In this latest entry of the series titled “The Biggest Game in Franchise History,” the Houston Texans have outlasted the Chicago Bears 13-6. The buildup to this showdown paid as much attention to the weather as the exceptional defenses facing each other. When the final gun sounded, all ended up playing their expected roles.
The incessant precipitation that led to six first-half turnovers made the football as difficult to hold as Facebook stock the day after their IPO.
The first two scores in the game directly resulted from a loss of possession. But most of time they just seemed to be trading them back and forth to no apparent gain.
The turning point in this one came on the only touchdown drive of the evening. The Texans gained 52 yards on just three rushes to get them a first-and-goal at the Bears’ three-yard line. A diving catch by Arian Foster proved to be all the edge Houston would need.
No one would have believed the game was effectively over at that point. But when a concussion kept Jay Cutler in the locker room after halftime concluded, Chicago fans must have felt their fate was sealed.
In retrospect, there was more to this game than a lot of rain and a lot of pain. Shall we take at those who lost and those who gained?
With a reputation as “The Windy City,” the 30 mph gusts that were forecast did not make an appearance. The constant rainfall was enough of a factor by itself.
The ball sailed out of Matt Schaub’s hands on multiple occasions, receivers could not make precise cuts, and everyone on the field had to resist the urge to shorten their steps to maintain their footing.
It became obvious by the second quarter whoever ran the ball the most would probably prevail. If down and distance allowed one team to stay on the ground, the other team would have to throw to win.
When the Bears turned their only red-zone penetration into a mere field goal, a comeback through the air in this mini-monsoon seemed problematic at best.
It might also explain why, with the game on the line and a single touchdown standing between them and overtime, Jason Campbell attempted just one pass over 20 yards the entire fourth quarter.
In years past, this much rain would have turned most fields in the NFL into a quagmire. Improvements in horticulture and drainage have made splish-splashing through liquefied goo a thing of the past.
It was no fun for the players to be toting the pigskin around in conditions better fit for, well, pigs. But it could provide some additional entertainment in games usually not known for their outstanding plays.
The exception would be Gale Sayers’ six-touchdown masterpiece on a field better suited for livestock than professional athletes.
In an effort to give the game a more polished look, the league has done everything to limit the effects of the elements. Maybe the laundry bills from years past were more than ownership could bear. Domed stadiums costing a half-billion dollars or more hardly seems like a cost-effective solution.
When former University of Texas coach Darrell Royal passed away on November 7th, one of his most famous quotes was recounted. It goes,” Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad.”
If he somehow looked upon the first two quarters this Sunday night, his opinion would have been vindicated. This saying has also been attributed to Woody Hayes, whose devotion to running the football was epitomized by his “three yards and a cloud of dust” offensive philosophy.
The Texans outrushed the Bears by only 12 yards (127-112), but more importantly by 12 attempts (35-23). So what if Houston’s average per carry was 3.6 to Chicago’s 5.0? It allowed them to run down the clock when it counted late in the game.
“Three yards and a splash” does not sound as dominating as the original description, but it certainly worked out to their advantage this time.
Over the course of a season, this is an incredibly accurate predictor of a team’s success. Taken in smaller chunks, it can become meaningless.
In the first half, the one where Houston essentially won the game, Matt Schaub was 8-14 for 43 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 46.7 passer rating. After Jason Campbell took over in the second half for Jay Cutler, he was 11-19 for 94 with no TDs, no INTs and a 70.9 passer rating.
Campbell’s superior second half could not overcome the inferior first half of the Texans’ quarterback. In fact, Schaub’s performance in the final two quarters ended up lowering his rating for the game to 42.9.
The more learned reader would point out Cutler’s first-half passer rating of 16.7 was a significant factor. But his backup had 30 minutes to overcome that deficiency and could not do it.
That leads us to our next winner/loser comparison.
They may have lost the yardage battle 215 to 249 but won the turnover battle (4-2) against the team with the most takeaways in the NFL. Does this mean they have a better defense than Chicago?
On this night they did. Matt Forte was a non-factor, and Brandon Marshall had eight catches but only one had any impact on the score. J. J. Watt did not get a sack, but Chilo Rachal did not slow him down once all night.
Chicago could not mount a single drive with two or more plays that gained double-digit yardage. Houston managed to do it on their touchdown drive and that was all it took. And it was how they did it that made all the difference.
The Monsters of the Midway did turn an interception into drive that led to a field goal, but for one fatal series they essentially lost the game.
The Texans’ offense ran three plays over Julius Peppers with Duane Brown leading the way. Brown is thought to be a better on pass protection than run-blocking, but this trio of runs gained 11, 21 and 25 yards.
This put them within three yards of the goal line, and a reception away from a touchdown.
It was sweet revenge for the NFL draft of 2002—the one where the expansion Houston franchise selected David Carr with the first pick, and Carolina chose Peppers next. The career arc of Carr, from No. 1 overall to backup QB for the New York Giants, was easily eclipsed by the six-time Pro Bowl defensive end.
For this game at least, a small measure of compensation has been exacted for that questionable decision. It was a disproportionate return for such a large investment, but the fans will gladly accept it.
All right, it turns out they do not exist after all.
The $20,000 fine assessed against the Chargers was for not turning over the offending towels to league officials fast enough. If this is spelled out somewhere in the league rules, i.e., maximum time allowed to turn over evidence, I would love to see it. Otherwise, it looks like another attempt by the NFL to assert their authority by arbitrary means.
On the other hand, for games like the one witnessed on Sunday night, they sure would have come in handy.
If these high-tech hand covers are supposed to help players catch and handle the ball, they did not do the job for either team. From Keshawn Martin's opening kickoff muff to the Kellen Davis fumble, their ability to assist in hanging onto the ball is questionable.
They have been around for over two decades.
The 300-yard games that are now standard seem to occur in spite of the gloves, with their tacky surfaces and tackier team logos. You cannot feel the surface of the ball, only the impact of it hitting your hands.
Everyone uses them, but does anyone question if they are really helpful? This genie is out of the bottle and not going back in, but I would love to see someone have the stones to play without them. There were a lot of receivers who caught a lot of balls before they came along.