After embattled kicker Randy Bullock made the first 50-yard field goal of his career to give the Houston Texans their first lead, those fancy new Reliant Stadium scoreboards showed a young woman in the stands, holding up a "Randy, you can do it" sign.
Texans kick returner Keshawn Martin hasn't drawn such outright public pity. But that doesn't mean Martin hasn't been nearly as frustrated as Bullock with his inability to make a major difference for the Texans' struggling special teams.
For Martin, it represents a huge NFL first. A second-year player out of Michigan State, Martin is still trying to establish himself as an NFL factor.
Martin's felt like he's had chances to pull off game-changing returns that just haven't been completed. Until Sunday. Until Martin caught a punt at his own 13-yard line with the Texans trailing 14-7 in the second quarter, stumbled a bit, started up the left sideline, cut back into the middle and found nothing but green in front of him.
Say hello to the longest punt return in Texans' franchise history. For Martin, it represents a huge NFL first. A second-year player out of Michigan State, Martin is still trying to establish himself as an NFL factor. To do that as a kick returner, you need to score touchdowns.
Martin now has one. The 87-yard touchdown return against the Oakland Raiders doesn't just get Martin in the return touchdown column. It obliterates his previous long return (a 54 yarder) by 33 yards.
For a player who never had any trouble scoring at Michigan State (Martin scored five different ways as a Spartan — receiving, rushing, passing, punt returning, kick returning), this is something of a break through. He didn't hesitate on his touchdown return, cutting into the open creases with confidence. Raiders punter Marquette King futilely tried to chase Martin down from behind, but the Texan was already in the end zone, extending the football in one arm, by the time King got close.
When Bullock followed the return touchdown up with his career-long 51-yard field goal on the Texans' very next possession, Joe Marciano's special teams finally had the makings of a good day.
Bullock came into the game, having missed nine field goals in nine games (only having made 14). Martin had seen his kick returner job threatened (at least earlier in the season when Danieal Manning was still healthy).
But by halftime, Martin already had 170 yards in return yards. Many wonder if the 5-foot-11, 194-pounder has the type of pure breakaway speed good NFL kick returners need (Martin isn't in the same track class with former Texans returners Jacoby Jones or Trindon Holliday). But Martin had enough speed to take it to the house on Sunday.
It's a start. Which is what the second half of this lost Texans season is all about.