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Beyond the Boxscore

Lucky Peyton Manning & dismissed Tim Tebow don't stack up to Texans' revenge game

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No one needs to tell the Houston Texans and Arian Foster how important it is to get a leg up on the Ravens. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
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It's been 275 days since the Houston Texans had their hearts ripped out in Baltimore and you can be sure that they've thought about it almost every day since.

"You just don't forget a game like that," defensive end Antonio Smith says.

And Smith is one of the most carefree characters in all of football. Imagine how that second-round playoff loss hounds a player like Andre Johnson. It's not just that the Texans lost 20-13 in excruciating fashion with an AFC Championship Game berth right there for the taking — with Jacoby Jones touching that punt he never should have gone near to gift Baltimore a touchdown, with rookie quarterback-turned-emergency-starter T.J. Yates throwing three interceptions as he kept trying to force the ball to Johnson.

 Both Baltimore and Houston are 5-1. No other team in the AFC is above .500. Even Tom Brady is only 3-3. 

It's more than all that. It's the fact that anyone who attended that game couldn't help but leave the stadium certain that the better defense had lost.

This season-ending loss was in many ways the Bulls On Parade's national coming out party, the time that anyone who really knows football understood that Gary Kubiak's team would be challenging for the Super Bowl this season. There was that unforgettable goal-line stand, the constant collapsing of Joe Flacco's pocket by J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, the forcing the Ravens to go three and out nine times.

Now, the Ravens are suddenly standing back in the Texans' way, coming into Reliant Stadium for a Sunday showdown that will determine which team walks away with the best record in the AFC.

Them again.

The New Rivals

If you don't think that the Ravens and Texans are rivals, that a game against this Baltimore team doesn't mean more than one against Tennessee or Jacksonville to Watt, Johnathan Joseph and Brooks Reed (or Matt Schaub for that matter), you simply haven't been paying attention. Or are stuck somewhere around 2004.

The Ravens have beaten Houston three times in the last two seasons — including two of the most crushing defeats ever for Bob McNair's franchise: the 2010 Monday Nighter (in the pre-defense days, before Wade Phillips, Watt, Joseph or Reed) when Schaub led a frantic, thrilling comeback only to throw it away on the first play in overtime and the playoff game that will sting at least until the Texans are back in the postseason this January.

 "You just don't forget a game like that," defensive end Antonio Smith says. 

Baltimore has become the Texans' measuring stick in many ways.

The fact that the Ravens boasted one of the most ferocious defenses in the land for more than a decade has something to do with it. These Bulls love to hold themselves up against the best.

In a twist, John Harbaugh's team no longer possesses that type of defense — especially not with the Monday news that Ray Lewis is out for the season with a torn triceps, joining cornerback Lardarius Webb on the list of Baltimore difference makers gone. These Ravens must try and outscore teams, while the Texans are the team whose dominant identity now lives on defense.

"They’ve been successful defensively for numerous years — ever since I've been around," Kubiak insists at his Monday press conference. "I’m sure they’re planning on staying the same way. It’s about their scheme. (The injury) just challenges their scheme.”

Schemes don't work without great players though — and now Baltimore's best players are on offense.

Standings Don't Lie

One thing that hasn't changed is the Ravens being the Texans' prime obstacle.

 Peyton Manning's lucky comeback in San Diego might be the talk of the NFL. But Ravens-Texans will be the game that carries on into January. 

Both Baltimore and Houston are 5-1. No other team in the AFC is above .500. Even Tom Brady is only 3-3. Whoever wins this game suddenly has a huge early, near mid-season edge on holding homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Peyton Manning's lucky comeback (he never has a chance if Philip Rivers doesn't pull off one of sports' all-time implosions) in San Diego might be the Tuesday morning talk of the NFL — if it's not Tim Tebow being made increasingly irrelevant. But Ravens-Texans will be a game that carries on into January.

It doesn't matter if it's being played at noon on a Sunday rather than Sunday or Monday night. Some games are prime-time whenever they're played.

"The Ravens," Reed says. "It doesn't get any bigger for this team than that."

Relive the punt that crushed a season:

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