The Houston Texans took what was supposed to be a routine win and turned it into a last-second comeback as they beat the San Diego Chargers 31-28 in the late Monday night game. It took a field goal by Randy Bullock on the last play of the game to erase a 21-point deficit.
The betting line on the game was 3.5 points, a slim spread line when the two teams are compared. The oddsmakers may have been spooked by a host of issues surrounding the Texans defense.
If you take into account the uncertainty at virtually every linebacker position, the absence of defensive end Antonio Smith due to suspension, and Shiloh Keo and D.J. Swearinger handling two of the top three safety slots, it starts to make sense.
In the first half, the Texans seemed powerless to stop a quarterback who had enough time to find the open man. San Diego head coach Mike McCoy and Philip Rivers obviously studied the Houston’s games against the New England Patriots last year. The Chargers must have realized this defense cannot handle an offense that can dictate the tempo at which they operate.
But as Eldon Tyrell told his Nexus-6 replicant Roy Batty in the movie Blade Runner: "The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long."
The Chargers’ candle burned oh so brightly through their first possession of the second half that helped put them up 28-7. From that point on, the Texans effectively snuffed it.
They dominated the time of possession for the rest of the contest, holding the ball for 17:56 to 6:19 for the Chargers. The Bolts were limited to 10 yards of total offense in the process.
When Houston took the ball with 3:53 left in the game, the end seemed inevitable.
It will take some reflection to decide whether or not this game was a replay of the 43-37 overtime victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. That game represented the peak of the 2012 season, and the team seemed to have nothing left for the balance of the schedule.
This time around they are just getting started. To mount the biggest comeback in franchise history is a promising way to kick off the season.
Matt Schaub: A
When your very first pass of the season is tipped and intercepted, how you react is going to set the stage for the rest of the year.
It took over 30 minutes on the clock to get it out of his head and the rest of the team’s collective noggin. Once they moved past it, they were unstoppable. Schaub led the way like a quarterback who knows he has a multitude of doubters to prove wrong.
He went 22-of-27 in the second half for 199 yards and two touchdowns and no picks. His numbers for the entire game look good enough to earn his grade: 34-of-45, 346 yards, three touchdowns and a 110 passer rating.
The way he arrived at those figures really tells the story.
Arian Foster: C
Foster told Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle how excited he was to be playing in his hometown. During the game, that appeared to be all he cared about.
When forced to stay on the sideline while Ben Tate took his place, Foster let his frustration boil over.
Looked like Arian Foster said "bullsh--, f---ing bullsh--" when he got to the sidelines: pic.twitter.com/Y9eQi4OYtw
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 10, 2013
There were a couple of times during the game when he slammed the ball to the ground after his dead-leg cuts caused him to slip. Maybe he was disappointed with his 18 carries for 59 yards.
Or maybe he just didn’t give the homefolks the show they had hoped for. What a team guy!?
Ben Tate: B+
The backup was better than the starter, who did not get any reps during the preseason games. His nine carries for 55 yards against San Diego did not include any runs for negative yardage.
Tate has more speed and power but is less elusive than the Pro Bowler. Until Foster shakes off the dust from his injury-plagued preparations for the regular season, expect the second-string back to get a larger chunk of the workload. Kubiak said as much in the team's press conference Tuesday.
Greg Jones: C-
As expected, Jones was not called upon to do much blocking. His lack of effort drew attention when his matador attempt to keep Jarret Johnson from sacking Matt Schaub utterly failed.
If he cannot move his feet and at least get in the way of the pass-rusher, let us see if Cierre Wood is more interested in putting a body on someone.
Andre Johnson: A+
The term “slow down” is not in this guy’s vocabulary.
The typical preview of the Texans' 2013 season usually speculates how much longer Johnson can perform at such a high level. The implication is Father Time always gets his man.
The fact is no one can cover this age-defying receiver, and the members of the Chargers secondary will have recurring nightmares of No. 80 shaking off coverage over and over again.
His 12 receptions for 146 yards did not include a 67-yard touchdown that was called back for some inconsequential contact between his foot and the torso of Marcus Gilchrist.
Johnson’s final three receptions were on the game-winning drive, proof his feet were just as critical as Bullock’s foot in completing the comeback.
DeAndre Hopkins: B+
The rookie gave notice he is the No. 2 receiver the fans have been dreaming of. One of his five catches for 66 yards was a rolling-and-tumbling grab that showed just how soft and educated his hands are.
Hopkins was on the field for almost as many snaps as Johnson, which helped the leading receiver escape double coverage on more than one occasion. It may be just one game, but the search for another offensive weapon looks like a mission accomplished.
Lestar Jean: F
Jean only gets a mention for his two drive-killing holding penalties on the same series. Both put him in the doghouse early and he did not have a single target for the game.
Owen Daniels: A
The veteran tight end proved to be just as dependable as his veteran counterpart at wide receiver. He had two red-zone touchdowns among his five receptions for 67 yards. His yards after catch on a couple of those grabs were impressive.
One for 18 yards led to his first TD. The second for 28 yards could have been part of a game-tying drive if not for the failure to gain the inches needed to convert on fourth down.
If there were any doubts, Daniels is an indispensable part of the Texans’ offensive repertoire.
Garrett Graham: B+
The Texans reserve tight end actually started the game since they opened up with a “22” personnel group (two WRs, two TEs). A nice leaping catch for 12 yards got the Texans’ first touchdown drive moving.
Overall, four catches for 27 yards and a touchdown does not sound like a big deal. But every one of them were needed.
Duane Brown: D
For the All-Pro tackle, it was 2008 all over again. That would have been Week 10 when Dwight Freeney, then with the Indianapolis Colts, schooled the rookie with two sacks in a 33-27 Houston loss.
On Monday Brown played his worst game in years as Freeney repeatedly beat him around the edge. The game log only shows a half-sack given up, but it was really much worse than that number can tell.
Eventually Brown got the upper hand, but if he had waited much longer, the game might have had a different result.
Wade Smith: B
There were just a handful of runs over the left side and the pass rush of the Chargers was an inconsistent factor over the course of the entire game. The guard was not asked to do more than normal and in that respect did not disappoint.
Chris Myers: B-
One of the main tasks of the center in a zone-blocking system is to get to the second level and impede the inside linebackers. Bront Bird and Donald Butler had a combined 27 tackles, which is not a total indictment of Myers’ work. It is an indication that he could have done a better job.
Brandon Brooks: B
Sixty-six of the 112 total rushing yards were gained over the right side, the majority of that over the gaps that Brooks is asked to handle. The guard was befuddled at times when trying to determine which gap to handle when a pass was the call.
Derek Newton: B+
Newton did a good job sealing the edge on the run and did not allow a sack. Improvement at right tackle was one of the biggest worries coming into this season and his play will help calm that fear.
J.J. Watt: B+
It took until the third quarter for Watt to record his first tackle. The constant double-teams he attracted did limit his overall statistics, which did show a tipped pass but no sacks.
Drawing two blockers on every play serves its own purpose, but will not distract Watt from his relentless pursuit of the 20-20-20 trifecta (sacks, tackles for loss, batted balls).
Earl Mitchell: B
The plan for the nose tackle position seems to be fewer snaps so that more pass-rushers can be kept in the game. Pro Football Focus (subscription required for premium stats) had him on the field for just 18 snaps.
His highlight for the evening was bringing down Ryan Mathews from behind on a screen pass where most 6’3”, 301-pound tackles would have been left in the dust.
Jared Crick: C+
The replacement for Antonio Smith did not make anyone forget about the suspended defensive end. Crick made no mistakes or big plays in his first start.
It is all part of the learning process and he is in its opening stages.
Tim Jamison: C+
Pro Football Focus logged just 10 snaps for Jamison, a smart move as he works his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. He was kind of swallowed up by a Chargers offensive line that averages 6’6” and 323 pounds.
Brian Cushing: B
The player who tied the game with an acrobatic pick and return for a score receives a “B?” Are we talking about the same game?
Yes, the same game where he had just five tackles, was targeted four times and gave up three receptions and overpursued all over the field. The main benefit of his return to the lineup was how it would help the pass rush. The closest he got to Philip Rivers was about five yards on a couple of occasions.
His interception was an amazing play that made the win possible. It does not change the fact he looked like he had been away from the game for almost a year.
Joe Mays: B
Mays is a two-down linebacker whose job is to be a run-stopper. In this reduced role, he performed well.
His lack of size does make it hard for him to sort through the trash and get to the ball-carrier. But when the hole is there, Mays can stuff it provided he doesn’t have to scrape down the line to close it.
Brooks Reed: C
He gave up the first TD to Ryan Mathews because most linebackers are lousy in coverage and he had no safety help.
Reed gets the “C” grade because he had one tackle, no sacks or QB pressures and not a single significant play that contributed to the win. The talk about moving him from outside linebacker to the inside position should be a call to action.
Whitney Mercilus: B+
While Mercilus can still be out of position when it comes to setting the edge on running plays, he acquitted himself well.
He proved difficult to block on passing plays, where he registered a sack by being quicker off the ball than LT King Dunlap. His bag of tricks needs something more than a speed rush if he is going to excel at outside linebacker.
In other words, don’t be like Connor Barwin, who lived and died by his power move.
Johnathan Joseph: B+
J-Jo gets the benefit of the doubt for multiple reasons. It was good to see him back and rounding into form.
He gave up just one reception to Malcom Floyd, but it was for 47 yards and jump-started their final touchdown drive. But on the score to Eddie Royal, he was too busy shadowing WR Vincent Brown to notice Royal had three steps on Brice McCain.
It is not Joseph’s job to help out on a short slant; that goes to Danieal Manning. When the receiver crosses your zone, it does not hurt to lend a hand.
Kareem Jackson: B+
Jackson did an especially good job on Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal. Overall, Rivers had six completions to wide receivers. Jackson and Joseph look like the best pair of cornerbacks in the AFC.
Brice McCain: D
McCain was exploited on back-to-back plays. The first was a pass interference called where he repeatedly pawed Royal after the receiver came out of his break.
Rivers decided to go after McCain again on the next play and the slot CB sat on the route for a step too long. Royal was wide open in the corner of the end zone for the score.
McCain needs a safety to back him up in tight spaces and he rarely gets assistance.
Danieal Manning: C+
The record shows Manning allowed just one reception, but he was not there to assist his teammates in need. The Chargers’ running backs caught more passes than the wideouts and it would be encouraging to see Manning involved in at least one of those plays.
Maybe he was busy covering for Shiloh Keo and D.J. Swearinger and trying to ensure they did not get burned. The safety is supposed to be the last line of defense, but how does one man know where to go when his area is 160 feet wide?
D.J. Swearinger: C
The prediction before the game was that tight end Antonio Gates would use his height and experience advantage over Swearinger. For much of the first half, that is exactly what happened.
Luckily for Swearinger, in the second half Rivers could not even pick Gates out of a police lineup, much less connect on a throw.
Shiloh Keo: B+
If Swearinger was not the biggest defensive liability going into Monday night, Keo was next in line.
Yet he was adequate backing up the run, even better in pass coverage and pulled off the direct snap on the fake punt to perfection. If Ed Reed is active for the Tennessee Titans game, there is a good chance Keo will still get the bulk of the snaps.
Keshawn Martin: B-
Martin insisted on taking four of his five kickoff returns out of the end zone. He gained an average of 29 yards on each of those return, one of which ended up on the 40-yard line.
His punt returns only averaged seven yards apiece, neither helping or hurting the Texans’ cause.
Shane Lechler: A
All three punts by Lechler ended up inside the 20 and only one was returned for five yards. His last punt put the Chargers on their 8-yard line, from where they inexplicably decided to throw on their first play.
This was the pass that Brian Cushing snatched and brought back for a touchdown. There was 9:30 remaining and the momentum was on Houston’s side. Mike McCoy must have thought a bold move was needed, but could not have anticipated the results.
Thanks to Lechler, Cushing only had to travel 18 yards for the score.
Randy Bullock: B+
Four of his five kickoffs were touchbacks. Most importantly, Bullock nailed the game-winning field goal as time expired.
The field goal he missed from 51 yards was a wobbler, which is approaching the edge of his range. Otherwise, a strong performance given his foot determined the final score.
Kick Coverage: C+
Thanks to the kickers, there was only one of each kind to cover. The lone kickoff was returned 42 yards, but the field position at the San Diego 38 did not lead to any points.
Gary Kubiak: A-
No one has proven extraterrestrials have traveled to Earth, but there is evidence.
The head coach of the Houston Texans went for it on 4th-and-inches, attempted a fake punt and targeted an untested rookie receiver seven times in his first professional game, all on the same night. The only way to explain this unusual behavior is that he must have been probed in some mind-altering way.
There could be a more rational explanation, such as the desperation of falling behind two plays into the game and being down 21 points early in the third quarter. Whatever the cause, the response was strictly out of character.
All those who are compelled to use “Kubiak” and “conservative” in the same sentence could not be happier.
Wade Phillips: A-
Phillips has undoubtedly learned a wide range of coaching tricks over his 32 years in the NFL. One of them is how to teach proper pass-coverage technique over the course of halftime.
A Texans secondary that could not cover an end table with a parachute let the Chargers ran up the score to 28-7. From the 10:42 mark of the third quarter till the end of the game, they held Philip Rivers to one completion in nine attempts for 20 yards.
How this turnaround was engineered has not been disclosed to the media. Could this be more evidence of alien interference?