- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter
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HOUSTON -- Take it as a symptom of larger problems if you must and join those who tuned into Football Night in America and wound up wondering what all the hullabaloo’s been about. But after five solid wins, a 42-24 blowout at the hands of the Green Bay Packers hardly pops the Houston Texans' bubble.
The Texans were probably due a dud, and the desperate Packers were more than happy to provide it. Aaron Rodgers, who had not played to his 2011 MVP form this season, certainly was at an elite level Sunday night at Reliant Stadium. He hit on 24 of 37 passes for 338 yards and tied the team record with six touchdown passes en route to a 133.8 passer rating.
“We’re humbled,” said left tackle Duane Brown, not meaning to indicate egos had run wild as a result of Houston heading into the night as the AFC’s last undefeated team.
“It’s one game,” defensive lineman Antonio Smith said. “That’s all they saw. I don’t think this game defines what type of team we are.”
Yes, these Packers are the best team the Texans have faced, but losing to the best team they’ve played doesn’t subtract from the meaning of the five games they’ve won. And should they beat Baltimore here next Sunday, they will have won the more important of the consecutive games against high-quality opponents.
There was a lot more to lose on the visitor’s sideline in this game. Green Bay had already dropped two it felt like it should have won: the "Monday Night Football" game in Seattle decided by the last-second Hail Mary and a collapse a week ago in Indianapolis where the Colts were determined to win one for their coach, newly diagnosed with leukemia.
The Packers clawing back to 3-3 was far more important for them than 6-0 was to the Texans -- not that Houston had a free pass to lose.
“I hate to say it, but we needed something like this,” safety Danieal Manning said. “… We needed this to go back and see what we’re really about.”
A solid pass-rushing team couldn’t quite get to Rodgers. He was hit seven times and sacked twice, but evaded a lot more trouble and extended plays and bought time to find receivers downfield.
The Texans hadn’t trailed in a game by more than five points before this matchup, in which they were down by seven, and then by 14, in short order.
“This guy can throw it around, light it up,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said of Rodgers. “He made some tremendous throws and they made some great plays for him. He did a hell of a job getting away from some of our pressure. We got there free quite a few times and he really made some people miss and slung some people off and still made some big plays down the field.”
The Texans made a big contribution to the Packers’ points through penalties.
Houston had Green Bay stopped on the first possession, but a defensive offsides against DeVier Posey on a punt gave the Packers a first down and they found the end zone on the next play. A 28-yard pass interference call against cornerback Kareem Jackson set up Green Bay’s third touchdown. The drive that produced an early third-quarter score to make it 28-10 was twice extended thanks to flags against Houston along the way -- Connor Barwin climbed a couple Packers to try to block a field goal, then Manning committed unnecessary roughness.
“We cannot help them out any,” Manning said. “The play with me, I felt like the whistle was blowing and I felt like the guy kept shoving me and had me bent over. I had to get him off of me. I lost it for a second. I was kind of possessed there for a minute.”
Johnathan Joseph played his worst game as a Texan against the Jets, and didn’t fare much better in this one. He was primarily on Jordy Nelson, who caught nine passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns, though Alan Ball was in coverage on the second one as Joseph caught a rest.
Is the groin injury that cost Joseph some practice time a few weeks ago still an issue?
“My groin’s a little sore, but it doesn’t mean anything about what went on today, so I guess that would be a 'no,'" he said. “These games have been below my standards, but in this league that’s going to happen sometimes. You’re not going to go out and hold guys to zero catches every game. That’s almost impossible with the type of defense that we play, man-to-man 80 percent of the time.”
The Ravens come to Houston next week and will pose another big challenge.
But it’s far too simple to say that the Packers provided some sort of blueprint for the next team to follow.
“This is the type of loss that’s going to ignite something,” Smith said. “We’re going to find out what type of team we are. It’s not a defining moment. It’s a moment you’re going to have to respond to. And you’re going to have these a few more times before you can be a championship team.”
There are other good quarterbacks to come, but in Rodgers the Texans may have seen the biggest challenge they will encounter all year.
“In my opinion [he was],” Smith said before pausing to consider it further. “Oh, I forgot. We’ve also got Tom.”
As in Tom Brady, as in Texans at New England on Dec. 10.
Baltimore’s a big enough obstacle. Let’s not look that far ahead just yet.
HOUSTON -- Take it as a symptom of larger problems if you must and join those who tuned into Football Night in America and wound up wondering what all the hullabaloo’s been about.