many sides of a Houston Texans football team that finished 12-4 during the regular season. We’ve watched how they’ve won so convincingly and have shaken our heads in bewilderment at how they how they’ve lost so disgustingly. The 6-0 start by the Texans had many believing that the Super Bowl was theirs to lose.
However, there were a few bumps in the road, including the final two losses of the season to Minnesota and Indianapolis, which eliminated the possibility of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That caused much confusion from top to bottom and in between, even with a player or two, said strong safety Danieal Manning.
“The ramifications of those two games would have given us, winning one out of two, would have gave us home-field advantage,” Manning said. “On paper, that’s always good – it’s comfortable.
“The mental part of football, you’re at home, you’re around your fans, you prepare well, you don’t have to stress on traveling, what you’re going to take to the plane and get there, and what room you’re going to be in – and all of that – the atmosphere changes.”
But, Manning admits when the stakes become higher, there are more challenges.
“You have to do that when you’re playing in the regular season but it’s different when you’re in the playoffs. We knew what we lost and guys were devastated by it.”
ALL WAS NOT LOST
There was one more game to play in Houston which would either keep the Texans alive or send them packing. That game was the AFC Wild Card played on Saturday versus Cincinnati. Katy native and quarterback Andy Dalton, along with his Bengal teammates, would enter Reliant Stadium having won seven of their last eight games. However, it would be the Texans who would prevail and advance, 19-13.
The Texans scored first with field goals of 48 and 27 yards from Shayne Graham in the first and second quarters. The Bengals would counter with 6 points of their own thanks to a Leon Hall 21-yard interception return of a Matt Schaub inadvertent pass. The Texans would lead 9-7 at the end of the first half with the addition of a third Shayne Graham 22-yard field goal. Graham would finish with four on the day to help get the win.
“You know, anytime you get a chance to put points on the board, it’s great to help your team out and feels good on a personal level,” Graham said. “There’s no other feeling like coming in this locker room and just having the joy that we have. If things go a different way, obviously it’s a different feeling. I got some chances to make some plays and it felt good to be able to help out.”
While the Texans were relying on field goals to keep them in the game, they were also beginning to revert back to a ground attack that seemingly had abandoned them for portions of the last three regular season games.
Texans All-World running back Arian Foster rushed for 86 yards on 16 carries in the first half. He would finish with 140 yards on 32 carries and would score the Texans’ only touchdown. He would also become the first player in NFL history to gain 100 yards in his first three playoff games.
“Anytime you reach any milestone and touch any part of history in this league, it’s a big deal,” Foster said. “It means a lot but it’s not just me. It’s this team, my offensive line, the receivers making key blocks, the tight ends, (and) the quarterback making plays and read checks. It’s always a culmination of your team. So, it’s a nice feeling.”
Foster pointed to the offensive line many times regarding how well they blocked and protected. Speaking of protection, the line protected Texans quarterback Matt Schaub very well.
SCHAUB DESPARATELY NEEDED THIS WIN
There was fan and media criticism leading up to this contest because of the way the Texans lost the final two games of the regular season. The criticism fell largely on the shoulders of one Matt Schaub.
But take away the one pick-six by the Bengals and Schaub was productive, completing 29-of-38 passes for 262 yards and the one interception. By the way, Schaub was not sacked.
He did a good job of spreading the ball around to his playmakers. Tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham caught 9 and 3 passes respectively. Receivers Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter finished with four receptions each.
There’s no question that the Texans’ confidence has been resurrected. Schaub stated that he and team will enjoy the win for now, but notes that they understand what lies ahead in having to face the New England Patriots in Foxboro.
“It’s a one-game season,” Schaub said. “You know, what we learned and the situations we were in a month ago, we can definitely pull from that. We’ve been down that road.
“We know what it takes to win and that’s play good road football. We didn’t do that last time we played up there. But, we’ll have a good week of preparation and move on from this one and we’ll be excited to go up there and play better.”
The Texans last met Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Foxboro on December 10, 2012, and lost badly, 42-14. But, the Texans seem to have brushed that loss aside and are ready for a second meeting with those same Patriots said free safety Glover Quinn.
“We already know who we’re playing,” Quinn said. “We know when we play, so let’s go! We’ll be in New England, 4:30 (PM) next Sunday. Let’s go!”
The Texans’ defense was very stout against the Bengals, allowing only 127 yards passing from quarterback Andy Dalton. They were so effective they limited the Bengals to a mere 198 yards of total offense. If the Texans play with the same ferocity against the Patriots, positive things will happen.
Head Coach Gary Kubiak said facing the Patriots is no mystery.
“We understand the challenge that we have,” Kubiak said. “That is what is awesome about this league; it’s the ultimate challenge. They’ve been there for a long time. We had a rough trip up there last time, but we’ve earned our right to go back. We want to go back and play a heck of a lot better than we did. We will enjoy victory today and we’ll get back to work. It’s a challenge that we all work for. That’s why we’re here.”
Talk about turnarounds; the Texans will have their chance next week in Foxboro.
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