The football hits Julio Jones' hands in the end zone — like so many kill shots that knocked the Houston Texans out last season — but this one isn't staying there. Not against this Texans defense. Not in The Slaughterhouse.
That's what the Texans defense has taken to calling Reliant Stadium, to branding it really — largely courtesy of outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who is part sack machine, part philosopher, part radio DJ, part Twitter savant. The Slaughterhouse is sacred ground for these Texans defenders and pity the idiot who dares mess with it.
Like the odds makers who made a 8-3 team an underdog in its own stadium. Or a high-profile wide receiver who thinks he's going to make a play to tie the damn game, to force Barwin and company to work overtime.
"I saw the leprechaun come out of that corner and get him," cornerback Kareem Jackson jokes to his teammates, drawing howls in another giddy, winning Houston locker room.
Yes, even as others worry about curses hovering over the Texans, as key players continue to fall, turning MRI Monday into a weekly day of fright, Barwin and his buds see leprechauns working in their favor. Hey, in this defense, you've got to believe.
The Texans don't just win anymore — they win starting a third-string rookie quarterback. And, then sneer at you for not believing it was possible.
Whether it's Jackson getting a hand in, or that leprechaun in the corner, Jones cannot bring in the football. It bounces harmlessly into the end zone grass on the last play of the game, Texans win 17-10. Let's hear it for the pissed off underdogs.
"We're an 8-3 team, we're tied for first place in the entire AFC, we're playing in our stadium," Barwin says. "And they make us underdogs at home. I can't imagine another team that's first in the entire conference has ever been an underdog at home. You bet we noticed it."
Barwin grins, struck by another delightful revelation in a season full of them. "I don't think we'll ever be an underdog at home again," he says.
Houston's already served noticed to the rest of the NFL. Why not add Las Vegas? Disrespect this team at your own peril.
The Texans (9-3) don't just win anymore — they win starting a third-string rookie quarterback. And, then sneer at you for not believing it was possible. They've suddenly created one of the loudest environments in the NFL, throwing ear-splitting noise at the notion that Texans fans like to sit back on their hands. Reliant Stadium may not be The Black Hole or Lambeau Field yet, but any docile days are long gone.
Is there really another stadium you'd rather be at in the NFL right now? In Jerry World where the bitter Boys fans will be groaning about having a coach who ices his own kicker in the desert and a quarterback who cannot win in December for weeks to come? Please. No one wants to be in Jason Garrett and Tony Romo land right now. Just follow the joy.
"The Slaughterhouse is rocking," Barwin says.
This isn't just the noise rattling around Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's head as Wade Phillips Miracle Defense hits him more than a dozen times on Sunday, picks him off twice in the game's first eight minutes when Atlanta tries to test this Houston secondary to see if it just won't crack and basically renders him incapable of outplaying T.J. Yates. No, the stadium is really rocking.
With Barwin's handpicked soundtrack. Or least, his Twitter sourced one.
Just days before the game, No. 98 asks his followers (he has 13,000 plus — a number that figures to grow tenfold if the Texans keep winning) to nickname the NFL's No. 1-rated defense. Bulls On Parade is Barwin's favorite. So Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls on Parade" booms from the Reliant speakers when the defense is introduced Sunday afternoon.
And it keeps playing every time the Texans' D takes the field, or makes a big play or maybe just whenever Barwin raises his arms and demands it.
"Guys were going crazy, all pumped up," nose tackle Shaun Cody says. "Connor's always crazy, but he was even crazier than usual. He was like a DJ out there."
"That's definitely the defense's new name," Barwin says. "We're Bulls On Parade."
The Season of Seasons
Yes, the Texans defense — a unit of millionaires — is acting like a bunch of junior high school kids on a Mountain Dew high. That's what winning big for the first time does. It brings everyone back to being a kid when sports were just more fun — it transports professional athletes and fans back alike. You only win for the first time once and this is that season for this Houston Texans franchise.
They'll never be another one quite like it, not this giddy, not this fun, not this wonder filled. Even if the Texans go on a long run of dominance in the next decade, there is only one first-time breakthrough season.
"That's definitely the defense's new name," Connor Barwin says. "We're Bulls On Parade."
This is that season. The Texans don't have starting quarterback Matt Schaub. They don't have backup quarterback Matt Leinart. They won't have lifeline wide receiver Andre Johnson for at least a little while — again. Maybe longer. But they still refuse to let go of this season.
It's too special. And this defense is having too much damn fun.
"It was fucking loud in there," Barwin says. "Excuse me. Sorry. But did you hear how loud it was?"
Ryan sure notices. Matty Ice cannot even hear his own audible calls, let alone get them to his teammates. He keeps stepping back from behind center, almost walking all the way over to his wideouts to relay play changes.
Reliant is a rockin' and no losses are gonna come a knockin.'
It's silly, it's ridiculous. But so is going to the Super Bowl with a third-string quarterback — a fifth-round rookie no less. But that's exactly what these Texans are set on.
"We're taking it one game at a time, right to the Super Bowl," cornerback Johnathan Joseph says, the $50 million free agent who's helped change almost everything not close to flashing a smile. That's one thing these Texans are ultra serious about. No matter the odds.
"What kind of man would you be if you just rolled over like that?" defensive end Antonio Smith says, waving his arm in disgust. "If you went, 'We don't have our quarterback, we're done.' If you went, 'Oh man, we're down to the third-string quarterback, it's over.'
"What kind of man is that? That's not the kind of men we have in this locker room."
Even Texans coach Gary Kubiak — who was an assistant in Denver and San Francisco when Super Bowls were won — allows himself a moment to marvel at the wonder if it all after 17-10 over a desperate playoff-caliber opponent, 17-10 with the third-string QB.
"These things don't happen in this league," Kubiak says.
But maybe they do. Maybe with a band of bulls, with a game disrupter like Barwin who can get four sacks one game and play DJ the next — a guy who is a threat to show up with a crazy haircut any day of the week, a guy who will tweet, "Eating dinner and watching the #VictoriasSecret fashion show....why do I feel like tossing a salad for desert?" — they do.
Who needs "The Super Bowl Shuffle" anymore? Bulls On Parade.