Texans dominate Ravens in AFC showdown
HOUSTON — This game was supposed to decide who was the best team in the AFC.
It was decisive, all right.
The Houston Texans (6-1) now stand alone atop the conference, having crushed the Baltimore Ravens (5-2) 43-13 Sunday at Reliant Stadium. Houston controlled all but the first few minutes, doubling up the Ravens in yards (420-176) and first downs (27-12) and holding the ball for 38 out of 60 minutes. The 43 points were a franchise record.
The Texans were so good Sunday that coach Gary Kubiak had a hard time identifying any miscues.
“I’m sure I’ll find something,” he said. “It’s what I do for a living.”
The beatdown was so thorough, actually, that it was hard to fully trust the outcome. Are the Texans really 30 points better than the Ravens? Probably not. Not the Ravens as we know them anyway.
But these, of course, are not the Ravens as we know them. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb are both out for the season, and Terrell Suggs was playing in his first game since recovering from an Achilles injury.
The Texans, naturally, did not think that had much to do with it.
“We just exploited what we saw on film,” quarterback Matt Schaub said.
Baltimore forced three punts to start the game, but thereafter found itself chasing Texans’ receivers all over the field. Houston rang up 258 yards in the first half alone, 190 of them through the air.
And that wasn’t even the best of it all for the Texans. They scored their first points when outside linebacker Connor Barwin sacked Joe Flacco for a safety that made it 3-2 in the first quarter. And then it was on. Houston drove for a touchdown following the safety, and when Baltimore got the ball back, defensive end J.J. Watt tipped a Flacco pass into the air to Johnathan Joseph, who returned it for a touchdown and a 16-3 lead.
The play was typical. The tipped ball is Watt’s signature play, and his teammates seem to have taken a shine to it, too. Barwin, Whitney Mercilus and Glover Quin all batted Flacco passes into the air Sunday, and Quin intercepted one of them to set up the Texans field goal that made it 29-3 at halftime.
The game was decided in a matter of minutes. But what did it all really mean?
After the third quarter, Houston already had more points than the Ravens had allowed in five years, which make it tempting to mark it down as “just one of those days.”
But was it? Houston’s offense was great against Baltimore’s depleted defense, but the Texans’ defense was something else. It put the Ravens in a little jar, tightened up the lid and watched them choke to death.
“I don’t think we did good at all,” Ravens receiver Torrey Smith said.
One particularly choky Raven was Flacco, who went 7-for-20 for 52 yards in the first half and didn’t complete a pass for more than 15 yards all day. And it was an ugly 7-for-20, too. Passes just sailing to nobody in particular. Short out patterns overthrown by three yards. He was the picture of incompetence. He looked downright rattled by Houston’s pass rush, which produced four sacks and eight hurries.
Barwin said he went so far as to congratulate Flacco just for staying in the game.
“I hit the (crap) out of him twice,” Barwin said.
The Texans will do that, and they’ve made a few quarterbacks look shaken recently, but those quarterbacks had been guys like Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Tannehill. Peyton Manning had done just fine, and Aaron Rodgers had surgically removed the Texans’ defense from the game altogether.
This was a different thing. A new thing. Nobody thinks Flacco is Aaron Rodgers, but he was seventh in the NFL in passing yards entering the game. He beat the Texans twice last year. He’s taken the Ravens to the playoffs every year he’s been there. Flacco and receiver Smith are something to fear, and yet the Texans took them out.
The Texans took everybody out. They dismantled every component of the Ravens’ existence.
“We were really into what we were doing and we were there all day long,” Kubiak said.
No team has had a more convincing, significant win in the NFL this season. Yeah, the Ravens were missing two key players. But still. These are the Ravens.
“I’m more than confident they’ll be back,” Texans running back Arian Foster said. “And there’s a chance we’ll see them again.”