The Houston Texans are getting used to comebacks. Now with a daunting schedule ahead, they hope some offensive rhythm can allow them to avoid having to come back at all.
The Texans kick off a tough three-week stretch with a road game against a hurting Baltimore Ravens team that likely won't have Ray Rice on Sunday.
After playing the Super Bowl champions, Houston (2-0) hosts Seattle before visiting San Francisco, a 1-2-3 punch that will test the team's strengths - and its undefeated record. Baltimore has been a nemesis for the Texans while Seattle and San Francisco are considered Super Bowl contenders.
Houston has needed second-half rallies to win both of its games. The Texans set a franchise record by coming from 21 points down to beat San Diego 31-28 in the opener, then erased an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to eventually defeat Tennessee 30-24 in overtime last Sunday.
"If it means winning at the end of the day we'll take this kind of game every week," said Matt Schaub, who has thrown for 644 yards and six touchdowns.
Despite Schaub's numbers, Houston has struggled to find consistency on offense.
The team scored in five plays on its opening drive against the Titans, then was mostly ineffective until tying the game on Arian Foster's touchdown run and two-point conversion with 1:53 to go in the fourth. It was a similar story a week earlier as the Texans went scoreless for a 28-minute span in the middle of the game.
"That's part of the NFL battle. We've got to get more consistent at what we're doing," said coach Gary Kubiak, whose team was 6 for 17 on third-down conversions last week. "We just didn't make any third downs. Third downs, they're the key to staying on the field and being balanced."
Houston hopes to have star receiver Andre Johnson available against Baltimore. His status is uncertain after sustaining a concussion Sunday on a fourth-quarter hit from Bernard Pollard, who was later fined $42,000.
"It'll be an end-of-the-week decision because we have to go through the process," Kubiak said Monday. "I think after the game, talking to him and seeing where he's at today, he's doing really well, and I'd expect the progress to go very quickly."
There's no uncertainty surrounding the status of Texans All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown, who will miss the game with a toe injury. Brown, injured against the Titans, will be replaced by Ryan Harris.
The Ravens (1-1) are also dealing with an injury to a star player. Rice left last Sunday's 14-6 win over Cleveland with a strained left hip flexor, and after missing a third consecutive day of practice on Friday was listed as doubtful.
If Rice is unable to play, Bernard Pierce would get the start. Pierce had a touchdown run against the Browns and finished with 57 yards on 19 carries.
In addition to Rice, Baltimore also listed starting defensive end Chris Canty (groin) as doubtful, along with wide receiver Deonte Thompson (foot), inside linebacker Arthur Brown (chest) and defensive lineman Brandon Williams (toe). Those are the latest in a series of injuries that have forced the Ravens to use defensive starters Jimmy Smith, James Ihedigbo, Matt Elam and Michael Huff on special teams.
"We're a little bit nicked up," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's a challenge, but they're stepping up. You don't hear a word. They love to play, but it isn't easy."
Baltimore celebrated its Super Bowl title and bounced back from a shredding by Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the season opener by holding the Browns to 85 second-half yards.
"It's just another step toward where we want to be," linebacker Daryl Smith said. "We still have a lot of work to do, and with each game and each week, the chemistry will be where we want it to be."
The Ravens play four of their next five games on the road.
Baltimore had won all six of meetings with Houston, including a 20-13 win in the playoffs two seasons ago, before the Texans demolished the Ravens 43-13 last year in Houston.
"We got drubbed down there," Harbaugh said. "They do a great job with their schemes, all three phases, and they always play hard. They've got weapons everywhere. It's just going to be a big challenge for us."