Anyone would have thought the key to this game was holding Adrian Peterson under 100 yards rushing got their wish. He only had 86 yards, but it was his quarterback that proved to be singular factor in the game.
It was not his passing yardage or even his scrambling that made the difference. Christian Ponder forced the Texans to play from behind and their offense was obviously not up to the task.
Even though Houston has captured the AFC South division title, it now feels as if more than just the home field advantage hangs on winning in Indianapolis next week. This team must now regain their confidence and self-respect before the playoffs commence.
Matt Schaub — D
In the movie Wall Street, Charlie Sheen’s character Bud Fox is heading into his first meeting with Gordon Gekko. Knowing this encounter could change the course of his career, Bud says “Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.”
Let us say that moment for Matt Schaub came and went against the Vikings and he did not “bag the elephant.” In fact, Schaub stepped in what the elephant left behind.
He has not been the same quarterback since facing Detroit, throwing for just three touchdowns and splitting the four games. As this game went on, the weight of moment wore him down as much as the Vikings defense.
His receivers dropped passes, the play calls were not aggressive enough, and Jared Allen along with the rest of his buddies was in his face most of the afternoon. The effectiveness of the Texans offense depends on balance.
When the running game contributes virtually nothing to the proceedings, his trademark play-action passes become less reliable. Converting just one of 11 third downs is unacceptable for any team with a winning record.
Your quarterback is the one player who can bring the team back when things are not going your way. Schaub only brought back memories of those Texans teams that were their own worst enemy. This game was a sad reminder those days have not been left in the past.
T.J. Yates— Inc.
It is not fair to give a grade to someone who is thrust into a completely hopeless circumstance. That blind side fumble he coughed up does not bode well for his future development, but one play is not enough data for evaluation purposes.
Arian Foster— D
His productivity has become as irregular as the heart condition that took him out of this game. A season-best figure of 165 yards last week followed by 15 yards in this farce, his offensive identity is as uncertain as his health.
His only excuse is the offensive line did not give him any place to run. Too often, his patience in waiting for the hole turns into a stutter-step that allows the front seven to close on him.
Foster’s availability for the Colts game is now is question, as are the fortunes of this team going into the postseason. If we do not see more of the player that ran roughshod over Indianapolis, any hope of ending up in New Orleans will be lost.
Ben Tate — C
Four carries do not represent much of chance to show if you can contribute anything close to your production of 2011. Three of them came after Foster was in the locker room, and 13 of his 17 yards came on one play.
Tate will be getting more work next week unless Foster receives medical clearance to suit up. His ability to come through is vital to closing out the regular season with a win.
James Casey — C
Casey might rate a higher grade if he had something to hang his hat on. When running game fails so spectacularly and he has just one six-yard reception, he must stand in the corner with all the other underachievers.
Andre Johnson — B+
Johnson was the only member of the offense who showed up for work today. Just about everyone else played as if it was his last day at the office before the Christmas holiday.
Seven catches for 97 yards is close to his typical stat line. But too many of the plays called for him are short down-and-in routes and not enough fly and post patterns to put some fear in the secondary.
On at least three occasions, he caught passes on third-and-long that were five yards short of the first down marker. Not his fault, but you have to let this thoroughbred run or his potential is wasted.
Kevin Walter — C
He caught one pass that was two feet short of a touchdown, a play that could have kick-started a comeback. Walter had to stretch out to catch it, so the ball was not perfectly placed.
Somehow, this illustrates his limitations as the No. 2 starting receiver. A faster player would have been in the perfect position to take it into the end zone. He is what he is, and has been allowed to roam around the deep end of the field when Schaub gets play-action going.
That was not going to happen today.
DeVier Posey — D
So much for Posey finally emerging as a true No. 3 receiver. He grabbed just one of six targets, but some of them were uncatchable.
But just like a rookie, he rounded off his routes and left his cover man in position to knock the ball away. It was too much to expect him to leap ahead of the pack and seize the moment. Which makes him a perfect reflection of the team he plays for.
Owen Daniels — C
Usually sure-handed, Daniels dropped a pass near the red zone that turned into the second field goal. When your quarterback is having an off day, you cannot afford to miss out on any chance to build momentum.
The easiest thing to do is to say everyone had an off day. When your second-best receiver just has three catches for 27 yards, he is guilty of not providing the kind of numbers expected from someone of his caliber.
Garrett Graham — B
For a backup who has caught almost as many long balls as starter Kevin Walter, this would have been a great day to flash some of that ability. But his chances to catch anything were as limited as the mobility of his quarterback.
Only two receptions on two targets must be frustrating for someone capable of much more.
Duane Brown — D
It would be easy to just go down the line a rip every individual on this line. We will start the prosecution with the guiltiest party.
Some NFL observers were ready to ordain this guy as the best left tackle in the league. He played like a rookie in this game, and has left a trail of mediocre performances over the last few weeks.
Brown was responsible for three penalties and his third sack of the season. Jared Allen smacked him around like the new kid in the schoolyard, and even backup DE Everson Griffen had him turned around a couple of times.
Only his overall body of work keeps him from getting an F.
Chris Myers — B
Myers had the best game of anyone on the line, keeping tackling demon Chad Greenway from getting his usual serving of double-digit tackles.
Then again, the Texans ran the ball only a handful of plays up the middle. Whether that was out of respect for Greenway or because Myers was not creating any holes would take a closer look at a playback of the game.
Wade Smith — C-
The Texans left guard played a better game than his recent efforts. From a standpoint of outright mistakes, his only noticeable error was a sack he gave up to NT Fred Evans.
Like the rest of cohorts, he must take the heat for the ridiculous 34 yards rushing gained by the fifth-ranked team in that category. It will also likely be the only game where he outplays Duane Brown.
Ben Jones — D
No one likes to go up against DT Kevin Williams, and after getting treated like his play toy Jones would agree. Williams literally put the Texans’ RG on his butt more than once.
Like Myers, the lack of running plays over his blocking assignment was a result of his inability to maneuver Williams in any direction. It ended up being another day at school for the rookie.
Brandon Brooks — C-
When the Texans looked for an additional blocker in goal line situations, Brooks came in to lend a hand. The fact they failed to score on their last serious drive of the day means he still has a ways to go before he can be a consistent backup.
J.J. Watt— A-
Watt is the kind of player who would rather get the attention when the Texans get the win. Even when they play poorly as a team, he still stands out as the best defensive player in the league.
LT Matt Kalil is rated as the best rookie offensive lineman this season, but he could barely get a hand on Watt. Kalil had two penalties, gave up a sack and two TFLs to the Texans DE.
The next bad game Watt experiences will be his first as a professional.
Antonio Smith— B
The best way to describe Smith’s game is workman-like, but only because he plays next to the incomparable Watt. He helped make Christian Ponder look like pedestrian passer he really is.
However, it took until the Texans were down by nearly two TDs before he brought enough pressure from the other side to give Ponder something to think about. The Vikings converted nine third downs to the Texans one, which was the difference in the game.
Jared Crick— C+
Crick continues to improve week by week, even though he struggles to get his hands on opposing blockers. He may need to gain some weight to get a stronger base, but his duties as a backup DE are above average for a player with so little NFL experience.
Earl Mitchell— C+
Houston needs its nose tackles to control the center of the line. Mitchell pulled that off against C John Sullivan, one of the best ball-snappers around. When the top running back in the league gains 86 yards on 25 carries, and almost nothing up the middle, Mitchell gets some of the kudos.
Connor Barwin— C
Barwin must have been on the field because he registered three tackles according to the box score. But his name did not come up once during the game, so his failure to distinguish himself continues.
His decline in the eyes of Houston’s fans as well as its coaching staff is also going in the same direction.
Whitney Mercilus— C-
Next to his name you will find a “1” in the penalty column and zeros in the tackle and sack columns. He was on his way to looking like the perfect replacement for Connor Barwin, but his ascension took a little detour today.
Brooks Reed— B+
In his first game back from a groin injury, Reed was all over the field and should have been credited with a sack on Ponder early in the game. He was the only linebacker to put any steady pressure on the Vikings QB.
It was not enough to make up for the lack of help from his fellow LBs. Unfortunately, his contributions were short-lived as his injury reappeared in the second half. His status for the Colts game is unknown at the present time.
Bradie James— B
Other than a minor penalty that had no effect on the outcome, James had one of his better games of the year. He stuffed Peterson on several occasions, and kept Kyle Rudolph from make his living over the middle.
This was one of his "on" games, but given the loss the Texans cannot afford an "off' game from him next week.
Tim Dobbins— B-
Dobbins was an excellent complement to James, not allowing Peterson much yardage on his cutbacks and supplying solid coverage in the short zones. He was out of position on one of Ponder’s long scrambles, but when a quarterback gains over 10 yards the blame falls equally on the secondary.
Darryl Sharpton — C
Sharpton still looks like he is getting back into game shape as his snaps were limited to somewhere around 20. As an inside linebacker he is quick on his feet, but kind of disappears in the traffic due to his size.
Kareem Jackson— B-
Several of the passes completed in the first half were in Jackson’s area, though his coverage improved in the second half along with the rest of the secondary. Kareem has improved enough that he is no longer the first DB to opposing quarterback looks to pick on.
Brandon Harris— F
With Brice McCain sidelined for the rest of 2012, Harris has been inserted into the nickel role. In the process, it has put a target on his back that makes him the likeliest defender to victimize.
Harris gave up two long passes to Michael Jenkins and Jarius Wright that lead directly to scores. If McCain had not been injured, Harris would have spent additional time on the practice squad. Now he is learning the game the hard way.
Johnathan Joseph— B
Ponder tried to avoid Joseph as much as possible, targeting his receiver on just three occasions. Joseph did lose track of the Vikings QB on his 29-yard scramble, eventually bringing him down at the end of the run.
Danieal Manning— C
Manning would have graded out higher if not for his face mask penalty on third down that led to the Toby Gerhart touchdown. The Texans FS often gives up a couple of long passes each game, but his role as a Cover 1 deep safety means he is the last line of defense in most cases.
He did not lose the game for Houston, but he did end any hope of a come from behind win.
Glover Quin— B
Quin was a big contributor to turning Peterson into a merely human running back. Yet he still gave up two of longest gains of the day, and a pass to Kyle Rudolph that resulted in the Vikings first TD.
With 10 tackles on the day, he had to play both the run and the pass with equal attention. Unless Quin could divide himself like an amoeba, the strong safety was unable to be in two places at once.
Eddie Pleasant— C-
Pleasant was active for his first NFL game, but had a rude awakening when he was caught unaware on the touchdown to Rudolph in the first quarter. His role from that point on was special teams only.
Keshawn Martin— C+
The Texans kick returner provided one of the few exciting plays of the day. His 50-yard kickoff return was erased by a holding penalty on James Casey.
His role as the No. 3 receiver has been taken over by DeVier Posey so he can concentrate on this job. Perhaps something will come of it, someday.
Donnie Jones— A
When your punter becomes the star of the game, the rest of squad must have had a wretched day. Averaging 50.4 yards on seven kicks, Jones distinguished himself as he has most of the year.
Pro Football Focus has selected him as their AFC Pro Bowl punter, so he must be just as good as his stat line would indicate.
Shayne Graham— B+
Graham supplied the only points of the game for the Texans, matching his longest field goal of the year with 51-yard kick. Houston fans would rather see him kicking extra points, but you take what you can get.
Gary Kubiak— F
The head coach and de facto offensive play caller did not have his team prepared for what should have been a record setting day.
For the first time in the over fifty years of professional football in Houston, the home team could have played every one of their playoff games in the Bayou City. Not only did that goal slip through their collective fingers, they did it in a way that questions the very heart of the organization and it constituents.
The offense was horrific in every phase of the game. Converting one out of eleven third downs was bad enough, but the Vikings held the ball for nine more minutes than the Texans. Houston was on top of the league in time of possession, but were throttled by a team ranked 28th.
Matt Schaub looked like a deer in the headlights, unable to get any rhythm going in the passing game. Arian Foster had to leave the game when his heart started skipping beats. Every Texans fan in attendance knows exactly what that feels like in the aftermath of John McClain of the Houston Chronicle called “the worst loss in team history.” (Sports Radio 610 Texans Postgame Show)
Phillips escapes total humiliation only because the offense gave his defense absolutely nothing to work with. Defensive backfield depth was one of the biggest concerns going into the 2012 season, and that deficiency is now totally exposed.
How else can Christian Ponder end up looking like a better quarterback than long time veteran Matt Schaub? The worst passing attack in the NFL had just enough completions to have the Texans playing catch up from the first quarter till the final gun.
Houston must pray Andrew Luck is held out of the season finale so the Texans defense can somehow get its house in order. Either that or hope the latest strain of influenza sweeps through the Colts clubhouse to devastating effect.