Capping a scintillating Week 1 of the NFL season, the Houston Texans put together a dramatic second-half comeback to defeat the San Diego Chargers, 31-28, on Monday night.
The Chargers got out to a three-touchdown lead behind the scorching play of Philip Rivers, but Matt Schaub and Brian Cushing led the Texans back into the game, setting up a game-winning field goal for Randy Bullock as time expired at Qualcomm Stadium.
It took the Chargers all of 15 seconds to get their first touchdown of the season. After defensive tackle Cam Thomas intercepted Matt Schaub on the first play from scrimmage, Rivers found Ryan Mathews for a 14-yard score on a beautiful touch pass:
Ricky Henne of Chargers.com provided a historical note on the play:
The Chargers offensive touchdown 0:15 into the game was the fastest in team history.— Ricky Henne (@ChargersRHenne) September 10, 2013
After a punt from each side, the Texans responded.
Schaub, Arian Foster and Ben Tate all contributed on a methodical 10-play, 71-yard drive that eventually resulted in a one-yard touchdown catch from Owen Daniels to tie the game at seven.
After that, however, the Chargers took control of the game.
While Houston was able to move the ball efficiently but was done in by a missed field and untimely penalties, Rivers threw two touchdown passes on the next three drives, including a 10-yarder to Vincent Brown, who was able to touch the pylon just before going down.
As the Bolts headed into the locker room with a comfortable 21-7 lead, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle summed up the first half rather bluntly:
Chargers are kicking the Texans' butts on both sides of the ball and on special teams. They're outplaying and outcoaching Texans.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) September 10, 2013
The second half started with more of the same.
After a 47-yard completion to Malcom Floyd to start the drive, Rivers and Ronnie Brown cut through the Texans' defense like a hot knife through butter. Rivers went five-for-six on the drive and eventually connected with Eddie Royal for the pair's second touchdown and Rivers' fourth touchdown of the night.
Moreover, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, Rivers' production was coming with the Texans bringing extra pressure:
Philip Rivers has thrown all 4 of his touchdowns tonight against 5 or more pass rushers.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 10, 2013
The Texans weren't about to lay down, though.
Quickening the pace of the offense, Schaub led two quick touchdown drives—one a clinical 71-yarder that was capped by a seven-yard toss to Garrett Graham; another that was extended with a Cam Thomas penalty on a field goal—to make the score 28-21 going into the final quarter.
Although he didn't score, Andre Johnson was crucial in the Texans' ability to quickly move down the field, as he put together another massive night:
Andre Johnson has his 45th career 100-yard receiving game, best in the NFL since he joined the league in 2003.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 10, 2013
With just under 10 minutes to go, Brian Cushing made a diving interception on an errant Rivers throw and returned it 18 yards to even the score.
With J.J. Watt and the Texans defense finally clicking on all cylinders, Houston then got a few crucial stops and subsequently set up a 41-yard field goal attempt for Bullock.
He drilled it down the middle as time expired, capping the 24-0 run and remarkable comeback victory.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: B
For most of the game, the much maligned QB showed plenty of signs of finally quieting his critics in this one.
He finished 14-of-29 for 195 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, and could have had even better numbers if it weren't for some untimely drops.
Morever, he stayed strong under Houston's relentless pressure, was accurate and, most importantly, got rid of the ball when necessary, limiting turnovers.
SportsNation summed it up perfectly:
Philip Rivers is using Game Genie right now.— SportsNation (@SportsNation) September 10, 2013
However, the Rivers of recent past showed up in the fourth quarter, as he threw a brutal interception that allowed the Texans to tie the game and was unable to get anything going on the two drives after that.
Brian Cushing, Houston Texans: A
This may seem pretty obvious, but in his first regular season game in nearly a year, Cushing did this:
He also led the team with five total tackles and added a pass deflection.
Easy A, like he's Emma Stone.
Dwight Freeney, San Diego Chargers: A-
Judging strictly by tonight's game, the Indianapolis Colts may be kicking themselves for letting Dwight Freeney go.
The veteran pass rusher may have recorded just 0.5 sacks, but he was in the backfield seemingly all day long. He tallied three QB hits and had a gargantuan bull-rush on Duane Brown in the third quarter, throwing the All-Pro on his back like a rag doll.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans: B+
Andre Johnson (12 catches, 146 yards) and Owen Daniels (two touchdowns) will get most of the credit, but rookie DeAndre Hopkins deserves credit.
In his first career NFL game, Hopkins recorded five catches for 66 yards, including a crucial diving 30-yard catch on 3rd-and-13 late in the third quarter on a touchdown drive. Four of his catches went for first downs as he established himself as a viable No. 3 threat for Schaub.
He also threw in some solid blocking, as well.