Beyond the Boxscore
Angry virgins in New Orleans: Texans embarrassed by their inability to finishamid a wild scene & that's a good thing
NEW ORLEANS — Wade Phillips' guys rolled into the locker room at halftime, feeling destiny. They'd held the Saints' powerful offense to 10 points in the first half, leaving Drew Brees looking as befuddled as one of the tourists wandering the streets of this city at 3 a.m.
Why not raise the bar?
"We had the lead at halftime," linebacker DeMeco Ryans says later. "It's on us as a defense at that point. We told ourselves that if we don't let them score, they can't win."
About that . . . New Orleans scored 30 points in the second half. Thirty points. Hey, every pep talk can't be successful. Any decent coach can tell you that. But there's not successful and then there's this. This qualifies as the Titanic of halftime talks. It's like expecting a speech from Joel Osteen and getting one from Erica Rose.
"Oh yeah," Ryans says when asked if the meltdown is embarrassing. "Any time a defense gives up 40 points that's a terrible thing."
Which sounds at first blush as insightful as one of those old A Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Waste PSAs. But a closer look around the Texans' locker room at the Superdome shows a different tale. Yes, Sunday's 40-33 loss to the Saints looks awfully familiar to anyone who watched Houston collapse in game after game after game last season. But the reaction from the players seems different.
These Texans — at least some key ones — are genuinely pissed. And that can't help but be a good thing.
There are Houston's defensive backs — particularly new free-agent acquisitions Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning — bristling when reporters ask if the Saints' offense is "unstoppable." Even the often-shaken (and he was often shaken by New Orleans receivers again Sunday) Kareem Jackson takes noticeable umbrage.
There is new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips marching straight into the center of the locker room to talk to any reporter that has a question, determined to stand up and be accountable for a defense that collapsed.
"We worked hard on this game and I thought we had a good plan," Phillips says. "But it didn't work out."
Phillips brushed off any talk of the 40 points surrendered making it more embarrassing, noting that his defense would feel bad if they gave up only 10 points and lost too. But his eyes told a different story. Phillips is annoyed at the extra cushion the Texan defensive backs gave the Saints receivers in the second half, bothered by how well the Saints' simple switch to an empty backfield — which gave Brees more targets running free — worked.
On a day that the perennial loser Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills both serve notice that they're legitimate playoff contenders with incredible rallies, Gary Kubiak's team bobbles away the chance to be 3-0 for the first time in franchise history.
The Super Bowl champion Packers almost lost a shootout like this to the Saints at Lambeau Field on the NFL's opening night. Green Bay stopped a similar frantic Saints' rally at the one-yard line as the clock ran out. Which doesn't mean the Texans should feel any better about a game they absolutely blew.
For on a day that the perennial loser Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills both serve notice that they're legitimate playoff contenders with incredible rallies, Gary Kubiak's team bobbles away the chance to be 3-0 for the first time in Texans' franchise history. Instead, they're still virgins in New Orleans, something you don't often see.
Still missing that breakthrough first-time milestone. Houston's NFL team still has plenty to doubt — and ridicule, if you want to go that route.
"It's tough," fullback James Casey says. "We feel like we had them on the ropes."
Believers in the Big Easy
Texans fans so badly wanted to believe too. You could see it in the lobby of the downtown Marriott Saturday night and Sunday morning, filled with more folks in Texans jerseys than anyone in this town's ever seen. You couldn't miss it in all the Hou Dat tweets that rocketed around as Matt Schaub brought the Texans up and down the field.
Saints fans — losers nevermore after that Super Bowl trophy hoist in 2010 — couldn't help but be a little amused.
"Calm down and drink something, will ya!" one Reggie Bush-jersey-wearing (hey those are expensive to replace) Saints fan barked at a moving crowd of Texans backers.
That's never hard to do in New Orleans. Every person running for public office in the state of Louisiana seemed to have a booth set up along the roads to the Superdome that advertised "Free Beer." Including a host of judges who you might think would be sensitive to that type of thing.
Only in New Orleans.
"Something crazy always happens in this town," Texans receiver Jacoby Jones says.
Every person running for public office in the state of Louisiana seemed to have a booth set up along the roads to the Superdome that advertised "Free Beer." Including a host of judges who you might think would be sensitive to that type of thing.
Houston got more than its share of crazy — a touchdown pass that bounced into Kevin Walter's arms to give them a 33-32 lead with 4:13 left, a 126-yard receiving day from a fullback who the Texans weren't even sure was starter worthy in the preseason (James Casey). With Arian Foster out and several receivers banged up (including Jones and Walter), Kubiak was at his creative, offensive best.
"I was quite impressed by their offensive play calling," Saints cornerback Jabari Greer says. "They exploited some things and really caught us off guard a few times."
Yet, the Texans still blew the game.
Saints coach Sean Payton isn't wrong when he says that teams find ways to win and teams find ways to lose. "It's just not dumb luck," the Texans still don't know how to close games like a winning team. They certainly found out how valuable Mario Williams is when their most disruptive defensive force spent much of the fourth quarter on the sideline fighting knee pain that the former No. 1 overall pick tried to keep more secret than CIA intelligence.
But the Texans also found out they're still lacking in more intangible traits too.
"If you do things the right way, good things are going to happen," Brees says.
Houston's still working on building that type of culture. "In the end, we said enough was enough," Greer says. The franchise that knows how to win would slip by the franchise that excels at finding ways to lose.
Oh sure, you could easily say same old Texans. Only, they finally seem like they're sick of that too.
There's anger with that familiar disappointment. Maybe, that's another step.
"This isn't last year," defensive end Antonio Smith says. "We'll fix this. It's not going to happen again."
The Texans are still virgins at winning, legitimacy blocked again. It's hard to live off hope, but some serious rage just might work.