For Houston, the year of the “Next Man Up”
is nevermore as the Texans lost 20-13 to the Baltimore Ravens in a hard fought divisional battle.
Where I was Nostradamus:
“Frankly, it's tough to bet on a fifth-round rookie quarterback, going into Baltimore in his first road playoff, against a Ray Lewis-led defense that boasts a bevy of Pro Bowlers, sprinkled with some future Hall of Famers, and leaving with a victory. In what very well could be Lewis’ last game in Baltimore, expect a relentless Ravens defense to force T.J. Yates and the Texans into some costly turnovers, en route to a solid victory.”
It pains me to say but I nailed this one. While the Texans had a shot to win all game they came up short because of turnovers. Although the score was close, the Texans only led for a measly three minutes and were unable to regain the lead after Jacoby Jones’ boneheaded fumble. While Jones' muffed punt was a huge momentum killer, T.J. Yates' three interceptions (could have been six) proved to be the ultimate game killer; as I foretold.
Where I was Dead Wrong
“Expect Terrell Suggs to play like a bat out of hell on Sunday.”
Dead wrong on this one. The Texans' offensive line completely neutralized Terrell Suggs and the Ravens' defensive line. Baltimore was unable to pressure T.J. Yates all day and didn’t even register a sack. While the Texans' offensive line is among the league's best it was extremely surprising to see that kind of dominance against a great Ravens' defensive line. Not only did T.J. Yates stay on his feet all day but Arian Foster was able to dominate the stingiest run defense of the last decade en route to 132 yards on the ground.
T.J. Yates' desperate fourth-and-one heave to the end zone with 20 seconds left. While the game was likely over on the previous series when Yates threw an interception - on a nearly identical play - this was the moment at which the Texans' season was officially over. Yates heaved a prayer into the right corner toward Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels in hopes of coming up with a miracle that wasn’t to be. Interestingly it was Houston’s third shot to pick up a first down with only one yard. Although the clock was their worst enemy at that point it was surprising to see the Texans decide to go for the win rather than the first down, clock it, then have at least two more shots at the win.
Player of the Game for the Texans
J.J. Watt. If the interception for a touchdown against the Bengals was Watt’s coming out moment this game was his encore and what an encore it was. A Freddie Mercury at Live Aid type Encore. The type of encore that people talk about for decades. Watt absolutely dominated a very comparable Ravens' offensive line, harassing Joe Flacco all day and giving Brooks Reed open lanes to do the same. Watt had 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks and showed the NFL he could be among the best in the business at his position for years to come.
Player of the Game for the Ravens
I wanted to give this to Jacoby Jones but instead I’ll hand it to Joe Flacco. His numbers were pedestrian with only 176 yards passing, but Flacco did throw two touchdowns and rush for another. Most importantly he protected the football. On a day that Ray Rice was largely ineffective, Flacco came up with some huge throws, in tight windows, when the Ravens needed it most. He did so while being constantly harassed by the Texans' defensive line all day. Or as Ed Reed would say “rattled”. Despite being sacked five times, hurried many more, and rarely having enough time to throw he managed to protect the football and win the game.
Arian Foster – Blew up for 132 yards on the stingiest run defense of the decade and pushed his Playoff rushing total to 285; most in history for a running back in his first two games.
Ed Reed – he had one interception but dropped two easy ones. Moreover he played injured and was able keep Andre Johnson from getting behind the defense.
Brooks Reed – Came up huge sacking Joe Flacco twice and making people wonder if Clay Matthews had switched teams.
What it means for both
Jacoby Jones is now officially the Mr. Bean of Texans football for his epically brainless fumble. I never like to harp on a single player too much for a mistake but this particular one was legendary. For a 5th-year punt returner to even attempt to field that ball after a bounce is inconceivable. Unless you’re Jacoby Jones. To make matters worse he fumbled another, managed four yards on 6 punt return attempts, and had zero catches. While he recovered a fumble late to save a drive, it doesn’t undo the damage he inflicted early. The rest of America got their first glimpse of the Jacoby Jones Texans fans have known for five years. Jones is as talented as they come physically and as weak as they come mentally; he and the Texans are better off parting ways.
Since it’s the Playoffs it’s simple: The Texans go home and the Ravens move on. In what very well could have been Ray Lewis’ last game at M&T Bank Stadium the Ravens were able to pull out the kind of ugly, grinding, hard fought win they’ve made their calling card for a decade. Now Baltimore is just one win shy of the franchise's second Super Bowl berth.
For the Texans, 2011 was the franchise's coming out party and a culmination of their best season yet. Despite losing their Pro Bowl quarterback in Week 10, Mario Williams in Week 6, and playing most of the season with Andre Johnson they notched their first Division Title, and first Playoff win in franchise history. More importantly a franchise known for despicable defense had arguably the greatest single season defensive turn around in NFL history. Success.
They’re a young squad and they surely gained invaluable Playoff experience that will make them a force to be reckoned with for the future. Houston finally has a football team and if Gary Kubiak, Rick Smith, and Wade Phillips can keep this core together they could be making multiple playoff and Super Bowl runs. Let the Battle Red Nation Era begin.