Please pardon the tardiness of this update. It took me a while to float back down to Earth.
If there was any doubt left in anyone’s mind whether the Texans are true Super Bowl contenders in 2012, it is now gone. The Texans went into Chicago on the national stage, and beat them in the rain, the wind, and without a few important players. They went into Chicago hearing all about how the Bears defense is the best in the NFL, how they excel at forcing turnovers, and how tough and physical they are. Well, all that may be true currently, and it was certainly true going in to Sunday night – but by the time the Texans put the final touch on a 13-6 victory, a different truth had been realized.
The Texans’ defense was more physical, more focused, tougher, nastier, and flat out BETTER than the Bears. The Texans were supposed to struggle in the “Bear weather” since they are so used to the comfort of Reliant Stadium (yeah, try the heat in Houston during camp, Bears. Just try it).
Instead, former Bear Danieal Manning spearheaded the defense to an absolutely phenomenal effort. Manning kicked off the four turnover performance with a bone-jarring shot on Bears’ tight end Kellen Davis. Three more turnovers would follow, and the Texans were able to prevent big plays all night. Brandon Marshall did haul in a 45-yard catch, but when it counted most – the Texans weren’t having it on defense. It actually seemed to me that the Bears never legitimately challenged for a touchdown in this game.
You can certainly chalk up some of Chicago’s offensive struggles to the fact that they lost QB Jay Cutler in the first half to a concussion. But Cutler was GOD AWFUL before he left the game, so let’s not kid ourselves that Cutler was off to a hot start and would have pulled the game out for the Bears. Tim Dobbins saw to it that Cutler would spend the second half out of the game after a controversial hit to the head on a play where Cutler delivered a forward pass while over the line of scrimmage. I need to watch the play again, but on first glance it did look like an illegal hit to me. He hit Cutler in the head, and I’m not sure why it matters that Cutler was already beyond the line of scrimmage – it seemed like a helmet-to-helmet hit, and on top of that – it seemed like a late hit to boot.
Whether it was legal or not, Dobbins has to realize how coddled the QBs are in the NFL, and he had PLENTY of time to put a shoulder on Cutler rather than hit him in the head. I’m not saying I AGREE with the league rules and how they call these things, but I’m saying that players need to be aware. No matter what interpretation of any rule regarding the location on the line of scrimmage – if there’s a QB involved, you just can’t hit the guy in the head – and you can’t do it even a shade too late. It’s just the reality of the NFL.
Kareem Jackson notched his fourth interception of the season, and suddenly he’s not just improved – he’s actually playing great football. Teams have hardly been throwing his way lately, and last night he showed great awareness on his interception – something he almost NEVER displayed in the past. The Texans’ secondary as a whole played one hell of a game against the Bears. Brandon Marshall got his plus-100 yards, but the bottom line is Johnathan Joseph did not get dominated, and he did not allow Marshall in the end zone. Houston’s safety play was just, well, wow. Manning an Quin can make a legitimate case for being one of the top safety tandems in the NFL.
The offense, as expected, struggled mightily. But Arian Foster took toughness to a new level last night. He was getting battered all over the place. The Bears were pounding him, tackling him hard, and he just kept going and going. Against the Bears turnover machine of a defense, Foster ended the night with 34 touches, and protected the ball perfectly. On his touchdown catch, I can’t say enough about what a great play Foster made. First of all, the Bears covered Foster pretty well. I believe it was Lance Briggs on the coverage. Foster didn’t get a whole of separation, and Matt Schaub threw a FANTASTIC pass to put Foster in a position to make the catch and touchdown. What’s important here, is that the catch he made is NOT the kind of catch I “expect” Foster or any running back to make. But, he made it, he pulled it in, he controlled it all through the catch, got it over the goal line – touchdown. Amazing play.
So now what? The Texans are early 16 point favorites at home against the Jaguars next week. They could suffer an emotional letdown after a signature franchise win Sunday night, but let’s be honest – even if they do let down, all you really need to do to beat the Jaguars is play hard, and play smart.
Gary Kubiak has quite a challenge in front of him to keep the Texans playing at a high emotional level. It may help that the Colts are only two games back, and the Broncos are clearly rising in the West. Houston still has four of their last seven games on the road, including at Detroit on only four days rest on Thanksgiving, a Monday night trip to New England, and two games against Andrew Luck and the aforementioned Colts. Indianapolis is not only in the Wild Card hunt – they are almost a lock to make the playoffs at this point because of how bad the AFC is this season. They will likely need those games for playoff positioning. Let’s also not forget that Houston will host Adrian Peterson and the Vikings in the second-to-last game of the year. My point is – there’s a loooong way to go, and with Denver and Indy rising, the Texans cannot rest on their laurels, even if it’s human nature to do so.
Player of the game, offense – Arian Foster. I could post his numbers here, but that’s not what this is about. He “willed” that offense forward all night Sunday, and he still rolled up good numbers against a legitimately GREAT defense.
Player of the game, defense – Danieal Manning. He set the tone early with a huge fumble-forcing hit, and added an interception later. Against his former team, he was incredible.
Play of the game – Foster’s touchdown, for the brilliance of the throw, the catch, and the maintained possession. Couple that with the way the defense was clearly not going to give up ANYTHING to the Bears, and you might even go as far as to say it put the game out of reach. That’s how good this defense is.