Texan vs. Falcons
Texans can't lose: A T. J. Yates dramatic victory and Andre Johnson out again
And you think those Paranormal Activity movies are freaky? That's nothing compared to the frightening, inexplicable curse hovering over these never-give-in Houston Texans.
Just when the Texans think they've dogged a major injury scare with linebacker Brian Cushing — the leader of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' Miracle Defense — returning to play the second half after limping off the field late in the first, disaster comes out of nowhere. Andre Johnson, having helped rookie quarterback T.J. Yates all game with several acrobatic catches, comes up limping without getting touched on a long pass route.
Johnson is headed for an MRI — and everyone knows how MRI Mondays have gone for Houston this season.
Another week, another devastating injury . . . and another win.
"It's a great win because of everything this team has been through," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said, his team still tied with Pittsburgh and New England for the best record in the entire AFC. "I just told the guys, it's been three different weeks, three different quarterbacks.
"But it's the same team, the same 46 guys going out there and battling like heck."
It's hard to explain anything about this now 9-3 Houston Texans team. A 17-10 defensive gut check of a victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Reliant Stadium Sunday showed just how determined Kubiak's team is. And just how cursed it may be.
The white towel — the one that's marked this season of winning frustration for the greatest Texan of all time — was over Johnson's head as he limped to the locker room.
Yates — with plenty of help from Arian Foster (31 hard carries for 111 yards against the NFL's second-rated rushing defense) — led the Texans on a game-winning touchdown drive after Atlanta tied it at 10. A drive that included an ultra-gutsy, go-for-it-on-fourth-and-one call from Kubiak. Just a little 19-play drive.
Houston's No. 1-rated defense was even better than advertised, frustrating an Atlanta team (7-5) playing for its playoff life. The game ended with the Texans' defense turning Atlanta back one last time, with Matt Ryan's pass from the 30-yard line to Julio Jones in the end zone touching Jones' hands but falling harmlessly incomplete with three Houston defensive backs around him.
And another key player went down. It's a Texans' game, of course there was a devastating injury.
Heck, late in the fourth quarter, even Houston punter Brett Hartmann crumpled to the grass with a serious-looking leg injury without getting touched.
Johnson knew he was in trouble immediately earlier in the second half, dropping himself to the Reliant Stadium grass before limping off the field slowly. Soon, the white towel — the one that's marked this season of winning frustration for the greatest Texan of all time — was over Johnson's head as he limped to the locker room.
"I know it's not as bad (as the right hamstring injury that required surgery)," Johnson said afterwards. "But I'm definitely worried."
To re-injury the right hamstring that already cost No. 80 six games, the one he's already had surgery on, would put everything about the rest of Johnson's season in doubt. But the Texans' lifeline wideout hurt the hamstring in his other leg this time, an encouraging sign — as much as any other leg injury to Johnson can be encouraging.
"It was aggravating," Johnson said of limping off in another game, in a season in which the Texans have already tied the franchise record for wins (nine) with five regular season games to go. "If you saw me on the sideline, you saw my frustration. I'm trying to do everything I can to help the team and I just feel like I can't catch a break."
Will Johnson be able to make yet another comeback?
Texans owner Bob McNair said he's been told it's a less severe type of hamstring injury.
Anyone who'd watched the Texans lose two quarterbacks in consecutive games still cannot help but wonder. On the sidelines, Kubiak looked like someone had slipped him some bad shrimp.
Which is also how he looked toward the end of the first half when Cushing went down.
This is Cushing though, the outlaw Energizer Bunny of the Texans defense. After a tense half hour at Reliant, he came out for the second half and everything was right again in the Texans' world. At least on the defensive side of the football.
Outplaying Matty Ice
Houston's offense? Well, let's just say that's a work in progress under Yates.
Making his first career NFL start in place of Matt Leinart who replaced Matt Schaub, Yates had his moments. Johnson, in his second game back from the hamstring injury that cost him nearly two months of football, provided many of those moments. Going up high for several Yates passes, Johnson looked like his old dominant self in the first half, catching three passes for 75 yards — including a 50-yard bomb that set up Houston's first touchdown.
"I'd give him a W," Texans tailback Ben Tate cracked when asked to grade a quarterback who finished 12 of 25 for 188 yards with a touchdown, no interceptions and a lost fumble. With his parents watching in the stands, Yates beat his childhood team (he's from the Atlanta area) with a 86.8 quarterback rating. That doesn't sound too great until you consider that Yates' counterpart Ryan — a 2010 Pro Bowl quarterback, the man with that tight Matty Ice nickname — finished with a dismal 50.6 rating.
"T.J. is just a calm dude, man," Texans left tackle Duane Brown said. "He might give a little fist pump after a big play, but that's about it. He doesn't get down after a bad play either. He just moves on. That's what you need."
Who would have ever imagined that Houston could get it from a fifth-round draft pick who spent most of this season running the scout team in practice, pretending to be guys like Matty Icy?
Shortly after the Reliant crowd broke into giddy chants of "T.J.! T.J.! T.J.!" with the Texans having gone up 10-0 on the favored Falcons, Cushing got twisted awkwardly on the grass while making a cut — and stayed down for several moments. Talk about your sudden attitude shifts.
Reliant took on the tone of a wake. Could Houston lose its fiery defensive leader — a guy who's being touted for NFL Defensive MVP — to injury too? Really, football Gods, really?
Cushing rose gingerly under his own power though. He didn't put much weight on his right leg, but he didn't need a cart either.
After getting examined on a table behind the Texans bench, Cushing walked along the sideline without limping. He went into the locker room with five minutes remaining in the second quarter though, adding worry to the situation.
This is Cushing though. He's not leaving this Phillips' defense of his dreams for long. Not with so much to do. Not with so much still to prove. Not with so many still disbelieving doubters out there.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan tried to go deep on the Texans early, did his best to test a secondary that still has plenty of doubters around the NFL. Phillips Miracle Defense promptly picked off Ryan twice — in the first eight minutes of the game. Long criticized cornerback Kareem Jackson intercepted the first one — a flea flicker play in which Roddy White was the target but no Texans were fooled. Jason Allen got No. 2, leaving Ryan shaking his head.
Can Houston's defense really be this good?
Yes it can, Matt. Yes, it is. It's a force.
The problem is the Texans' injury curse may be an even greater power. Or maybe not. 9-3 is 9-3, isn't it?
It sure felt like that to Jones, who lay still in the end zone after that last incomplete pass, looking more than a little disbelieving — until his former Alabama teammate Kareem Jackson helped him up. It happened Julio.
Crazy stuff is what these Texans do. Crazy, winning stuff.