Beyond the Boxscore
DETROIT — Danieal Manning doesn't seem like he's in any hurry to leave the locker room. Then again, it's hard for any of these Houston Texans to move all that quickly after five exhausting, exhilarating, historic days of football.
Manning's earned this moment. All of Gary Kubiak's guys have. So Manning lingers a little, savoring something he's never experienced in the NFL before — not even in a Super Bowl season.
"I've been on a Super Bowl team, but I've never been on a team like this before," Manning says, still at the stadium long after all the Detroit Lions have fled their locker room, smarting from a how-they'd-beat-us 34-31 overtime loss to Houston. "This is something else . . ."
Calvin is great, so Andre goes historic. Try 461 combined receiving yards in five days.
The seventh-year safety pauses. He's at the edge of a cramped entranceway to the visitor's locker room at Ford Field, the exposed brick shrine to hard work in a city that still values that. Manning and these now NFL-best 10-1 Texans fit right in.
For few teams have ever punched the clock with the determination of these Texans.
"It makes you kind of pissed off in a good way," Manning says. "Every team in the NFL should play this hard."
The rest of the NFL's Thanksgiving slate provides a stark reminder of how few teams do though. For there are the Dallas Cowboys coming out as fat and content as America's biggest Butterball turkey, falling behind 28-3 at home to a rookie quarterback in a game they can't afford to lose. And then there are the New York Jets, rolling over and letting the Patriots blitz them with a 35-0 run.
Playing hard for all 60 minutes of a football game isn't just an attitude. It's a skill. And the Texans have it like no one else in the league.
There's no way the Texans should have won two overtime games in five days. They've been physically beat up (at one point on Sunday, they're down four starters — cornerback Johnathan Joseph, linebacker Brooks Reed, linebacker Bradie James and right tackle Derek Newton). They've been mentally drained. And they have reason to be a lot less desperate than the teams they're playing against.
It'd be so easy for the Texans to shift into cruise control, to rationalize that they're due for a loss. It wouldn't even hurt them that much in the big picture . . .
But this group refuses to settle. They just won't stop playing harder than almost any other team in the league. For 60 minutes. And then some.
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson absolutely owns the first half, turns emergency Texans starter Alan Ball into his personal twist doll, looks like he's on his way to a beyond monster game. And the Texans veteran receiver, Andre Johnson, still finishes with more yards than him, still makes a much bigger impact on the game when it counts most.
"It makes you kind of pissed off in a good way. Every team in the NFL should play this hard."
"When you play against another great receiver, you always want to go out and have a better day than the other receiver," Andre Johnson says.
Calvin is great, so Andre goes historic. Try 461 combined receiving yards in five days — the most ever for a receiver in consecutive games in NFL history. Andre Johnson breaks the record set by his friend Chad Johnson.
More importantly, he breaks the Lions' will, catching six passes for 101 yards in the last 6:49 of regulation and first 11:14 of overtime. Four of those catches come on the 97-yard touchdown drive that steals the game away from Detroit (4-7) as much as Lions coach Jim Schwartz's unforgivable, hot-headed brain lock and an asinine NFL rule does.
And what's Calvin Johnson doing while all this is going on? He's being locked down (OK, maybe it's more like a mild house arrest, but still . . . ) by Kareem Jackson.
Crazy Halftime Scene
At halftime with the Texans' vaunted defense shredded and Calvin Johnson seemingly flying toward a 200-yard game, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips makes the kind of defensive adjustment that makes grown men cry. He decides to put Kareem on the best player on the other team, arguably the most dynamic weapon in football.
"They came to me and told me they were going to switch it up," Jackson says. "I welcomed it."
And what does Jackson do? He holds Megatron to three catches for 37 yards in the last 42:59 of the game.
Ryan needed to pull the trigger on a Tebow switch a month ago. His utter lack of guts guaranteed the Jets' doom.
This is the type of unexpected, guts-out step up you don't get on dysfunctional teams like the Dallas Cowboys. And please, let's drop any ridiculous patter about Tony Romo showing character in the second half, by leading another too-late-to-matter rally — the specialty of the 'Boys under the overmatched Jason Garrett.
It's much easier to mount a comeback try when the cause is already lost and all the real pressure is gone. The Cowboys give about 25 minutes of good, all-out-effort football for every 60 they play.
The Jets are lucky to cobble together 10 decent minutes a game these days. Rex Ryan crushed his team with the complete botching of the quarterback situation. Ryan likes to bluster on about how bold he is, but couldn't have been more timid with his Tim Tebow decisions.
Forget the convenient, mysterious new rib injury that guarantees several more weeks of Mark Sanchez and forces America to endure a comedy show of a Thanksgiving nightcap. Ryan needed to pull the trigger on a switch a month ago. His utter lack of guts guaranteed the Jets' doom.
These Texans now specialize in guts. Matt Schaub throws an overtime interception for the second straight game — and dusts himself off to make the throws to steal the game back for the second straight game. J.J. Watt comes back from being screamed at by his position coach to record three sacks. Arian Foster gains 62 yards in the last 7:29 of regulation and overtime.
It's all about playing hard for 60 minutes — and beyond. No matter how much you've already spent. No matter how worn out you are. Even the most controversial play of the game — Justin Forsett's franchise-record 81-yard touchdown run that never should have stood up — is partly a result of Forsett playing harder on the play than the Lions, in running it through when everyone else gives up and assumes the refs will see reality.
Play hard for all 60 minutes and you can surprise yourself — and your teammates.
"Jesus Christ!" Foster almost whistles when he hears Andre Johnson's stat line (nine catches for 188 yards). "I didn't even know he did that. That's my boy.
"It just shows his greatness."
Just another 60-minute (and-more) warrior on the NFL's most determined team.