Beyond the Boxscore
Maybe it happened when Ben Tate shrugged off the Cleveland Browns on a 27-yard touchdown run of pure power. Maybe it happened when Antonio Smith turned Cleveland's first offensive play into a turnover.
Maybe it happened when the pocket collapsed frighteningly quick around Colt McCoy (again) on a third-down play late in the third quarter—when Connor Barwin wrapped up McCoy and a Browns offense that must have felt like it was stuck in a straitjacket all day.
The exact moment isn't important. What matters is that it happened.
This is the day (Nov. 6. 2011) that the Houston Texans served noticed that they're not just going to make the playoffs this season. That franchise first—the ultimate road block for the first decade of the Texans' existence—is a mere speed bump now. No, these (6-3) Texans are not just playoff bound. They suddenly look like one of the very best teams in the entire NFL.
Forget fretting over the playoffs. It's time to start thinking of how high the Texans could be seeded in the NFL's postseason party, to chart up ways they could make a surprise run for Indianapolis, the site of Super Bowl XLVI.
Think that's crazy talk? You haven't watched this team.
Certainly not Sunday's 30-12 de-panting of the Cleveland Browns at Reliant Stadium. The Browns (3-5) aren't an NFL juggernaut by any means. Or even a very competent offensive team. But this is what a budding power does to an average NFL team. The elite teams stomp on inferior opponents who venture into their stadium, squeeze the hope out of those foes early.
This isn't a win as much as it's a statement. Listen up boys, girls and opposing quarterbacks: These Texans can make noise in the playoffs.
And that's exactly what the Texans did on Sunday.
"Going into the game, I thought this was a game we should dominate," says right tackle Eric Winston, one of the linchpins of one of the most underrated — and let's acknowledge it, one of the best — offensive lines in all of football. "And I felt we did that."
It all sounds so simple. And it is. In places like New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and New York. Towns where the NFL's taking-care-of-business elite reside.
But not in Houston. Never in Houston. Until now.
The Texans, off to the best start in franchise history at 6-3, suddenly find themselves right up there with the big boys. Only five NFL teams have a better record than the Texans. Five. It's time for everyone to pay attention to this franchise.
"At some point (the national media is) going to realize that we are a very good football team," Texans owner Bob McNair says afterwards. "We will let them take their time doing that. We know we have a fine club.
"We'll see how far (the players) take us, they are just playing great football right now."
A Determined Onslaught
The third-rated defense in the NFL (this Wade Phillips miracle unit) leaves McCoy's head spinning, wishing he was back in Austin, playing teams that don't hit quite so hard. They make Houston-native Chris Ogbonnaya look like every bit the practice squad scrub he is.
Arian Foster (19 carries for 124 yards) and Ben Tate (12 carries for 115 yards) both run for more than 100 yards with ridiculous yards per carry numbers. The Browns might not be able to handle this tandem if they are allowed 15 men on the field. Houston finishes with a franchise-record 261 rushing yards.
The Texans roll and rumble on a day when quarterback Matt Schaub doesn't even break 120 yards passing, an afternoon when the still-Andre-Johnson-less Texans wide receivers combine for a mere four catches. Heck, Texans coach Gary Kubiak even wins a coach's challenge for the first time this season.
"When you hold a team down like that, you're going to look good," Kubiak says. "What is that? Three weeks in a row holding an opponent under 200 (yards)?"
This isn't a win as much as it's a statement. Listen up boys, girls and opposing quarterbacks: These Texans can make noise in the playoffs. And they'll batter you when they get there.
McCoy is sacked four times, turned into a human pinata by all those young, swarming Texan defenders. Brooks Reed, Brian Cushing, J.J. Watt, Barwin . . . they just keep coming and coming.
"They're a really good football team," McCoy, the man who will be seeing Texans in his sleep, says.
Off to the best start in franchise history and more importantly, this team is still looking for more. Even dominance isn't enough. Not anymore. Not when everyone in Kubiak's locker room can see what's out there, waiting to be grabbed.
Forget fretting over the playoffs. It's time to start thinking of how high the Texans could be seeded in the NFL's postseason party, to chart up ways they could make a surprise run to Super Bowl XLVI.
"Six and three," Winston says. "That's what it's all about and we're not stopping now. We have one more week till the bye and we have to treat this like it's the biggest step of the season.
"There's a huge difference between 7-3 and 6-4."
An often-unsure fan base certainly believes. The second largest crowd in Texans history (71,511) showed up to see an game against the Cleveland Browns. The largest crowd? That happened earlier this season too.
Thanks For Coming
This game isn't over at the opening kickoff — but it's close.
Ex-President George H.W. Bush calls the coin toss. The Texans win it, elect to receive and then go about destroying the Browns. Without leaving a shadow of a doubt about their dominance.
Houston's first drive: 82 yards in nine plays. Schaub opens the game with three straight completions, with two of those going to emerging tight end weapon Joel Dreessen. Tate punctuates it all with that 27-yard powerful rip of a touchdown run down the right sideline—with receiver Jacoby Jones throwing a critical, textbook block on the play.
Cleveland's first drive: Ex-Texan Chris Ogbonnaya takes the handoff on the Browns first play and experiences the horror of Antonio Smith punching the football out of his too-loose grasp from behind, DeMeco Ryans adds another poke for good measure and Watt jumps on the football. Texans ball!
It's better to be an ex-President than an ex-Texan.
Houston's second drive: An easy short-field touchdown. Schaub finds Owen Daniels, the Clutch One, on third down. Then, the QB who hates to run takes a shotgun snap and runs in a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line. It sure looks like a designed play. It's Schaub's second straight game with a touchdown run.
Soon, Foster's ripping off a 19-yard touchdown run and it's 21-3 on the way to 24-3 at halftime. Any questions?
There are fewer and fewer about these Texans. They're not just winning without Johnson (out for the fifth straight game) and Mario Williams. They're stomping the will out of teams. Like they expect to do it.
That's elite. By any definition.
"I thought (our defense) was going to be great," nose tackle Shaun Cody says, grinning. "I saw the talent. I thought we had a chance to be really special."
It's happened. The Texans are for real. They're playoff dangerous.
How about a first-round bye?