For a moment Saturday night, it seemed second-year Texans running back Ben Tate could do no wrong against New Orleans in just the second professional game of his career.
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Tate looked like everything the Texans thought he could be as he pounded the Saints defense for tough yards and even a couple big gains. Then came the awkward celebration dance following his 4-yard touchdown run with 1:56 left in the second quarter at Reliant Stadium.
“Yeah we clowned him pretty bad,” receiver Andre Johnson said of Tate’s dance. “I don’t know who is still doing that funky chicken or whatever he did. I can’t believe he did that.”
But it may have been the lone misstep by Tate or any of the Texans top offensive players as they set the stage for 27-14 win over the Saints with an impressive first half performance.
Quarterback Matt Schaub, surrounded by his All-Pro weapons – running back Arian Foster and Johnson — for the first time this preseason, led an attack that both efficient and even spectacular at times. The Texans first-team offense scored points on all four its possessions Saturday night to deliver a 24-14 halftime lead while playing most of the first half.
Granted the Saints made it a little easier by not bringing as much heat as they normally bring but it was impressive seeing the Texans Big 3 making plays and moving the offense as if it were mid-season.
“I think we have to understand it is the second preseason game,” said Foster, who missed Monday’s preseason opener against the New York Jets and had limited snaps during much of two-a-days due to a hamstring injury. “We still have a lot of work to do as an offense. We saw a lot of vanilla looks from them since this is the preseason. We’re just focused on our side of the ball right now and being as efficient as we can.”
And efficient and effective the first team was as it scored three touchdowns and converted a 49-yard field goal in all four possessions it was on the field before retiring with a 24-14 lead with 1:56 remaining in the first half.
Probably the most impressive aspect of the offense was the ground game where both Foster and Tate were impressive in their preseason debuts. Foster, the NFL’s reigning rusher leader with 1,616 yards last season, carried the ball five times for 47 yards and touchdown runs of 2 and 28 yards in the first quarter.
Foster showed no ill-effects from the hamstring injury, especially on his breath-taking 28-yard touchdown run in which he put a major move on Saints free safety Paul Oliver without missing a stride on the way into the end zone.
“We caught them in a good set,” Foster said. “It was a good call. I saw daylight, put my foot down and went one-on-one with the safety.”
But Tate wasn’t to be outdone in what might as well have been his debut as a Texans. The second-round draft pick from 2010 hadn’t played for the Texans since breaking his ankle in the preseason opener last year, but he gave his teammates, coaches and the Houston fans plenty to be encouraged about Saturday night.
The former Auburn back carried the ball nine times for 95 yards and one touchdown during the second quarter.
“It’s good start, but I have to stay humble and keep working hard,” he said.
Tate displayed much of the same burst and vision as Foster, while also showing his powerful running won’t be slowed by arm tackles as he gashed the Saints defense for a few big gains. Tate popped off a 23-yard run midway through the second quarter to set up a touchdown and then near the end of the half, he broke through the middle for a 43-yard gain while appearing close to breaking it out of gas at the New Orleans 43.
But no matter how well he ran, he still couldn’t outrun that celebration dance.
“He had the worst touchdown dance in history of football though,” Foster said of Tate. “Aside from that he did good. I’m real proud of him. We are going to keep going and hopefully build on it.”
Foster and Tate offered a glimpse of how lethal a combination they could be this season with Foster as the featured back and Tate picking up the tough yards on third down. They combined to gain 142 yards, but more important they averaged 10.1 yards per carry during their two quarters of action.
“We moved the ball really good,” said Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, whose team improved to 2-0 during the preseason. “When (Arian Foster) goes back there if definitely helps, but both of our backs played really well.”
As impressive as the ground was, the Texans aerial attack took some positive steps forward as well with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson playing in a game together for the first time this preseason. They looked pretty close to preseason form with Schaub showing confidence in his All-Pro receiver.
Schaub and Johnson connected four times for 100 yards during the opening half. Schaub hit Johnson for a 23-yard gain on the opening possession to set up Foster’s 2-yard touchdown run for the 7-0 lead. Then later in the first quarter, dropped one to Johnson almost on the button for a 48-yard pickup in double coverage to set up Foster’s 28-yard scoring run.
“I was just excited to get back out there,” said Johnson, who was held out of the first preseason game. “I felt like it was my first time playing.
“I was excited, I was pumped and I was ready to go. I think us being comfortable with the offense makes it easier if we do miss time to still come in and play at high level.”
The certainly seemed to be consistent with the play of Schaub, who got the offense off to a much faster start than last week when he didn’t have Johnson and was playing with the third and fourth string running backs. Schaub looked especially sharp as he connected on his first seven passes of the game before throwing his first incompletion in the second quarter.
“It was a huge for us to start fast,” said Schaub, who completed 12 of 16 passes for 163 yards on the night. “After last week’s start against the Jets we wanted to really go out and get a couple scores early.
“It was a good building block for us but obviously we have things we can get better on going into next week.”