Texans implode as unbeaten streak ends

HOUSTON — If you needed to joke about the Houston Texans being overwhelmed, undisciplined or discombobulated in a 42-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday at Reliant Stadium, they gave you plenty of material.

There’s the one about Arian Foster twice getting tackled by nothing more than the grass under his feet. Happened to Ben Tate once, too. There was the one about the third-and-long play, a screen pass, that ended with Matt Schaub just spiking the ball into the ground and ripping off his chinstrap. There was the time fullback James Casey didn’t see Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk, even though Hawk was running right past him into Schaub’s chest. There were also the seven penalties and three turnovers.

There was all of that, and then there was the one where they didn’t know the rules. The Texans were down 21-10. They had not played well, but they were in it. A stop, a turnover, a sack – something could turn it. Well, they forced the Packers into a field goal attempt from 39 yards. Mason Crosby drilled the kick, of course, and it was still a two-possession game.

Except … Connor Barwin … oh, Connor Barwin. In a premeditated move, Barwin leapfrogged over the back of a teammate in a futile attempt to block the kick. And, well, that’s against the rules. So the Packers got a first down.

Then the Texans got another stop. Except … some roughness by Daniel Manning was judged to be unnecessary.

You know what happens now. Aaron Rodgers threw one of his franchise-record six touchdown passes. The Packers went up 28-10. The Packers ran away with it. Green Bay outgained Houston 427-321 and went 3-for-3 in the red zone while holding Texans’ running back Arian Foster to 29 yards on 17 attempts.

“That wasn’t us,” Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said.

Indeed. It was Houston’s worst performance since early last season, when it lost 40-33 to New Orleans and 29-14 to Baltimore. The Texans (5-1) appeared undisciplined and outmanned. But it also was something of a comeback performance for Green Bay (3-3), which lost to the Colts last week, and especially Rodgers, who tossed a bucket of water over whatever “What’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers?” flame may have been burning out in the ether.

“It’s almost better when people are doubting us a little bit I think,” said Rodgers, who went 24-for-37 for 338 yards. “We kind of band together. People tried to pull us apart this week, and we stuck together.”

The game was nearly perfect in its symmetry. Green Bay was all right, Houston was all wrong, and the season now re-sets itself for both teams. The Packers got back to .500 and the Texans fell back to earth.

“The good thing is, it only counts as one,” Texans QB Schaub said.

It was a bad one for almost everybody on the Texans. Watt was a force as usual, gathering two more sacks to push him back into the NFL lead with 9.5, but his “discount double check” celebration after the first one – an obvious mock of Rodgers’ signature move – ended up looking a little foolish when the guy he was mocking ended up setting a passing record.

Which brings up a salient point. Rodgers, of course, is excellent. But Houston’s five wins have come against Ryan Tannehill, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker/Matt Hasselbeck, Peyton Manning and Mark Sanchez. They allowed an average of 33.5 points to Manning and Rodgers, and an average of 12 points to everybody else.

The truth, as it usually does, probably rests in the middle. But Rodgers did expose a flaw in Houston’s defense that good quarterbacks can exploit. He carved up the Texans’ dime defense, deftly sliding around in the pocket to avoid a pass rush that wasn’t often supported with a blitz.

Put more simply, the Texans did not create enough pressure to seriously bother Rodgers, but also didn’t take away much in the secondary.

“He did a hell of a job getting away from some of our pressure,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “We got there free quite a few times and he really made some people miss and slung off some people and still made some big plays down the field.”

That was one thing, and once the Packers figured out they could take away Foster’s cutback lanes, the game was pretty much decided.

“What you need is the front seven to be very unselfish, and that’s what we did tonight, especially with the front four,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “The defensive linemen stay in their gaps, take up two blockers – it lets everyone flow and run.”

So back to terra firma it is for the Texans, who probably will not be called the best team in the NFL by anyone this week. That team was supposed to be the Packers anyway, and Sunday night it looked that way once again.

“We’ve been confident all year,” Hawk said. “But we just haven’t put a full game together. I think tonight we finally did.”