News flash Buffalo: It's still not a good idea to play one-on-one coverage against Andre Johnson.
The best player in Houston Texans history gave everyone a little reminder of what he still has left Sunday at Reliant Stadium, pushing the sluggish Texans to a 21-9 win over the Buffalo Bills. The mediocre Bills and their bitter, not-so Super Mario (ex Texan Mario Williams) actually trailed the Super Bowl-scheming Texans only 7-6 at halftime and had the ball in the third quarter with the chance to take the lead.
But Houston's Bulls On Parade defense wouldn't let Ryan Fitzpatrick and Co. get a first down — or even a single yard on that critical first possession of the second half — and Johnson took over from there.
Basketball stars break ankles. Andre Johnson breaks knees.
He had three big catches on the Texans' next two touchdown drives — a 34-yarder in which he almost literally broke a defender's knee, a 14-yard catch on third down and an 18 yarder that put Houston inside the Bills' 10-yard line. All against man-to-man coverage — still the most foolish of decisions against No. 80.
Of course as good as Texans tailback Arian Foster is (and he was 24 carries for 111 yards good on this day) and as bad as the Buffalo's run defense is, Johnson figured to have some opportunities. Still, the 31-year-old left no doubt that he's still one of the NFL's elite receivers, finishing with eight catches for 118 yards, catching all but two balls that were thrown his way. He almost had one of those two, just missing a spectacular long touchdown on a Matt Schaub ball just out of his reach.
"I am feeling better every week," Johnson said. ". . . Now it just seems like everything is falling into place. My legs are starting to feel like they are back up under me and stuff like that. I’d say I am starting to feel like myself now."
You could call it a throwback game for Johnson. Except the throwback would only need to go back to last season (see Johnson's playoff stats even after all the 2011 injuries and frustrations). Or any other season Johnson has played. This is just pretty much what No. 80 does whenever he's given the opportunity.
"I think it’s just opportunity," Johnson said. "I have been given more opportunity — and I try to do the best with the opportunities that I get."
Now, the opportunistic, if not nearly as dominant as usual, Texans are 7-1 with one of the best matchups of the entire NFL season looming — a Sunday Night Football showcase against the 7-1 Chicago Bears in the Windy City. This might be a showdown of the two best defenses in the league. And oh yeah, those Bears only had 51 points with more than 10 minutes remaining against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Can you say Clash of the Titans?
It's the type of game Andre Johnson lives for and he had more than a nice warmup against Buffalo.
With the Bills desperately trying to slow No. 23, Schaub's play fake left Owen Daniels more alone than a Mitt Romney voter in Hollywood.
The Bills tried to handle Johnson with man coverage on Houston's first drive of the second half, when they were only down 7-6, and watched Johnson turn Aaron Williams around so completely on a 34-yard catch that the cornerback had to be helped off the field with a knee injury.
Basketball stars break ankles. Andre Johnson breaks knees.
No. 80's catch set the Texans up inside Buffalo's 4-yard line and two plays later, Foster galloped into the end zone for a 14-6 Houston advantage.
The finale of Salute to Service week for the Texans brought out the big guns. Try George H.W. Bush (who came out onto the field for the coin toss in a golf cart and was helped to stand by a Marine holding him up on each arm), James Baker and a bald eagle. The bird made a dramatic entrance swooping down from the rafters of the closed-roof stadium before landing on its trainer's arm.
Texans defensive end Antonio Smith ran out onto field in his usual ninja head covering, carrying an American flag. The third largest regular-season crowd in Texans history (71,698) would be entertained.
You don't get any more efficient as a quarterback than this.
Buffalo came into the game with the worst run defense in all of football and the Bills didn't disappoint by getting any better.
Foster already had 41 yards by the end of the first quarter. And the Texans' first touchdown came on a play-action pass the play after a 14-yard Foster burst to the left that saw left tackle Duane Brown delivering a devastating block downfield. With the Bills desperately trying to slow No. 23, Matt Schaub's play fake left tight end Owen Daniels (eight catches for 62 yards) more alone than a Mitt Romney voter in Hollywood.
The touchdown covered 39 yard, capping a four-play 77 yard drive. Four different Texans weapons (Foster, Daniels, Johnson and receiver Kevin Walter) touched the football in the four-play masterpiece. Schaub finished 19 of 27 for 268 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and another off-the-chart 126.8 quarterback rating.
You don't get any more efficient as a quarterback than this. And a lot of it had to do with the Texans' running game.
Houston's first three offensive play calls were all Foster runs. Later in the first quarter, facing a third-and-10 at their own 4-yard line, the Texans ran Foster — and watched him rip off an 11-yard run right through the middle of the Bills' defense.
Still even with Buffalo missing a 37-yard field goal (which should be automatic points in today's perfect-kicking-conditions NFL), Houston found itself clinging to a 7-6 halftime lead.
With the Bears rolling out to a 31-2 advantage in Tennessee behind another pick-6 for Lovie Smith's game-seizing defense and a punt block touchdown, the struggles at Reliant took on a more ominous tone. Johnson wasn't going to let it get seriously scary though.
Not with the Bills trying to cover him with a single defensive back.