The Houston Texans laughed at any idea that Aaron Rodgers was struggling all week. But that didn't stop them from paying for it on Sunday night.
With the Green Bay Packers quarterback answering his sudden critics with a vintage performance (from let's say . . . 2011), the Texans found themselves getting shredded in their big NBC Sunday Night Football debut. Houston's first appearance on the NFL's largest TV stage ended up with Bob Costas and company raving about the other guys. Specifically Rodgers.
Packers 42, Houston 24.
So much for the being undefeated. So much for the Sunday night party.
Houston's first appearance on the NFL's largest TV stage ended up with Bob Costas and company raving about the other guys. Specifically Rodgers.
With Rodgers playing like his 2010 Super Bowl season self, or his 2011 15-1 season self, or . . . well, just himself, the NFL's No. 1-rated defense sprung more leaks than it has since way back in Week 3 of last season in a matchup with Drew Brees in New Orleans.
Oh, a slew of boneheaded penalties didn't help — with rookie DeVier Posey prolonging one Packers drive by lining up offsides on a punt, linebacker Connor Barwin giving new life to another by leaping on a teammate during a field goal attempt and safety Danieal Manning picking up a personal foul for swinging at the bottom of a pile — but this game was ultimately decided by Rodgers.
He threw for 338 yards and a career-high six touchdowns, shredding Wade Phillips' Bulls On Parade defense by completing 24 of 37 passes as the largest regular-season crowd in Texans history (71,702) watched in horror. What went right for the Bulls? Well, J.J. Watt had two more sacks and . . . well, that's pretty much it.
This was the first game the Texans played without middle linebacker Brian Cushing, but the presence of this particular opposing quarterback may have meant much more.
In the days leading up to the game, Rodgers heard how he wasn't performing up to his usual standard, how his receivers didn't like him all that much, how the Packers (3-3) were struggling. Any questions now . . .
"Aaron Rodgers is not struggling," Texans cornerback Brice McCain told CultureMap a few days before the game. "He's still got that rocket arm."
Does he ever. The Texans defensive backs were left feeling like they were playing a sick game of Twister.
And it still might not mean all that much in the larger picture.
The AFC is still very much there for the now 5-1 Texans taking. The Baltimore Ravens, next week's opponent, are also 5-1. San Diego (3-2) is the only other above .500 team in the entire conference and the Chargers still have to play on Monday night. The Patriots are 3-3 after losing a late lead in Seattle. The Jets are 3-3, having already lost to Houston. Those Peyton Manning Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers are both 2-3.
If Houston beats the Ravens at home in something of a playoff revenge game, homefield advantage throughout the playoffs becomes a more than legitimate vision. The Texans don't need to beat the powers of the NFC (the 49ers, the defending Super Bowl champion Giants and these Packers) to get to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. They just need to get through their conference.
Still, the Texans found out how hard it is to play an elite quarterback — probably the elite quarterback — off a short week of preparation. An 18-point beating can linger.
A Big-Game Scene
Texans fans came to party and the night was full of big-time touches.
Lyle Lovett sang the national anthem, NBC's national TV audience got treated to the sight of 80,000 pink placards in a compelling breast cancer support scene and the fans wouldn't stop screaming.
The Packers also wouldn't stop scoring.
"Aaron Rodgers is not struggling. He's still got that rocket arm."
Rodgers was 15 of 21 for 187 yards and three touchdowns by halftime. The Texans never bought into the idea that Rodgers was "struggling," but there's not struggling and then there's putting on an absolute clinic.
Jordy Nelson (five catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, three touchdowns overall) suddenly looked like he was back in the Super Bowl, running circles around Pittsburgh Steelers. The Packers had 15 first downs in the game's first 30 minutes.
A special teams mistake by rookie DeVier Posey kept the Packers' first drive alive. Posey lined up offsides on a Green Bay punt and the five-yard penalty resulted in a first down, bringing Rodgers back out onto the field.
The very next play? How about a 41-yard touchdown strike to Nelson that left the Texans' No. 1 cornerback Johnathan Joseph completely undressed?
The AFC is still very much there for the now 5-1 Texans taking. The Ravens are also 5-1. San Diego (3-2) is the only other above .500 team in the entire conference
The Packers don't wait to make you pay. In reality, only a Rodgers overthrow of a wide-open James Jones put the Packers punt team on the field in the first place. Green Bay receivers found plenty of holes in Phillips' Bulls On Parade defense early.
Even after Watt made his first inevitable big play — a sack of Rodgers that caused the Texans defensive end to break into his own mock version of Rodgers' championship belt celebration — the Packers quarterback followed with a sideline bullet to Randall Cobb that converted a third-and-15.
Later in the first quarter, Rodgers stepped out of a Barwin should-have-been sack to complete a slant to Cobb for another big gain.
The Texans would face a significant deficit for the first time this season, trailing the experience, championship-tested Packers 14-0. Matt Schaub and Co. responded with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Completing his first three passes of the drive — a 12-yard strike to Andre Johnson, a 16-yard completion to Kevin Walter on third-and-3 and a 15-yard hookup with Owen Daniels — and drawing a pass interference penalty inside the five-yard line on his fourth — Schaub pushed Houston down the field.
Suddenly, it was 14-7. Then, it wasn't.
As quickly as Schaub pulled the Texans back into the game, Rodgers was even quicker in building back up the cushion.
Try 78 yards in nine plays. A pass interference penalty on Kareem Jackson helped. Nelson twisting another Texans cornerback around (this time Alan Ball) for another touchdown meant even more.