It looked as if the Houston Texans might be able to pull of their third straight come-from-behind win on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, but after a messy offensive performance in the second half, the Texans suffered their first loss of the season.
Everything was close to over when Andre Johnson left the game through the third quarter with an apparent knee injury. The defense held its ground for most of the game during Ed Reed's debut, which is more than can be said for the Texans special teams unit.
After two straight weeks of showing a post-Super Bowl hangover, the Ravens, on the other hand, made the most of their opportunities. Joe Flacco didn't have a big one by any stretch of the imagination, but a pick-six from Matt Schaub helped turn momentum, and having Ray Lewis on the sidelines seemed to keep Baltimore's enthusiasm alive.
The Texans can take a lot out of this game, especially on offense.
Here's a look at a few takeaways from Sunday's loss.
For an offseason of so much questioning and worry, Ed Reed made his debut with the Texans in style.
Manning a defense that now ranks third overall in the league, the secondary looked as solid as ever against the Ravens in allowing just 171 yards and zero interceptions for Joe Flacco. An absent Ray Rice made things easier for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, but Houston also held Bernard Pierce to just 65 yards and a score.
Reed looked comfortable on Sunday and seemed to have the playbook down pat. The only time he was truly tested was against Torrey Smith early in the third quarter, as Phillips assigned safety help to Flacco's No. 1 target that burned both Kareem Jackson and Brice McCain on two separate plays during the same drive.
By the day's end, Reed wound up with three tackles next to his name—one of them being a potential touchdown-saving hurdle to force Pierce out of bounds.
Even though it was a disappointing loss for the team, as a whole, the Texans defense gave up only one touchdown and a couple of field goals. The leadership that Houston had hoped for from Reed was evident, and it's a big plus heading into a tough game against the Seattle Seahawks next week.
Now that we're in Week 3, the Texans' third-down struggles can officially be called a recurring theme.
Last week, against the Tennessee Titans, Matt Schaub's offense converted only 35 percent of their third-down tries, and this week against Baltimore, the stat was even worse, as the Texans converted only three of 12 opportunities.
The problem the team faced, against the Ravens, seemed to be either receivers holding on to tough balls or Schaub not finding enough time to squeeze in passes between tight coverage. Whichever one it was, several times the Texans had a chance to move the chains, only to see the Ravens' physical defense push forward and make life tough.
Schaub was sacked three times on Sunday, and big bruising guys, like Terrell Suggs, had their way off the edge for most of the game. All of that pressure eventually resulted in an interception, and when the Texans did manage to put together a good few plays of run and pass, third down came undone.
It seems like a pretty obvious statement, but when Andre Johnson was off and on during the second half, the Texans' offensive rhythm went out the window.
Early in the first half, Johnson made a catch, went to the ground and then had his knee collide with Ravens inside linebacker Josh Bynes. At the time, it seemed to just be minor, but as the game went on, Johnson continued to walk gingerly as he limped around the field.
Unfortunately for the Texans, their go-to man was on the sideline during some of their attempted claw back at the scoreboard, and even though DeAndre Hopkins came up with a few big catches, it was the long-yardage gains of Johnson that were needed.
At the moment, the official diagnosis isn't certain, per ESPN, even though it looks to just be a nasty bruise. Even so, it wouldn't be surprising to see Johnson miss a few practices this week, considering how sore he looked on the sideline.
Randy Bullock missed three field goals last week, and to add to the Texans special teams woes this time around, the entire unit allowed Ravens wide receiver Tandon Doss to return a punt 82 yards to the house.
It's been a real rough start to the season for Houston's special teams, and with so much uncertainty going on, the only real positive, at the moment, is punter Shane Lechler.
For all of the Ravens' scoring, hardly any of it came on offense, and even though it may go forgotten, Lechler's ability to pin Baltimore within their own 5-yard line twice on Sunday helped the Texans defense immensely.
Credit is also due for Brice McCain, who made a big-time play in the first quarter by stopping a punt at the 1-yard line which probably would have wound up in the end zone. Fortunately, the Texans are playing at home next week, so Lechler won't have to deal with the elements if the game were played at CenturyLink Field.
Penalties played a big role for both teams during this game, but the Texans gave up two big ones when it mattered most.
Kareem Jackson was responsible for two pass-interference calls that gave the Ravens a scoring opportunity, one of which came deep in the red zone that eventually led to Bernard Pierce's first score of the day.
It seemed like, at times, Jackson struggled on guys like Torrey Smith, and instead of covering the ground, decided to get physical with the receiver and grab a handful of jersey.
It was tough to fault the defense on many areas, but the Texans gave up 14 penalties for 113 yards, compared to the Ravens giving up 10 for 87 yards. With Ed Reed already playing deep, those kind of free gains allowed the Ravens just enough room to put the game out of reach.
All that's been spoken about for the past two weeks is Ben Tate and Arian Foster.
In Week 3, though, neither player had a game to remember, and even with Gary Kubiak still calling a solid mix of run and pass, Tate and Foster failed to produce against the Ravens defense which ranks seventh in run defense.
One of the first plays of the game was a screen pass to Tate out left, which looked pretty familiar. Following that, Tate didn't see much of the ball and only had one run of 10 yards (his longest of the day).
Foster wasn't much better either. His longest run equaled the same, and despite showing some poise waiting for blocks to open up, the main reason Schaub struggled was, in large part, due to the absence of the running game.
Second-year receiver Keshawn Martin is yet to catch a touchdown pass this year, but that doesn't mean that he's struggling, though.
Sure, he may only have 72 yards to his name and only a handful of catches, yet Martin looks comfortable as a member of the Texans offense now, and it appears Schaub is trusting him more and more to throw to him.
Right next to Hopkins when Johnson left the field, Martin combined for a couple of catches and showed the potential future of Houston's receivers in the next year or two. On Sunday, his route-running looked clean and crisp, and he looked like a legitimate threat over the middle.
The Texans stuck with their original plan of targeting tight ends early in the game, as Garrett Graham and Owen Daniels were the early go-to guys for Schaub. By the second half though, Martin and Hopkins were more involved, as both tied for the longest completion (18 yards) during the loss.
For a team that's supposed to be a realistic Super Bowl contender, the Texans didn't look like one against a Ravens team that has plenty of problems of their own.
Therefore, out of the other 31 teams in the league, the Texans are, perhaps, the hardest to gain a grasp on right now. Do we judge them by two hard-fought, come-from-behind wins against teams that they probably should have beaten candidly? Or are the Texans just pretending?
There's no doubt that the next two weeks could have a big say in answering that question, and, perhaps, even deciding Houston's season. At home against Seattle now awaits Gary Kubiak, followed by the dreaded road trip to San Francisco a week later.
It may be nice to have Ed Reed playing healthy, and the inclusion of promising young receivers is something, but at the moment, the Texans haven't put together four quarters of consecutive football—and are yet to show that their offense is as commanding as it should be.
Now they prepare for a team that ranks first in overall defense and eighth in passing offense in just a week's time.