Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Year of the Rash

The Houston Texans suffered from a rash this season. It was an ugly rash; one that affected a number of their best players and at least one coach. This rash kept the team from playing at full strength for much of the season – normally the death knell for any team with playoff hopes. Not so for the Texans though.

They weren’t suffering from some odd skin ailment – it was a rash of injuries that plagued the team for most of the season. Like every NFL team, the Texans suffered injuries, but this rash caught up all of the key men at one time or another during the season.

The first big man to go down was wide receiver Andre Johnson. He missed six games in October and November with a hamstring injury, then three more games late in the season. Star linebacker Mario Williams tore a pectoral muscle in October against Oakland, and was out for the season. Many thought the loss of this dominant defensive player would spell the end of Houston’s playoff chances, but Wade Phillips’ defense would prove to be stronger than one man.

Top running back Arian Foster missed several games with a bad hamstring; safety Danieal Manning and guard Mike Brisiel missed multiple games with ankle injuries. Even Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips missed games after having surgery.

For any team to lose three top players such as Johnson, Williams, and Foster for any length of time could be devastating, but Houston proved every week that they had what it took to overcome the setbacks and press on.

Then the quarterback went down - starter Matt Schaub broke his foot in Week 10 against Tampa Bay. The truest test of any team happens with the loss of the number one quarterback. When Schaub’s injury put him out for the season, all of Houston shuddered – surely the team was finished now.

Backup Matt Leinart – a man who has never lived up to his billing – replaced Schaub as the starter. In the following game, Leinart suffered a shoulder injury, and he was also out for the season. Hopes had been dashed when Schaub was injured, and virtually no one expected Leinart to be effective.

He is not a favorite in these parts anyway; Texas college football fans clearly remember when, back in January 2006, Houston born Vince Young led the UT Longhorns to the National Championship over Leinart’s USC Trojans. What rankled Texas fans then and still does is the fact that immediately after the game was over, the first man interviewed by ABC was not the winning quarterback and game MVP Young, but the loser – Leinart. Many Texan’s fans actually breathed a sigh of relief when Leinart was injured, just so they didn’t have to face the quandary of rooting for a man that virtually no one in the state of Texas likes anyway.

Enter T. J. Yates.


That’s what everyone was saying in Houston. Yates is a 24-year-old rookie; a fifth round pick in 2011, and the unknown third string quarterback of the Texans. The only thing worse than losing your starting quarterback is losing the backup and having to go with #3 – surely the final nail in the coffin for the Texans’ playoff hopes. But yet again, another man stepped up and delivered. Although the Texans were only 3-3 after Yates took over midway through the game in Week 12, they were in the playoffs – for the first time in team history.

Texans’ fans have waited for this since the team’s inception. Now, in the 11th season, Houston fans would see their team in the playoffs. It happened with a beat up group of players and a third string quarterback who, under any other circumstances, probably would not have taken a single snap from center all year.

Yates and the rest of the team were up to the task when they faced Cincinnati in the Wild Card game. With a packed house at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, the Texans beat the Bengals convincingly 31-10 to advance to the next round against Baltimore. Unfortunately, that’s as far as the Texans got. The year of the rash ended in an exciting, close contest won by the Ravens, 20-13.

Such a rash of injuries to the top players on the team could have had such a monumentally negative impact that it could have cost the team any chance of making the playoffs. That didn’t happen in Houston this season – they pulled together as a team; backup players stepped up and carried the load, and the Houston Texans became a force for the first time in their history.

Long suffering Houston fans finally had something to cheer for with their Texans. Considering the dismal season of baseball’s Astros, and the fact that the Texans ultimately lost, the year of the rash turned out to be one of the best in Houston sports history.

© 2012 LTM

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