- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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On Oct. 21, 2012, the Texans crushed the Ravens 43-13 at Reliant Stadium.
It qualifies as ancient history in a league where things can change dramatically week to week.
The Texans peaked early, and the win over the Ravens was big for the Houston franchise, which was less than a year removed from a playoff loss in Baltimore.
That regular-season win was every bit as dominant as the score indicates. Houston outgained the Ravens 420 yards to 176, held the ball for 38:16 and played great on third down on both sides of the ball.
Matt Schaub outplayed Joe Flacco and Arian Foster outplayed Ray Rice. The Texans also got big plays from cornerback Johnathan Joseph (a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown), defensive end Antonio Smith (back-to-back sacks) and special-teamer Bryan Braman (who recovered a surprise onside kick).
It’s nice to be able to say you beat the eventual Super Bowl champs, but ultimately the season isn’t about Week 7. So how do the Texans really stand up to the Ravens?
Some areas to consider ...
Peak timing: The Texans bolted to an 11-1 record but faltered big time from there and didn’t recover from late struggles in the regular season to play at a high level in a divisional round playoff game in New England. The Ravens, meanwhile, had a worse regular-season finish than the Texans. Baltimore lost four of its last five games down the stretch. But they recovered starting with a home win over Indianapolis in the wild-card round and took flight from there.
Taking on top quarterbacks: During the regular season, the Ravens beat Tom Brady and Eli Manning. Their playoff run saw them beat Peyton Manning and Brady in consecutive weeks. The Texans did beat Peyton Manning, but they generally struggled against top quarterbacks -- losing regular-season games to Aaron Rodgers and Brady, then seeing their season end in the playoffs against Brady again.
Quarterback play: Both Schaub and Flacco went into training camp with contracts set to expire after the season. The Texans got a four-year extension done with Schaub just before the season started. It’s worth $62 million, with $24.75 million guaranteed. Flacco played out the year, knowing at worst he’d wind up with a franchise tag and at best he’d wind up having the sort of year that prompted his team to give him a giant deal. Schaub petered out late in the season and didn’t raise his game when things got more important. Flacco, meanwhile, went head to head with some future Hall of Famers. As a Super Bowl winner, he’s now in line for a monster deal.
Injuries: While the Ravens lost an excellent cornerback in Lardarius Webb, they got key defensive starters Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis back from injuries along the way. Houston ultimately missed Brian Cushing badly and Joseph’s play dropped off in a season where he was hampered by leg injuries.
Options: The Texans' offense is different than Baltimore’s. But the Ravens got giant plays from their two top receivers in the playoffs, with Torrey Smith getting behind defenders for huge plays and Anquan Boldin consistently fighting for, and winning, balls in the air. Beyond Andre Johnson, the Texans simply didn’t have a second receiver who was threatening in a similar fashion.
Big adjustments: It took a while for the move to pay off, but Baltimore boldly made a late-season change at offensive coordinator, firing Cam Cameron and replacing him with Jim Caldwell. Caldwell found an excellent play-calling rhythm in the postseason. With that change came a late shuffle of the offensive line, and moving people around up front paid big dividends. The Texans didn’t require any firings or big shuffling. But the Ravens were willing to take some risks and got big payoffs. It’s hard to look at Houston’s season and find any big risk-reward decisions.
13hEric D. Williams