Week Five Morning Aftermath: Cardinals 28, Texans 21

While watching the late-afternoon games on the excellent DirecTV HD Brady Bunch theme song Game Mix, it doesn’t take long to decide which of the games merit the most focus.

The task was even easier than usual on Sunday, with the Falcons flying away from the 49ers, the Seahawks strangling the Jaguars, and the Cardinals choking out the Texans.

Or so I thought.

After a building a methodical 21-0 lead at halftime, thanks to a couple of touchdowns that likely kept Marcus Fitzgerald from engaging in any Twitter rants, the Cardinals took their foot off the gas.

And the Texans roared back. 

Well, they didn’t quite roar back.  After three quarters, the score was still 21-7.  But then Houston receiver Andre Johnson, arguably the best wideout that isn’t widely known as one of the game’s best wideouts, took the thing over, with two touchdown receptions to tie the game.

On the one that knotted the game at 21, Johnson acted like the animal that graces the side of his helmet, even without Junior Seau in the building.

But then, just as it seemed that the Texans would complete the upset and send the Cardinals to 0-3 at home on the year, quarterback Matt Schaub put a little too much air under a pass thrown to the sidelines, and Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie jumped it, grabbed it, and took it all the way.

Even then, the Texans kept coming, driving all the way to edge of the Arizona end zone before failing the force what would have been the third overtime period for the weekend.

“We should have scored on three out of those four plays but the bottom
line is we didn’t,” coach Gary Kubiak said after the game.  “We thought Steve [Slaton] would score.  We caught the
perfect defense on our little shovel pass when we got down to the one. 
We should’ve scored on the second play, which was what we scored on
earlier in the game.  We should’ve scored on the pass.  Obviously, we’ve
gotta be good enough to make a yard in the National Football League
when it counts.”

Still, the Texans’ surprising comeback has sparked optimism in their home state.  Writes Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle, “The Texans are ridiculously close to being a really good NFL team.”

Indeed, the maligned Texans defense woke up in the third and fourth quarter.  “The defense led the charge,” Kubiak said.  “They were exceptional in the second half. I
want to say they didn’t give up maybe 50 yards.  Just incredible.  They
led the charge.”

But here’s the problem — the Houston defense might have gotten on track too late to save the season.  Unlike the Cardinals, who don’t have to compete with anyone named “Manning,” the Texans have no chance of winning their division.  So the Texans will need to jockey for wild-card position with the likes of the team that doesn’t win the AFC East or the two teams that won’t win the AFC North, or the second-place team in the AFC West, which under its current head coach comes on strong after starting slowly.

The margin for error shrinks dramatically with each loss.  Last year, five were one too many for the Patriots to get into the postseason field.  In most seasons, six losses won’t result in an AFC playoff party pass.  So, at a minimum, this 2-3 team from Texas now needs to go 9-2 over the next eleven to have a good chance at finally, after eight years of existence, playing more than 16 games.

For the Cardinals, the ability to hold on surprisingly puts them in business at 2-2 — a half game behind the 49ers and a half game ahead of the Seahawks.  But the key will be the next two weeks, when the Cards hit the road for games against Seattle and the Giants.

Lose both, and the Cards will be back on track to miss the playoffs a year after making it to the Super Bowl.