AFC South: MNF13 Jaguars
|AP Photo/Dave Einsel|
|Rookie Steve Slaton rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns to help the Texans to a 30-17 victory over the Jaguars on Monday.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
HOUSTON -- The Texans looked like a team with a foundation Monday night: Three stars shined for a team that played with resolve and assertively took a game from a division rival.
Three-fourths of the way through the season, it may mean they're finally figuring things out. It may mean the Jaguars, whose quarterback got tripped up by his linemen more than once as he dropped back, are an easy team to beat. It probably means some of both.
And that's got to be good enough for the home team, playing for the first time on "Monday Night Football" and now standing alone in third place in the AFC South at 5-7.
Receiver Andre Johnson set the tone with a 31-yard touchdown catch and run on the opening drive, but he then moved to the background in a game that belonged to defensive end Mario Williams, who sacked David Garrard three times and forced a fumble, and Steve Slaton, the electric rookie running back who accounted for 182 yards and two scores.
"He's a little monster for us, he's a little beast for us," cornerback Jacques Reeves said of Slaton, who's averaging 5 yards a carry and is on pace for 1,205 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs.
As a third-round pick out of West Virginia, Slaton was projected by many as a third-down specialist, a change of pace. But unable to get any consistent contribution out of veteran Ahman Green this season -- he's now on injured reserve -- the Texans turned to Slaton to set the pace instead of changing it, and he has been more than they could have reasonably expected.
"Even our offensive coordinator sort of touted him as a Reggie Bush-style back, good out of the backfield with great hands for catching the ball," quarterback Sage Rosenfels said. "He's become a great every-down back. He hits the hole quick and he's got great balance.
"He usually gets hit pretty hard 5 or 6 yards downfield and has great balance to stay up and get another 4 or 5 and sometime break them. He has been sort of a gem for this football team. To find that kid in the third round, he's become one of the best players on our team."
HOUSTON -- Hope is in short supply for the two teams that squared off Monday night at Reliant Stadium. There is little that can make up for expectations this season they've missed by miles rather than yards.
But one team gets to leave Reliant Stadium feeling good, believing it can build something lasting in the final month of the season. One team is in third place in the AFC South behind two clubs that may be destined for big things in the playoffs.
That team is the Houston Texans, who won their first "Monday Night Football" game, topping Jacksonville 30-17. The Texans are now 4-1 against the Jaguars when they wear their red jerseys on what they call "Battle Red Day." It's hard to imagine they'll ever wear anything else against them.
At 5-7, the Texans are ahead of the 4-8 Jaguars. As Houston moves ahead, it expects to have starting quarterback Matt Schaub back in place after he missed the last four games with a knee injury.
That is a lot more than the Jaguars, who looked to give up late in the game, have to look forward to.
Through 10 games, the Texans gave up an average of 28.7 points a game, a total that made their ability to move the ball on offense less relevant.
But last week they made a concerted effort to be more aggressive defensively and won in Cleveland, 16-6.
They kept at it Monday with three sacks from Mario Williams and three forced turnovers. They mounted a successful goal-line stand and held a division rival to a field goal while the result was still up in the air.
The first of Jacksonville's two touchdown came with 2:11 left and the game well in hand.
That's nearly two full games for the Texans without allowing a touchdown. Maybe it's the start of something new.
Even if it's not -- even if it's more a commentary on the state of the Jags -- don't you think the Texans wish they had decided to force the issue and play a little more assertively on defense sooner?
The Texans just had their first possession of the second half and moved to a 50-yard Kris Brown field goal that put them ahead 13-0.
Mathis got hurt defending a desperation pass in the back right corner of the end zone. Holder Matt Turk tried to salvage a bad snap by Bryan Pittman on a 21-yard field goal attempt but his pass for Owen Daniels sailed incomplete as Mathis went down.
"Monday Night Football" gets national attention for people.
In Porter's case, that's not a good thing.
The national audience was just reminded about his big free agent contract and how his production has not come close to matching expectations.
Those who didn't know just found out he's got eight catches this season. They've been good for 115 yards and one score.
And his team is still in need of an explosive downfield receiver.
After one possession for each team, the Jaguars were officially at risk.
The Texans waltzed to a Sage Rosenfels-to-Andre Johnson touchdown pass to get things started. The Jaguars answered with a brutal three-and-out that featured false start penalties called on left tackle Khalif Barnes and fullback Greg Jones.
Now the Texans are starting possession No. 2 near midfield. The vibe is not good for the Jaguars, but we know Rosenfels is capable of the sort of poor decisions that can get Jacksonville right back in it.
HOUSTON -- No major surprises in inactives or starting lineups for Jaguars-Texans.
Jacksonville tight end George Wrighster, activated last week off the PUP list, will play for the first time this season.
HOUSTON -- Keenan McCardell follows the two teams playing tonight closely. He lives in Houston. And while he also played for the Browns, Bucs, Chargers and Redskins, he said he still thinks of Jacksonville as his team.
I chatted with him after he was part of ESPN Monday Night Football's Chalk Talk Luncheon Series.
He said he thinks the Texans are close to contending for a playoff spot, but that they are asking for a lot of patience.
"I know you build through the draft, I know that's how you build a team strong," he said. "But I think they need a couple key veterans that are impact veterans that are going to make them better. In crucial situations, veterans tend to make the right decisions. Young guys, you don't know which way it's going to go. But I think they are moving in the right direction. On defense, they have to be able to stop the pass, I think their secondary has been a little shaky."
He thinks they need a safety and a cornerback, but likes the idea of an impoved pass rush helping the back end too.
As for the Jaguars, he said he thought the team may have underestimated Marcus Stroud before dealing him to Buffalo in the offseason.
"I think losing Marcus from John [Henderson] was tough," he said. "You've got one of the best D-tackle tandems, I don't think you should have removed it. Sometimes you tend to over-think some things, and they may have over-thought moving Marcus. When you can have a push it makes it a whole lot different in the backend."
Who could help boost either team to the next level?
"Both sides have to make a big jump, they've got to make a splash in free agency," he said.
Well, the Titans will do what they can to hold on to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who's on track to meet several incentives, any one of which will prevent the Titans from designating him as their franchise player a second year in a row.
Tennessee will do what it can to keep him. They can't start negotiations until after the regular season finale and some think they were close enough to a deal last summer that things will get pieced together. I think it may prove to be easy for him to decide to wait and see what the market has to offer. If that's the case, McCardell thinks two teams that have faced him twice a year should be among his suitors and if they could lure him could improve themselves and weaken a team they are chasing.
"You've got to be a blind GM not to take Haynesworth if he jumps into the free agency market," McCardell said. "Here's a guy that dominates the front by himself, let alone team him with his old teammate [from UT, Henderson], team him with Mario Williams. Think about it. It's one of those things where they've got to make a splash. Why not? The money is there for them to do it, both sides."
McCardell likes the Jags tonight by three points, he said, because of their experience in the Monday Night Football spotlight. He fears the Texans will come out with too much energy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Before we head for the airport and make our way to Houston, we've sorted through the AFC South headlines for you.
As always, I welcome your feedback in the mailbag.
- Monday Night Football is more than a game for ESPN, writes David Barron.
- Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis combined to create the only touchdown in the Colts' win in Cleveland, says Phil Richards.
- Bob Kravitz's report card.
- The Colts stopped Joshua Cribbs and won the special teams fight, writes Richards.
- No offense, but the Colts win anyway, says Mike Chappell.
- Indianapolis awaits test results on new injuries to Gary Brackett and Keyunta Dawson, writes Chappell.
- Marvin Harrison is on Alex Marvez's list of players who may not be around next year.
- The Jaguars play in Houston Monday night with last place in the AFC South on the line, writes Michael C. Wright.
- The Times-Union's pregame breakdown.
|AP Photo/Michael Conroy|
|The Texans' defense has allowed opponents to score touchdowns in the red zone a league-worst 71.9 percent of the time.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Tuesday or Wednesday, workers will begin replacing the pieces of the Reliant Stadium roof damaged by Hurricane Ike on Sept. 13.
The heavy fabric panels will be laid down by helicopter and then laced in place.
Texans owner Bob McNair said the construction will be finished by the first part of January.
Right about when the work is finished, another repair project will commence, as the disappointing Houston Texans look to fix a team that has come up well short of expectations in 2008.
When the schedule came out in the spring and the Texans saw they were scheduled for their first "Monday Night Football" game in team history, they weren't expecting a battle of 4-7 teams.
"We thought quite possibly you'd have two teams contending for the lead in the AFC South," owner Bob McNair said. "We were certainly excited about that possibility. It was an exciting lineup at that point in time."
Now, instead of showing off a contender looking to make a bid for the playoffs, the Texans' matchup with the Jaguars is about the bottom of the AFC South.
The loser gets last place.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
It hardly guarantees any success on Monday night, but several key Jaguars have had good numbers in recent outings against Houston:
In his last two games against the Texans, quarterback David Garrard has completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 457 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 102.9 passer rating.
Since 2006, running back Fred Taylor has averaged six rushing yards a carry against Houston.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has four rushing touchdowns in four games against the Texans.
In his last two games against the Texans, receiver Matt Jones is averaging 104.5 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Jacksonville is 7-4 overall on Monday night's, 2-1 under Jack Del Rio..
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
This week, Rogers won't be facing crafty Indianapolis veteran center Jeff Saturday, who's out with a calf injury. It's rookie sub Jamey Richard instead. It rates as the key matchup of the day. Peyton Manning will be getting rid of the ball in a hurry, like he usually does, and the Colts will look to run to the edges with their stretch play. But Rogers can still disrupt things by collapsing the middle.
During a four-game winning streak, Manning has been precise, completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,069 yards with nine touchdowns, one interception, three sacks and a 100.9 passer rating.
The Browns have done a pretty good job protecting their quarterbacks, yielding only 12 sacks. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis may not get to Derek Anderson, but they can apply the kind of heat that forces him into making questionable throws. It looks like Bob Sanders (knee) will be missing from the secondary again.
Who heads into the final four games of the season in last place of the AFC South?
It sure feels as if the Jaguars have more quit in them than the Texans do. And Houston probably has more to prove and more motivation in the franchise's first "Monday Night Football" game.
Back on Sept. 28, the Jags beat the Texans in Jacksonville, 30-27, in overtime. David Garrard threw for 236 yards and a touchdown and ran for 41 yards and another score. The Texans didn't sack him in that game, and more pressure will help their cause. Mario Williams has eight sacks this season but none in the last three games. Williams usually hops around and will get work against both of the Jaguars' tackles, Khalif Barnes and Tony Pashos.
The first quarter could tell the story for Jacksonville. According to ESPN Research, the Jaguars were 9-1 last season in games in which they held an opponent to no first-quarter points. This season, they are 3-5 when allowing at least seven points in the first quarter.
When you're 4-7 it's hard not to start projecting what's coming after the season is over.
But Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio didn't want to speculate about Fred Taylor's future today when he spoke with Jacksonville reporters.
Taylor has said he'd like to finish he career as a Jaguar, but thinks he might not after a tough season this year during which Jacksonville's run game has fallen off.
Here's the relevant section of today's press conference:
On Fred Taylor getting less carries
"I think it's a combination. I think first of all we are a power running team that is at its best when we're running the football and setting up our play-action pass and I mean we're built that way. So when we're at our best, we're doing those things. I think when we're at our best and doing those things then he's getting more carries and feeling maybe more important. But he's been a great pro here, and certainly over my tenure here in Jacksonville I've been very pleased and impressed with the way he's worked at it. He's the consummate pro. Every Sunday he shows up ready to give it his all for the team, so I respect that. I have a lot of respect for the way he's approached the game, the way he's maintained the conditioning level that he has to allow himself to play at a high level late in his career. So, that's all good stuff."
Is it that you want to be, but you're not really a power running team like you've been?
"I'm not saying that we've been as good at it this year. Clearly we have not been as good at this year. The last couple of years we were right at the top of the league in terms of ability to run the ball, force people to over-commit and open up things in the play-action game. So this year clearly has not been like it has been the last few years."
On Fred saying he wants to finish his career here but not sure about whether he'll be here next year
"I can tell you that we haven't turned our attention to making decisions about our roster going forward. As I said a moment ago, Fred's been a great pro here, continues to be a great pro. We'll work through issues like that when it's time. I think more than anything he's probably expressing frustration over not having the kind of year we all hoped we would have."
You're not ready to say he'll be here?
"Not ready to get into any offseason discussions. I think those things will take care of themselves in due time. I think right now the focus has got to be on going down and playing the Houston Texans. Guys that extend their career and play beyond what is normal, and that are the types of guys that he is, are always decisions that you're going to be very careful with and make sure that a lot of thought and energy and effort is put into making certain that it's the right decision for you and for them. So before any decisions like that are made about not going forward, there will be a lot of due diligence done. At this point, we're happy to have him. Like I said, he's been a big part of our team and over the last six years there's nothing that he's done that I'm not proud of in terms of being a tough, dependable, hard-working guy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Our NFL power rankings voters didn't wait for Monday night. Collectively, we've already decided the Texans are a touch better than the Jaguars.
Houston stands 23rd and Jacksonville 24th in the new rankings, even though the Jags won a head-to-head matchup in Florida on Sept. 28, 30-27 in overtime.
Many of us rated recent events as more important. The Jags have lost two straight and the Texans are coming off their first road win of the season in Cleveland.
Monday night at Reliant Stadium we'll see the rematch and know for sure who ranks as the AFC South's worst team.
Side notes: Half of our 12 voters see the Titans as the second-best team to the Giants after Tennessee suffered its first loss of the season. The team that ended the winning streak, the Jets, got the other six second-place votes. But the Titans edged the Jets for second overall. The Colts tied Buffalo with the biggest gap, nine, between their highest and lowest vote. Mike Sando has Indy fourth; Pat Yasinskas 13th.
Here is the weekly breakdown of the AFC South:
A brief explanation of the one team where I was off on my own as the low vote by a semi-substantial margin:
Minnesota is 17th and I have the Vikings 22nd. I didn't take a win at Jacksonville as a huge accomplishment, especially when the Jags did their best to hand the game away right from the start. I left a four pack of teams that lost -- Green Bay, San Diego, Philadelphia and Denver -- ahead of Minnesota. I think I'd pick all of them over the Vikings on a neutral field. If Minnesota can beat Chicago, it will be a big mover for me next week.
Here is the weekly link to Sando's excellent breakdown of the ballots.
The moves open up room for some roster additions expected in the next few days.
The Jaguars face a deadline Tuesday for deciding what to do with tight end George Wrighster and defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey. They have been on the physically unable to perform list, have practiced for three weeks and need to be activated or shelved for the remainder of the season.
Jacksonville could also need to sign a second punter as Adam Podlesh injured his right knee against Minnesota.
"He's got a little bit of a knee and we've got to decide whether we're going to need somebody else to kick this week or whether he'll be available," Jack Del Rio said. "So that's probably the biggest concern coming out of the game. [Linebacker/ special teamer] Brian (Iwuh) took that shot; he's going to be OK. He'll have no contact. He'll have to pass an exam later in the week to make sure that all the numbers come back in line so that he'll be cleared. At this point, he'd be out with no contact. So, those are the two guys who had injuries from the game."
Brown was signed after the Jaguars lost Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams for the season as a result of injuries in the opener. He played in six games, starting four. Kennedy, who joined the team as a free agent from Chicago during the offseason, also played in six games.