The Houston Texans came into their week 15 matchup at home against the Carolina Panthers having already clinched the AFC South top spot and a place in the playoffs but still had the first-round bye and home-field advantage to play for. They were, however, outplayed by Cam Newton and Co., who managed to put an end to the Texans’ 7-game winning streak with a 28-13 victory, just their fifth of the season. Houston’s top ranked defense was vulnerable without defensive coordinator Wade Phillips at the helm as he went on medical leave earlier in the week to undergo kidney surgery. That coupled with a lackluster offense allowed the Panthers to jump to a 21-0 halftime lead with two TD passes from Newton and this nice little trick play:
Boos from the crowd and team talks by head coach Gary Kubiak seemed to have motivated the team as the game resumed. The Texans rallied back to within 8 points but a Yates’ redzone interception sealed the deal.
Week 16 Thursday Night Football saw the Texans take on the 1-13 Colts in Indianapolis as they looked to win here for the first time in franchise history. The game was expected to be a blowout in favor of the Texans and it did start out that way. On the very first drive, Colts QB and ex-Texan Dan Orlovsky fumbled the ball following a mammoth hit by Brian Cushing; the Texans recovered the ball and converted the turnover into seven points as Arian Foster coasted into the endzone untouched. Apart from Foster, who turned in a solid 23/158, 1 TD performance, Houston’s offense was quiet for the rest of the night, failing to convert a third down until Jacoby Jones corralled a deflected pass in the fourth quarter. Both teams traded field goals going into the final minutes of the game. With the Texans leading 16-12 with 2 minutes to go, Orlovsky led the struggling Colts offense downfield, and with the help of three defensive penalties, was able to score the winning touchdown with 19 seconds to go. The loss extended the Texans’ winless streak in Indy to 10 games and saw their record drop to 10-5, ending their hope of securing a first-round bye.
With their 3rd seed locked up, the Texans did not have much to play for other than spoiler as they hosted the playoff-hopeful Tennessee Titans in the last week of the regular season. Kubiak decided to sit most of the starters, including Pro-Bowlers Foster and Jonathan Joseph for the whole game. Andre Johnson made his return from hamstring injury and played 15 snaps to get his legs back in game shape. The Texans showed incredible depth throughout the roster as their back-ups and third-stringers performed admirably against a team fighting for a wildcard spot. Leading by 7 with possession late in the fourth quarter, the Titans could have just run out the clock to secure a victory and keep their playoff hopes alive when their backup RB Ahmad Hall turned the ball over on a fumble. Jake Delhomme and the Texans took over and the 38-year-old veteran orchestrated a final drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson. Opting not to prolong the game to overtime, Kubiak decided to go for 2. The Texans, however, failed to convert thanks to Joel Dreessen’s false start and a bad snap by backup center Thomas Austin.
The Texans ended their regular season with a 10-6 record, their best in franchise history, and more importantly, an AFC South title, breaking the Colts’ stranglehold of the division in recent years.
In front of a sellout crowd in Reliant Stadium, the Texans began the playoff with a rematch against the Cincinnati Bengals, whom they defeated in Week 14 en route to clinching the division. The Bengals drew first blood in the first quarter when they capped a 80-yard drive with a touchdown run by Cedric Benson. Houston struck right back with a 80-yard touchdown drive of their own that ended with a Foster’s 8-yard run. The game remained a stalemate until one individual decided to take matters into his own hands; his name is Justin James Watt:
Not only did Watt’s incredible play hand the Texans their first lead of the game, it also gave them tons of momentum as the teams headed into the locker room. It was a lead they never relinquished. Halftime adjustments made by Wade Phillips on the defense, once again, worked wonders, as Andy Dalton was under constant pressure in the pocket, leading to three sacks and two interceptions; his fellow rookie and best weapon downfield, A.J. Green, was completely shut down. On the offense, Houston’s playmakers shined. Bengals CB Adam “Pacman” Jones was fooled on a vintage Andre Johnson’s double-move and Yates delivered a perfect throw to “The Natural” for a 40-yard touchdown. Foster then sealed the deal with his second touchdown run of the day to finish with a line of 24/153, 2 TD. This game was a perfect example of how playmakers can quickly turn a close game into their team’s favor.
The game ended in a convincing 31-10 victory to the Texans in their inaugural playoff appearance. They headed to Baltimore for the divisional round against the stingy Ravens, whom they were 0-5 lifetime coming into the game.
The Texans started the game on the right foot, as Danieal Manning returned a kickoff for 60 yards and the offense proceeded to put 3 on the board. Two three-and-out drives later, Jacoby Jones committed a huge blunder that proved to be the difference in the game when he attempted to catch a punted ball on a short hop but bobbled it, the ball came loose and the Ravens’ special team recovered it at the 2-yard line. Houston’s first turnover resulted in 7 points for Baltimore.
M&T Bank Stadium is by no means a friendly environment for rookie quarterbacks, and T.J. Yates learned it the hard way. John Harbaugh decided to throw at the rookie coverage, not pressure, which proved to be extremely effective. In the first quarter, Ravens’ CB Ladarius Webb read Johnson’s curl route and timed Yates’ throw to perfection and intercept the pass. Joe Flacco took over with a short field and converted the opportunity into another seven points with a touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin, giving the Ravens a commanding 17-3 lead after the first quarter.
That was all the Ravens’ offense could muster, however, as they were limited to just a field goal in the remaining three quarters by a valiant effort from the Texans’ D. Houston’s no.2-ranked defense successfully neutralized the dangerous Ray Rice, who had just 80 total yards on 25 touches. They managed to keep the game within reach for their teammates on the offensive side to mount a comeback. Foster did all he could, torching the Ravens’ s renowned run defense for 132 yards on the ground. Johnson did all he could, making 8 catches for 111 yards. Ultimately it was Yates’s inexperience that caused the Texans a spot in the AFC Championship, as he threw two crucial picks to Webb and the interception machine known as Ed Reed in the fourth quarter, cutting their comeback short.
This is a game many Texans and their fans felt they should have won, as they moved the ball downfield considerably better than their opposition. But they shot themselves in the foot with their untimely mistakes. The Ravens, on the other hand, played a clean game. They did not commit any turnovers or penalties in 60 minutes of action and were clearly the more experienced team. After all, you can’t expect to win a game on the road when you turn the ball over four times, let alone in a playoff game against this type of opponent.
The loss to the Ravens was clearly not how the Texans wanted their season to end. But with all the adversities the team had overcome all season, they have every reason to be proud of what they managed to accomplish. This 2011-2012 Texans team will forever be cemented in the franchise’s history book. And they have truly earned their place.
For Houston football fans, after 9 years as postseason bystanders, they finally got to see their NFL team play a home playoff game for the first time. They should expect even more. With most of their core players on the right side of 30, this Texans team are built for contention for years to come. With a fully healthy squad next season, they are poised to make a deep playoff run, and hopefully, bring the coveted Lambeau Trophy to the Bayou City.