Texans 20, Titans 0: Andre Punctuates Big Win With Knockout Blow
For the first time in four weeks, the Texans left someone other than themselves and their fans feeling the effects of a punch.
Marco Torres Andre Johnson (left) was ejected from the game after a fistfight with Titans player Cortland Finnegan. See more photos from the game in our slideshow.
In this case, it happened both figuratively and literally, bringing an incredibly satisfying conclusion to a 20-0 Texans romp over the Titans. The win snapped a four-game losing streak for Houston.
"I like the way we finished the game physically as a team," said head coach Gary Kubiak. He wasn't speaking directly to Andre Johnson's incident, but he easily could have.
Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan, notorious for being one of the dirtiest players in the NFL, decided he had enough early in the fourth quarter. After a play, he grabbed Johnson by the facemask and took a swing. Only he missed.
Johnson responded by yanking Finnegan's helmet off, and he didn't miss. He landed three blows and left to a standing ovation.
"I'd give [the fight] to Andre, on points," said a smiling Houston owner Bob McNair.
The smiles could be wiped away, of course, if the league suspends Johnson. But given Johnson's status as a first-time offender and Finnegan's reputation, several league insiders speculated the ejection and a large fine would be the extent of the NFL's reaction.
Offensive tackle Eric Winston, who labeled the Titans a dirty team, said a precedent was set with a punch thrown a week ago from Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour, which connected with Ben Roethlisberger and did not draw a suspension.
Even if Johnson is suspended for Thursday's game in Philadelphia, one could argue that the fire shown by the Texans in the incident was worth the aftermath. The Texans had angered fans in recent weeks with a lack of desperation, all while watching a promising 4-2 start transform into a 4-6 disaster.
On Sunday, the Texans found their sense of desperation. Yes, Tennessee started sixth-round rookie Rusty Smith at quarterback, which subsequently allowed the Texans to key in on Chris Johnson and the running game.
However, linebacker Brian Cushing tackled with a brute force and efficiency not seen since his rookie season. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye routinely collapsed the pocket. Glover Quin actually caught balls that hit him in the hands.
These were signs of progress for a historically bad defense, even if it had come against a Pop Warner team.
"We tackled," Kubiak said. "The whole emphasis this week was to tackle. We knew they were going to run the ball."
On offense, the Texans weren't efficient but they were opportunistic. The Texans finally used the run to set up the pass (instead of the reverse), opening up a pair of short touchdowns from Matt Schaub to Johnson and tight end Joel Dreessen.
Perhaps more impressively, the Texans were able to run even when Tennessee knew it was coming. With a big lead against a rookie QB in the second half, the name of the game was time of possession, rather than points.
To that end, running backs Arian Foster and Derrick Ward collected 105 of their combined 190 rushing yards in the second half. Foster had 218 total yards, continuing a stellar campaign that would undoubtedly place him under MVP consideration if not for the Texans' sub-.500 record.
"We're at our best when we control the line of scrimmage and it took us a while to get that done today, but we were patient and got it done," Kubiak said.
Coupled with losses by Jacksonville and Indianapolis, the 5-6 Texans are somehow only one game out of the AFC South lead. But they'll need a Herculean effort on just three days rest to beat the Eagles on Thursday night in Philadelphia -- especially if Johnson is suspended.
The defense remarkably posted a shutout on Sunday, but it still routinely left receivers open downfield. Rusty Smith wasn't able to hit them, while one would suspect Michael Vick will.
Even so, these are the same Texans that somehow shook off a 5-7 start in 2009 to win their final four and come within a Peyton Manning benching of the postseason. They've picked themselves off the mat before.
"It means we have a chance," Schaub said of Sunday's win. "It feels good to know that we're still in the hunt."
It's hard to see them coming so close again. But if they are to do that, a spark had to be lit somewhere, and Johnson certainly ignited it for the fourth quarter on Sunday and in the locker room afterward.
With the next game looming three days away, we won't have to wait long to see whether it stays that way.