Giant step forward
The biggest win in Texans' history? Foster returns to star & Phillips D turnssteely to turn back AFC champs
There haven't been a lot of signature victories in Houston Texans' history. But Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Mario Williams and friends sure have one now.
"I don't know if we've ever had a bigger one," Texans owner Bob McNair says in the Texans' locker room.
Facing the defending AFC champions, the storied Pittsburgh Steelers (a franchise dripping with the type of history the Texans' lack), in front of the most people to ever see a football game at Reliant Stadium, the Texans gutted out a 17-10 win Sunday afternoon.
They did it with the best player in Texans' franchise history (receiver Andre Johnson) watching from the sidelines in street clothes, having crumpled to the ground in the first half. They did it with Foster coming back from those hamstring problems in the biggest, star-cementing way possible: 155 yards rushing and the go-ahead touchdown on 30 carries. They did it with tight end Owen Daniels serving notice that he can't be forgotten. They did it despite having two touchdowns called back by the officials.
"I don't know if we've ever had a bigger (win)," Texans owner Bob McNair says.
And they did it with new defensive coordinator/savior Wade Phillips' unit turning Ben Roethlisberger's afternoon in the Bayou City into a murky, dirty-jersey nightmare.
It's one for a still young franchise's history books. Of that, almost all the Texans could agree.
"We want the respect of our peers," Daniels says. "And this is one of those wins that gets a team respect around the NFL. You can say all you want, beat whoever you want. But it doesn't mean much until you beat teams that consistently win football games, beat teams that go to the playoffs consistently, beat teams that win championships."
Houston (3-1) has now beat that type of team, brushing back the specter of the type of collapse that haunted Gary Kubiak's squad in New Orleans last weekend, the kind of meltdown that Tony Romo and the Cowboys experienced at home on Sunday, in the process.
"We had that will today," says Johnathan Joseph, the $50 million free agent cornerback Bob McNair put his trust in for days like this. "We had that attitude that we weren't going to walk off that field with a loss. No matter what it took, we were going to make a play."
And now the Texans are very much in play for the playoffs — and perhaps, more statements. Houston gets the Oakland Raiders at Reliant next Sunday and a trip to Baltimore to face the Super Bowl-contender Ravens the week after that. The Steelers are suddenly 2-2, looking anything but Super.
When the Texans took over at their own 15-yard line early in the fourth quarter, having seen every bit of a 10-0 halftime lead disappear, it didn't look good for Schaub and the rest of the offense. They'd been out gained 139 yards to two in the third quarter. Their best receiver was out with a hamstring injury.
The 71,585 at Reliant could see another collapse coming.
But it all changed on third-and-6 from the 19. When Daniels went near limbo low for a wounded duck of a pass from Schaub and pulled it in for the critical first down. Schaub hit Daniels for a 30-yard gain on the very next play. Then, Foster bounced back right on a cutback run and raced 42 yards untouched for a touchdown.
"That 85-yard drive showed everything," right tackle Eric Winston says. "When we really needed it, we found a way to go 85. That's what a good team does."
The 85-yard drive came after Kubiak lit into his offense on the sidelines, telling the players that their second-half performance was unacceptable.
Wade Phillips' defense would come up big on the next series, with Jason Allen (starting for an injured Kareem Jackson) delivering a ball-dislodging, first-down-preventing hit to Hines Ward on third down. Jackson may never start again (Allen also ended the Steelers' last grasp desperate chance with an interception in the game's final minute).
"We want the respect of our peers," tight end Owen Daniels says. "And this is one of those wins that gets a team respect around the NFL."
The next time the Steelers got the ball, still down seven, Phillips' D rose up again. Back-to-back sacks from Antonio Smith and Mario Williams (the later an emphatic blow by of Steelers right guard Marcus Gilbert on third-and-21) had Pittsburgh punting. Again.
Even if not everyone in the stands was happy about it.
At times, it was hard to tell if this was a home game for the Texans. Those distinctive yellow Terrible Towels filled large swaths of the stadium, with Steeler-jersey-clad fans waving them frantically. Was this Reliant or Heinz Field South?
There are either a lot of closet Steeler fans in Houston — or Pittsburgh travels like no other NFL team.
Not that it seemed to bother the Texans. One sure way to get a crowd on your side? How about a little 19-play, 95-yard touchdown drive for openers?
That's exactly what the Texans did, setting a franchise record for both most plays in and time consumed by (10:55) a drive. Houston converted four third downs on the drive. Foster gave everyone an emphatic reminder of his value as he rushed nine times for 41 yards in his return series. Second-year back Ben Tate is good, but Foster has a knack for waiting for the exact right moment, leaning forward and bleeding the most yards possible out of almost every carry.
"Arian Foster is just a special player," center Chris Myers says. "He takes this offense to another level."
When Tate went out with a groin injury, Foster's load increased even more. Veteran tailback Derrick Ward was already inactive for the game and without Tate, Houston only had recent practice squad call-up Chris Ogbonnaya behind Foster.
Of course, all that seemed minor when Johnson crumbled to the ground without being touched late in the second quarter. Johnson would eventually walk off under his own power with a right hamstring injury that threatens to limit the Texans' passing game for weeks to come.
With Johnson out, the Texans stopped moving the ball and Roethlisberger and the Steelers eventually took advantage, going 74 yards and chewing 7:58 off the clock on the first drive of the second half. A once 10-0 Houston lead was down to three.
Another Texans' punt, another Steelers time-chewing drive (55 yards in 5:27) and three seconds into the fourth quarter, it was a 10-10 game. Anyone's game again.
This time, it was Houston's game. Suddenly, those Terrible Towels were disappearing into pockets.
"We heard the Steeler fans, but they're pretty quiet now," Texans tight end Joel Dreessen laughs. "I think they're probably in shock. They're probably thinking, 'Who are these Texans?' "
Them and everyone else.
One for the history books.