Texans 43, Jaguars 37: Four Red Flags, Four Silver Linings
1. Andre freakin' Johnson. Remember a few weeks back, when a few writers (this one included) were ready to concede that the 31-year-old Johnson had turned the page to the next chapter of his career as a possession receiver? Uh, scratch that. Johnson's 14 catches for 273 yards were a career-best game, and his burst on the winning 48-yard bubble screen looked as good as ever.
"Like I said before, I've been telling you guys I've been feeling better and better every week," said Johnson. "Maybe you guys will believe me after that."
The point was certainly hammered home against the Jaguars. If the Texans find themselves in a postseason shootout with Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, Johnson and Schaub (527 yards, 5 TD) showed they have the firepower to win one of those games.
2. Defense not consistently bad, steps up when needed. It would be easy to write off a 37-point, 458-yard performance as a disaster for the Houston defense. But look closer, and this was far from a typical bad defensive game. The Texans weren't consistently gashed. They forced a pair of three-and-outs in the fourth quarter and held in overtime after a Jacksonville 1st-and-goal at the 6 (needing a touchdown) and a 1st-and-10 at the Houston 47 (needing a field goal). Both times, they were roughly 10 yards or fewer from losing. On each occasion, they made plays when they had to.
"Down the stretch we were able to come together as one defense and shut them down," said Jackson. "We played the way we expect to play late in the game."
For the most part, Jacksonville's success came courtesy of a select few big mistakes. Jackson's whiffed tackle led to the 67-yard touchdown. McCain and Manning's collision caused an 81-yard touchdown. Arian Foster's fumble set up Jacksonville at the Houston 11, practically gifting seven more. Taking a step back, for a unit that was No. 2 in the league through 10 games, it's hard to imagine those types of mistakes being repeated. It seems much more likely to reflect an emotional letdown or a clichéd "trap game", sandwiched between the Sunday nighter in Chicago and Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.
3.) Martin's breakout game. For much of 2012, special teams have been an unmitigated disaster for Houston. On Sunday, we saw the first signs of hope. Rookie Keshawn Martin returned five kickoffs for 162 yards (average of 32.4) and two punts for 76 yards, including a 71-yarder that almost went the distance. The blocking schemes looked much improved and Martin routinely flipped field position for the home team.
"It means a lot," said Martin. "It shows that I'm getting more comfortable out there, especially with the returns. I'm getting better every day and I want to keep doing that."
Martin also added a 9-yard receiving touchdown, the first of his career. Pundits have questioned if the Texans have enough explosive playmakers, both in the receiving corps and on special teams. On Sunday, Martin showed flashes that he could become one of those guys.
4.) They CAN come back! Analysts have questioned if the Texans could win a shootout. For much of this year, the Texans have ridden superb balance on offense and strong defense to coast to businesslike wins. They haven't had the Eli Manning specials - that is, stealing a game in the final minutes when the other team knew they had to throw. Even with Jacksonville as the opponent, overcoming a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter is a massive achievement. There's a reason only one quarterback has EVER thrown for more yards than the 527 accumulated by Schaub on Sunday.
"I knew that if we ever got in a situation where we had to throw it 50-plus times, our quarterback is capable of doing it," said Kubiak. "We don't want to do it. It's not how we want to play, but we got caught in one of those games today. And obviously he took us down there and made some huge plays."
Better yet, the team as a whole maintained peak effort and poise throughout. When Schaub underthrew Johnson in overtime and was intercepted, Jacksonville corner Derek Cox had open field ahead and seemed highly likely to return it into field goal range. Instead, Owen Daniels scrambled into position and tackled Cox at the Houston 47, keeping the Jaguars out of range by 10 yards or so. The defense held, and the rest is history.
"We never gave up," said Daniels. "We stayed optimistic. Great teams find different ways to win no matter the situation or circumstance."