FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Danieal Manning so desperately wanted to return kicks for the Houston Texans that he stole a rep against the Indianapolis Colts a few weeks ago.
"I don't know if Coach (Gary Kubiak) was too happy with me," Manning said then.
Well, Kubiak is delighted now.
For Manning took the opening kickoff back 94 yards against the New England Patriots, giving a team with plenty of reason to doubt a needed jolt of early electricity. The Texans safety showed all the moves that made him one of the most dangerous kick returners in football during his days with the Chicago Bears and much of his first season in Houston.
The return was electrifying. It stunned the smug, sold-out crowd at Gillette Stadium. It was everything the Texans needed. And it still only ended up being worth three points.
Manning sped into a hole and completely juked out Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski near midfield and would not be caught until he reached the Patriots' 12-yard line.
The return was electrifying. It stunned the smug, sold-out crowd at Gillette Stadium. It set a Texans postseason record. It was everything the Texans needed to begin this playoff game.
And it still only ended up being worth three points.
James Casey — the guy who's advertised as having the "best hands" on the team — dropped a Matt Schaub pass that could have turned into a touchdown. The Texans would go three and out, suffer another red-zone disappointment. Shayne Graham would have to trot on and hit a 27-yard field goal.
The Texans would lead only 3-0.
Still, Manning more than did his job, more than validated his little burst of impishness against the Colts. He'd give the Texans a chance. Then, he'd give them another one. Manning set up the Texans' first touchdown with a 35-yard return, giving his team energy just when the reality of a 17-3 deficit was settling in.
It'd turn into a 50-yard return when Gostowski — desperate to tackle him this time — brought him down with a horse collar takedown.
This is what Manning does when given a return chance in a clutch situation. He causes disruptions to the other team. He brought a kick back 60 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in the second round of the playoffs last January.