The idea is as unimaginable as Anne Hathaway keeping her clothes on in a movie or Big Bird unleashing an F-bomb, but it actually happened at Reliant Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Houston Texans defense shut out an opponent. And it doesn't end there. No, the worst defense in the NFL coming into the game (by almost any statistical or eyeball measure) didn't just keep a big, fat zero on the board next to the Tennessee Titans on the scoreboard, it controlled an important division game from start to finish.
From Mario Williams sack of overwhelmed rookie quarterback Rusty Smith on the Titans' first offensive play to Glover Quin's step-in-front interception inside the Texans' own 5-yard line with less than 12 minutes left to Quin's third shutout-saving interception in the final minute, the defense — and an unexpectedly fierce fighting spirit (not to mention some flying fists) from the Texans — led to a 20-0 wipeout of Tennessee.
Houston's D might deserve top billing, but Andre Johnson's fists and an on-field, fourth-quarter melee that brought even Titans coach Jeff Fisher sprinting off the sidelines is dominating the postgame buzz. When Johnson and Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan got tangled up on a play midway through the fourth quarter, Johnson whipped Finnegan around, sending the Titan's helmet flying off. In a flash, the proud Johnson landed a punch to each side of the helmet-less Finnegan's head.
Both teams were soon grappling as the officiating crew struggled to regain order. Johnson and Finnegan would both be ejected. The best player in Texans' history walked off to a police escort and a standing ovation from the Reliant crowd.
So much for any idea that the now 5-6 Texans had lost their fight during the four-game losing streak that grounded their playoff dreams. On a day when he basically killed Finnegan softly on the field, Johnson wasn't about to let anything go.
Finnegan appeared to hit Johnson in the mouth before the snap, but that could be considered a football play, leaving Johnson the one facing a possible suspension with the Texans set to travel to Philadephia to play the Eagles and Michael Vick in a Thursday nighter.
"I'm not hapy about what happened," Johnson said at his locker afterwards. "I just hope I'm not suspended."
Johnson spent a large share of his postgame apologizing for the incident, as he clearly realized what his absence could mean against the 7-4 Eagles.
"You want to apologize," Johnson said. "You never know what's going to happen in the disciplinary reaction. I'm a team player and I never want to do something to hurt my team."
Finnegan does have something of a reputation as a dirty player that Johnson does not. The Titans cornerback was fined a total of $20,000 for three separate incidents early this season and he received a letter of warning from the NFL after Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton accused Finnegan of punching Denver offensive lineman Chris Kuper in the face on Oct. 3.
Fisher argues that Johnson was the clear instigator in this case.
"Cortland said he never took a swing, he just knocked (Johnson's) helmet off," the Titans coach said. "I'm a little confused as to why they said they both threw punches. ... When the referee is telling me they both threw punches, but both of the other officials are saying (Finnegan) didn't throw a punch, he threw his helmet off, I'm confused. ...
"I'm sure the league will handle it."
Most of the other Texans appeared more energized and amused than alarmed by a possible NFL suspension in the wake of Johnson's fists of fury.
"I don't know where he learned that," linebacker Brian Cushing, a big Mixed Martial Arts fan, cracked. "But it was good. ... It looks like the other guy started it. You don't want to start anything against Andre, because he's going to finish it."
Even Johnson cracked a smile when someone mentioned that he won the bout on points. To safety Bernard Pollard, part of the Texans' much-dumped-on defense, it was much bigger than that.
"We have to fight," Pollard argued in a booming voice. "Nobody cares about us. The Titans don't respect us. You could see it in the way they were talking in the first half. We've got to fight. We accept that sometimes things like that happen."
The Titans (5-6) certainly respect Arian Foster after seeing him run over their playoff chances. The Texans' second-year tailback continued to show why he's the most underrated weapon in the NFL and the breakout player of 2010 not named Vick. Foster racked up 218 yards of total offense, rushing for 143 yards on 30 carries and catching nine passes for 75 more.
More and more the Texans' most dazzling plays involve No. 23 and not No. 80.
Not that Johnson isn't as steady as ever. Exploiting the Titans' fear of the deep pass, Johnson repeatedly beat Tennessee's secondary across the middle for short catches. Matt Schaub (25-for-35 for 178 yards and two touchdowns) and Johnson hooked up nine times for 56 yards, keeping the chains moving again and again.
Meanwhile, the Titans' much more high-profile stars — all-everything running back Chris Johnson (seven carries for five yards) and receiver Randy Moss (three catches for 23 yards) — were nearly invisible in an offense directed by rookie quarterback Rusty Smith.
In a Titans team (5-6) still reeling from locker room fissure that Vince Young and Jeff Fisher's childish feud has provoked, a Titans team playing a Rusty rookie who kept throwing passes high, wide and far, a Titans team that's never shown an ability to stop Johnson, the Texans found an opponent they could push around.
"That's what we needed to do," said Williams, who rudely introduced himself to Smith on play one. "That's what we should have been doing. That's what we're capble of as a defense. It's about keeping an offense down when you have them there.
"We've had the last two games in our hands as a defense and we let the offense down. That had to stop."
Kubiak and his coaches smartly didn't force anything early, content to play a game of field position and wait for Smith to make a mistake. When the rookie quarterback was pinned inside his own 5-yard-line, he predictably did just that. Throwing out of his own end zone, with his pocket collapsing, Smith lofted a pass that Quin — one of the Texans' often-victimized cornerbacks — plucked out of the air for an easy interception.
Three plays and one spinning, leaping Foster catch-and-run later, Schaub whipped a one-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open tight end Joel Dreessen for a 7-0 advantage. Schaub's second touchdown pass of the first half would be just as simply effective. Schaub rolled right and threw to Johnson in the right flat of the end zone for a two-yard touchdown completion. Johnson was only covered slightly better than Dreessen.
Houston 14, Tennessee 0.
The late-game misery that haunted the Texans the last two weeks would never be allowed to come into play. There would be no 50-yard hail mary crusher on the last play of the game, no giving up 72 yards in the final minute. For the first time really since that season-opening win over Indianapolis that seemed to spell playoff promise, Houston put away a team early.
All the voodoo dolls in the world can't hurt you if you're up 17 points in the final five minutes, when you show plenty of fight.
Editor's note: To read Chris Baldwin's column off the game on how Arian Foster is challenging Michael Vick for NFL MVP, click here.