Overview: If there wasn’t enough proof the Houston Texans may be the toughest teams in the AFC, there is certainly plenty of supportive evidence following Sunday’s 31-25 road win against the Denver Broncos.
The Texans held out off ferocious comeback attempt by Peyton Manning and the Broncos to move to 3-0 for the first time in the 11-year history of the franchise and now sit atop the conference as the AFC only unbeaten team three weeks into the season.
The Texans made big play after big play to build a 31-11 lead going into the fourth quarter, but it may have been the one little play that saved the outcome at the end. Quarterback Matt Schaub fired a short pass to receiver Andre Johnson to convert 3rd down and 5 at the Houston 25 to keep the chains moving and Manning off the field for any realistic chance of a comeback.
The Texans had seen Manning pull within six points of the lead in the fourth quarter on two touchdown passes that came after a critical fumble by Texans backup running back Ben Tate.
But the defense got the biggest stop when it needed it most and the offense made just enough plays for the Texans to earn just their third victory over Manning in 19 attempts with the first 18 coming when he was with AFC South rival Indianapolis.
After falling behind 5-0 early in the game, the Texans handled the Broncos for the next three quarters with their explosive offense and aggressive defensive front.
Schaub was the catalyst for the offense, completing 17 of 30 passes for 290 yards while matching his record with four touchdown passes on the day. He completed a 60-yard touchdown strike to Johnson, a 3-yard touchdown pass to running back Arian Foster, a 52-yard touchdown toss to receiver Kevin Walter and a 14-yard scoring completion to tight end Owen Daniels.
But Schaub did have a scary moment in the third quarter when the second of consecutive roughing the passer penalties left him laying on the field with his helmet knocked off and grabbing his head. The blow from linebacker Joe Mays caused Schaub to lose a piece of his ear but he missed only one snap before returning to the game.
Defensively, the Texans kept Manning in check most of the day with pressure from defensive ends J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith. Watt finished with 2.5 sacks.
Manning completed 26 of 52 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns for the game.
Who Did Well: Quarterback Matt Schaub continues to be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns.
Running back Arian Foster has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games after gaining 105 yards on 25 carries. He also had a 3-yard touchdown reception in the first half.
Wide receiver Kevin Walter may be a forgotten man but he is certainly not overlooked by Matt Schaub. Walter and Schaub hooked up for a 52-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter that put the Texans ahead 21-5. Walter finished with three catches for 73 yards and the score.
Who Struggled: Second-year offensive tackle Derek Newton was challenged as expected by Denver’s Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. And it didn’t take long for the first-year starter to be exposed when he gave up a sack to Dumervil for a safety that put Denver up 2-0 early in the first quarter. Veteran tackle Ryan Harris finished the game.
Running back Ben Tate may have made the biggest mistake of the game when he committed a turnover on what should have been the game-sealing drive in the fourth quarter. Two plays after Tate’s fumble, Peyton Manning threw his first touchdown strike to seize the momentum and put the Texans on the heels for the rest of the game.
Cornerback Bryce McCain had a bit of a rough outing in his nickelback role. Denver receiver Brandon Stokely caught a 38-yard touchdown reception over McCain early in the fourth quarter and then later in the quarter McCain dropped an interception. He also had an illegal contact penalty on fourth down that kept a scoring drive going for the Broncos.
Standout Players: Veteran receiver Andre Johnson continues to show he hasn’t lost anything in terms of speed or play-making ability. He beat his man bad on the 60-yard touchdown reception and then came up with the game-saving catch at the end of the fourth quarter to help preserve the win.
Defensive end J.J. Watt is quickly becoming a household name as a menace to opposing quarterbacks. He was in Peyton Manning’s face all day, coming up with 2.5 sacks, while also drawing a key holding penalty.
Interesting Stat: The Texans outgained the Broncos on the ground 152 yards to 59.
He said It: “I felt fine. I lost a piece of my ear.” – Quarterback Matt Schaub about the hit put on him by linebacker Joe Mays in the third quarter.
Up Next: The Texans return home for the first time since the season opener to face AFC South rival Tennessee next Sunday. The Titans are coming off their first win of the season, beating Detroit 44-41 in overtime at home Sunday. The Lions scored back to back touchdowns at the end of regulation to force overtime but Rob Bironas sealed it for Tennessee with a 26-yard field goal in OT.