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VanderBlog: Back to Boston

Posted by voiceofthetexans on January 6, 2013 – 2:04 pm

They got what they wanted. Ever since the Texans were drilled by the Patriots December 10, they’ve wanted another shot. Of course, they would have preferred it at home but they’ll take it nonetheless.

Last year, they crashed the divisional round with a third string QB and a smothering defense. They came within one score and several mistakes of upsetting their way into the AFC Championship game.

Now, they travel with their starting quarterback, a reenergized defense and a reignited ground game. To pull off what the ‘experts’ say will be a monumental upset, they will need to be razor sharp.

With a deafening crowd behind them, the Bulls on Parade were magnificent in the Wild Card 19-13 win over Cincinnati. J.J. Watt had a sack, broke up a couple of passes and set the tone for a sensational day as the Bengals went 0-9 on third down tries.

The area of concern that everyone is taking about is red zone efficiency. The Texans were 1-4 against the Bengals.

One of the misses was a would-be touchdown pass to Andre Johnson that both players admitted they could have handled better. Another was after two consecutive completions didn’t net enough yards to move the chain or get into the end zone. The third came after a 2nd down holding penalty pushed the ball back and a short completion on 3rd down.

Like the other ailments that healed once the playoffs arrived, the red zone issue is fixable. A team that has the ball for nearly 39 minutes is certainly capable putting it across the goal line.

Matt Schaub made a mistake that might have been a death blow as he threw a ‘pick-6’ to Leon Hall. But his team mates greeted him off the field and he was able to shake it off and throw the ball well the rest of the game. The biggest completion came late in the game on a 3rd down throw to Garrett Graham that kept Cincinnati off the field.

But offensively, the day belonged to Arian Foster and the offensive line. Earl Campbell led the team out of the tunnel. And Foster ran the ball with the determination that Houston football fans had seen from the Tyler Rose a generation earlier.

Owen Daniels put up a Texans post season-best nine receptions and Andre Johnson had a big 22 yard catch to set up the only touchdown.

For one day, it was all there again. The clock-eating offense, the stiffling defense. Now they have to take the show on the road and do it against one of the best quarterbacks ever.


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VanderBlog: The Calm Before the Storm

Posted by voiceofthetexans on January 3, 2013 – 10:20 pm

by Marc Vandermeer

After the show tonight, I walked down the tunnel into the stadium. The field was down but not painted. Camera technicians and other TV types were setting up for Saturday.

I looked up at the radio booth and saw the Texans Radio banner. I glanced at the empty suites and the seats in the 600 level.

I thought about all the people that would be there Saturday. Taking another look at the field, I thought about the big plays that could be made, and players that might be jumping into the stands.

I was in the South end zone and for some reason, my mind went back to Matt Schaub running in for the winning touchdown against Miami in ’08. That led to David Carr’s quarterback sneak to beat the Jags in ’03 in the same endzone. Then, immediately I thought of last year’s playoff game when Arian Foster took a third down handoff and ran it in.

I was once again reminded of how special it is to have a moment like this. Time frozen, memories stirring and anticipation building for a huge game.

This is a game like no other. A playoff game. A game that dwarfs every other game played this year. A game that we might talk about for a generation. This is why we follow and adore this sport. Saturday presents a rare opportunity to watch and be a part of history.

I remember all the games so well. The sweet wins and the painful losses can be replayed in my mind as if I’m clicking on an IPod. This franchise has come so far. It is special and unique to be part of an event like this.

Saturday afternoon, the noise will be blaring, the players soaring. The drama will play out. We might have an exhilarating win, we might confront disappointment. But we certainly appreciate the moment. The fact that we’re here and have a chance to keep the season going.


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VanderBlog: Ready or Not, Here Come the Playoffs

Posted by voiceofthetexans on December 30, 2012 – 5:14 pm

The Texans took the field in Indianapolis with a chance to clinch the top seed in the AFC, exorcise a decade of losses and correct some of the mistakes that have been plaguing them lately.

They didn’t do it.

Instead, the Texans go into the playoffs with the best record in franchise history but a lot of doubts about how long they can stick around.

After the game, Gary Kubiak quickly tried to turn the page. He clearly acknowledged that his team has issues but he realizes that there’s no time to wallow. Fans can, media can. But the players and coaches have to get ready for Cincinnati next weekend and attempt to regain the magic that got them to an 11-1 start.

The problems are an inconsistent running game, too many penalties and a passing game that has produced more turnovers than touchdowns in the last four weeks.

Let’s throw special teams in the mix as well. Shayne Graham has been mostly solid lately, almost singlehandedly keeping his team alive Sunday, but allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown after grabbing the lead was a near lethal blow.

The failed 53-yard field goal followed, a few plays later, by Andrew Luck’s 70 yard strike to T.Y. Hilton on 3rd and 23 gave the Colts’ all the momentum. After Matt Schaub was picked for the second time by Vontae Davis, the Colts killed the final 9:46 of the fourth quarter, sending the Texans to 0-11 at Indy.

They are where they are and must now embrace the playoffs. The Texans have to hit the mental delete button, make corrections and start over.


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VanderBlog: Playoffs Start Now

Posted by voiceofthetexans on December 27, 2012 – 9:25 am

Matt Schaub at Reliant Stadium

by Marc Vandermeer 

You have to look at Sunday as a double-elimination playoff game. If you lose, you go to the loser’s bracket and play next week. If you win, you get a bye and move on.

All week I’ve been calling this game a virtual must-win. Losing is not the end of the season but it removes the road to the Super Bowl from Houston and, in all likelihood, puts it in Denver or New England.

People are talking about momentum. But that can be recaptured in a day (note: I wrote ‘can.’ It’s not automatic). The Saints lost three straight before their 2009 Super Bowl run. The Texans themselves lost three straight last year and looked sharp in beating the Bengals last season.

The more important thing is getting home field advantage. Sure, it didn’t pay off against Green Bay and Minnesota this season. But if the Texans are at home and get a lead, they will be tough to beat.

It’s all still out there for them. They bogeyed a couple of holes on the back nine but can still rally on 18. Home field is still up to them. And believe me, the folks in New England and Denver would love to be in this situation.

The Colts say they are playing their starters. Fine. Chuck Pagano’s return will be an emotional one for everyone supporting Colts blue. Fine. The Texans have never won in Indy. Fine.

Just like never having won 12 games or never having beaten the Ravens or never having eight Pro Bowlers, they’ll just have to find a way to achieve another first. As for Indy’s emotional edge, get a lead and get JJ Watt after Andrew Luck and that could diminish fast.

There’s a lot of talk about Matt Schaub this week and if he’s the kind of QB that can get his offense out of the muck and humming in the playoffs. He’s not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning but did you really need this season to tell you that?

He’s capable of leading this team where it wants to go but media talk is cheap and now is the time to deliver. Schaub needs the big boys up front to do their thing and get Arian Foster and the ground game going. If that happens, all boats rise with the tide. A few weeks ago he threw five TD passes in an overtime win. Against Denver, the media darlings, he threw four touchdown passes. He’s still that guy has has to play like it.

For a while it looked like the Texans almost couldn’t lose. Now we know their vulnerabilities. We also know their potential. It’s up to the coaches and players to put together a win over the Colts and take it from there. The playoffs start now.


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VanderBlog: So Much For Debating About Resting Players

Posted by voiceofthetexans on December 23, 2012 – 5:24 pm

An old foe has arrived on the Texans schedule. One they had not seen in a while: adversity.

All of a sudden, the once-mighty Texans seem vulnerable. Their offense is misfiring. Their mojo seems missing.

Sunday’s disturbing 23-6 loss to the Vikings has put the whole campaign in doubt. The Texans still have control of whether they get the top seed in the AFC but they’ve lost two of three, making the climb through the playoffs appear more difficult than ever. The table is still set for them but the margin for error is gone.

After going one for five in the red zone last week in the win over Indy, the Texans sputtered their way though an anemic offensive game in which they coughed up a fumble in the first half, came away empty after a turnover in Minnesota territory, were stonewalled in a first and goal situation at the one and amassed a measly 34 rushing yards.

This one was on the offense. Sure the defense gave up two touchdown drives, but they were forced back on the field way too quickly after numerous fruitless Texans possessions. Adrian Peterson had 86 yards on 3.4 yards per carry (translation: Texans should win). Christian Ponder turned out to be much more of a problem, throwing an early TD pass, running for 48 yards and helping his team go 50% on third down tries.

So much for the previously scheduled week-long debate about whether to rest players in the regular season finale. It’s ‘all hands on deck’ against the Colts in a virtual must win game on Sunday.

12-3 shouldn’t feel this bad. The Texans need to start playing their best football and fast. To lose the first round bye at this point would be a major blow. Last year’s team lost three straight before the post season but grabbing a bye, never mind the top seed, was far fetched considering the ‘Next Man Up’ situation. This team created a superb situation to grab the #1 spot. And they’ll need a win Sunday to make sure they don’t blow it.

 


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VanderBlog: Texans Clinch Division Title But Want Much More

Posted by voiceofthetexans on December 16, 2012 – 9:14 pm

It was their first home game in a month. The Reliant Stadium crowd was like a double espresso to this team that was coming off a painful loss to New England to cap a rare three game road swing.

Led by magnificent games from J.J. Watt, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, the Texans had a convincing if not dominating 29-17 win over Indianapolis. The victory enabled Houston to clinch a second straight AFC South crown and kept them alive for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Colts did not go down easy as Andrew Luck, despite being sacked five times, played well enough to keep the outcome in doubt into the fourth quarter. He threw a 61 yard touchdown pass that quieted the rowdy crowd moments after Brian Braman rocked the house with a blocked punt recovered and returned for a touchdown.

That TD was part of an extended Colts run that whittled a 17 point lead down to six and set the stage for a crucial fourth quarter closing performance. Houston’s offense went to the ground as they opened gaping holes for Foster. Meanwhile the defense had seen enough and made sure the Colts running game and passing attack would no longer be useful.

Watt was brilliant with three sacks and six tackles for loss. The downside for the defense was blown coverage on Luck’s TD pass to T.Y. Hilton and an 80 yard second half drive that was mostly earned through running plays.

Foster’s running and stellar play from Andre Johnson carried the day on offense. The negative was red zone play (1-5) but Houston controlled the clock and didn’t turn the ball over.

Shayne Graham missed a 50 yard FG as time expired in the first half. But he was five for six in the game and made a clutch 46 yard attempt in the 4th quarter to give Houston a nine point lead and a bit of a cushion.

Gary Kubiak didn’t take too many chances. He knew his defense was playing well and he wasn’t going to start throwing the ball around too much and risk giving Luck extra possessions. He’s not happy about nine penalties and a few blown assignments. But on a short week against a good team, the Texans picked up a 12 point win and another division title. There is a long way to go but the moment is worth savoring and celebrating…for at least 24 hours.


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VanderBlog: Monday Night Meltdown

Posted by voiceofthetexans on December 10, 2012 – 11:49 pm

All week long we said on Texans Radio how Matt Schaub and his receivers had to be sharp on 3rd down and that the Texans must be plus one or better in turnover margin. Neither happened as the Texans were taken apart by the Patriots 42-14.

You knew it was going to be tough but early missed opportunies, strange calls and a turnover set the tone for one of the roughest nights the Texans have ever been through.

It’s strange how the Texans are 11-2, with the best record in the conference yet have two lopsided losses on national TV in which they allowed 42 points a piece.

Tom Brady was frighteningly good, throwing three touchdown passes on his first three possessions. Then the defense settled down and stopped him in his own end on four straight drives. But the offense couldn’t get it going.

The second drive of the game, Schaub threw a pick from the Patriot 21 yard line. It wasn’t until past the halfway point of the third quarter that they got their only meaningful touchdown on an 88 yard drive.

There’s no time to wallow. The Colts are knocking on the door with an eye on stealing the division. Sunday’s game is crucial.

The Texans had a chance to make a big national statement and failed. What matters now is not making a statement, but capturing a second straight divison title and working toward home field advantage in the playoffs. Maybe the biggest statement has yet to be made. First things first: Sunday.


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VanderBlog: Texans (and their fans) Take Tennessee

Posted by voiceofthetexans on December 2, 2012 – 4:18 pm

It was a scene to remember. So many Texans fans, dressed mostly in Battle Red, celebrating as their quarterback took three knees to kill the clock and send the team to its 11th win and a second straight trip to the playoffs.

The Texans beat the team that, once upon a time, left Houston and brought their fans with them who showed just how much they’re over it.

The day’s work was not easy. Division games seldom are. Tennessee put up a fight and actually outgained the Texans. But the defense, eager to bounce back after giving up almost 1,000 yards in the previous two games, forced a half dozen takeaways and three picks.

Playing without four starters, five when you include Brian Cushing, Houston relied on J.J. Watt and friends to dominate the line of scrimmage and make life easier on the back end. The three interceptions came off deflections. Whitney Mercilus had two sacks as Jake Locker was constantly under siege.

Afterwards, the fans saluted their team. There has been unprecedented fan travel this season. Texans supporters took over LP Field at the end of the game and downtown Nashville the night before.

The Texans have a suddenly brutal closing stretch. The Colts’ last second win over Detroit put them at 8-4. Minnesota is 6-6 and New England is New England.

Johnathan Joseph needs to get healthy in a hurry as the trip to Foxboro is next. A win will all but seal the deal for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. A loss could leave the Colts still alive for the AFC South crown. Such is the fine line that separates good and great in the NFL.

Every win is crucial no matter how it is earned. The victory over the Titans was not a masterpiece but it was a commanding win in an unforgiving league. The season to remember has many chapters left.


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VanderBlog: A Week for the Ages

Posted by voiceofthetexans on November 23, 2012 – 9:00 am

When it was over, everyone was spent. Andre Johnson had a smile as wide as Biscayne Bay. He had just racked up 23 catches in two games for an NFL record 461 yards. He and Matt Schaub rallied the Texans in consecutive games that no one will ever forget.

The end result was two overtime victories that will live in Houston sports history as all time classics. No one can be sure where this team will end up. But we do know they never quit and they can win in many different ways.

Somehow, the Texans survived a blistering Mathew Stafford passing attack, a ten point deficit, a Matt Schaub overtime pick and a Shayne Graham missed field goal to pull out a Thanksgiving miracle.

This was one for the ages. The Texans game tying drive went for 97 yards and featured Andre Johnson playing Optimus Prime to Calvin Johnson’s Megatron. After the game, Andre, the picture of class, said that Calvin Johnson is his favorite receiver.

Megatron was held to just 3 catches after intermission when the Texans put Kareem Jackson on him. Even though the Texans have given up 68 points in two games, they made key second half stops and held Detroit to 10 points after halftime.

The win could be costly. Gary Kubiak opened his press conference Friday morning declaring the day “MRI Friday.” The biggest concerns are Derek Newton’s knee, Bradie James’ hamstring and Brooks Reed’s groin. Garrett Graham has a shoulder injury as well. Kubiak was optimistic that Shaun Cody would be back next week but said Johnathan Joseph and Tim Dobbins were “touch and go.” The coach also said that Ben Tate still complained of soreness this week, so his status is uncertain for the next tilt.

The loss basically extinguished Detroit’s season, putting the Lions at 4-7. Meanwhile, the Texans have 10 wins for the second straight year and march into a much needed weekend off until they rev up again to play Tennessee on the road.

Calling the game on Texans Radio was surreal and euphoric in the end. It just didn’t seem possible the Texans could continually overcome constant adversity and mistakes. But they kept fighting and escaped from the Motor City with an incredible win. In the locker room after the game, Kubiak said the game ball goes to everyone on the team.


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VanderBlog: My Career with Andre

Posted by voiceofthetexans on November 18, 2012 – 8:56 pm

Thirteen years ago I attended my first scrimmage at the University of Miami. I was just hired as their new play by play man and had to study them quickly as the season would open in a couple of weeks. I noticed a wide receiver wearing number 5 torching everyone in his path.

After being told he would be the next Michael Irvin for the Hurricanes, I was told in the same breath that he would be red shirting. What? Andre Johnson would sit the 1999 season with future NFL players Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Daryl Jones and Andre King playing in front of him.

Two and a half years later, I’m in the Rose Bowl radio booth describing Andre Johnson catching passes for 199 yards in an MVP performance in the National Championship game against Nebraska. Sunday, I called his best pro game, 14 catches for 274 yards, featuring a 48 yard game winning touchdown catch and run in overtime.

Other than his final college season, I’ve had the good fortune to call every game in Johnson’s career. And he’s seldom looked better than he did against the Jaguars on Sunday. Like all the great ones, he makes it look easy. Seemingly effortless receptions for long gains, tough box-out type catches for first downs. Andre Johnson can do it all.

We can debate all day about whether he’ll get in to the Hall of Fame. But we can all agree he’s the greatest player in Texans history and has plenty of football left.

We’ve all heard the rumblings about the Texans passing game not putting up the big numbers. What many fail to realize (until today) is that they haven’t put up huge numbers because they haven’t had to. In only two games this year, they’ve had second half deficits that required a major game plan adjustment.

Against Green Bay, they failed. Against Jacksonville, they triumphed. We’ve seen Matt Schaub throw for big numbers before and rally his team. But Sunday, we saw a legendary performance that we will never forget. His 527 yards is good for a tie for 2nd in NFL history with Warren Moon behind Norm Van Brocklin’s 554. The five touchdown passes is a team record.

A week after playing a defensive slugfest (and masterpiece) at Chicago, the Texans lit up the scoreboard in record fashion. On a day their defense wasn’t firing, the offense cranked. This team can win a lot of different ways. Enjoy the ride.


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