Philadelphia, PA – The Houston Texans have been a team on the rise for the past few seasons, but Sunday's thrashing of the Tennessee Titans may finally have served as the franchise's coming out party.
Still in search of their first ever playoff appearances, the young Texans were a trendy pick to make some noise last year following a 9-7 campaign in 2009. However, the club stumbled to a 6-10 mark as injury and inconsistent play plagued the team all season.
If Houston failed to register on the decibel scale in 2010, the recent 41-7 pounding of the Titans may have been its "Helter Skelter." The Texans recorded their largest margin of victory in team history and the road win moved them ahead of the Titans and into first place in the division by a half-game.
"It's hard going on the road and that was a pretty big game and when you get a chance to win like that, to grasp it and play the way we played in the second half, it made me feel good," said head coach Gary Kubiak.
It's no surprise that the best win in Texans' history may have been their most complete. They outgained the Titans 518-148 and saw both Arian Foster and Ben Tate run for over 100 yards. Foster, the league's reigning rushing champion, added another 119 receiving yards -- the bulk of that on a 78-yard touchdown reception -- and found the end zone three times on the day while becoming the 32nd player in NFL history to post 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game.
Foster was slowed early on by a nagging hamstring injury, but has totaled 685 yards from scrimmage over his last four games.
"Anytime that you can run the ball, especially in our offense, it opens up the passing game because a lot of what we do is predicated off of play-action -- anytime that you can run the ball effectively it takes pressure off your quarterback," said Foster.
Quarterback Matt Schaub needed the breather. He had been sacked seven times over the previous two games, but managed 296 passing yards and a career-high 147.7 passer rating without getting sacked once. Impressively, Schaub's big outing came despite star wide receiver Andre Johnson missing his third game in a row due to hamstring injury.
Houston has now won both of its division games this year and begins four-game stretch over five weeks in which it can pull away in the AFC South, a division that is wide open thanks to Peyton Manning's injury that has left the usual juggernauts, the Indianapolis Colts, 0-7.
The Texans host the 2-5 Jaguars this Sunday and then welcome the 3-3 Browns to town before visiting Tampa Bay prior to a Nov. 20 bye. Houston then comes out of the break with a road game against Jacksonville. Taking three of four in that span -- including both over the struggling Jags -- will put the Texans in the driver's seat towards a postseason spot.
"It is big for us. To be 2-0 in the division at this point coming up on the halfway point, we have nine more games left, so there is nothing handed out just yet," cautioned Schaub. "We have got to get ready to play a Jacksonville team at our place, but it is a big step for this team."
The Texans were 4-2 at this point last year coming out of a bye, but went on to lose eight of their next nine games to fall out of contention. That history should have Houston prepared for what is to come.
"We're not out trying to make statements; we're trying to win ball games and that's the main thing," said Foster. "We're going to go back to work this week and whatever happens happens, but I won't get caught up in this being a statement game, that's not what we're focused on."
Kubiak had good and bad news for his club on Monday. The head coach revealed that safety Danieal Manning had to have surgery on a fractured left tibia suffered the previous day and will miss at least four weeks.
However, Kubiak added that both Johnson and fullback James Casey (chest) could play this weekend.
BENGALS' SCOTT READY TO STEP IN; SO IS JONES
Chances for running back Bernard Scott haven't come often, so the third-year back has to make the most of it when he is on the field.
The Bengals knew that the suspension to Benson was coming -- it was originally a three-game ban that was reduced -- so that may be the reason Scott got a season-high 11 carries two weekends ago versus the Colts. The 198-pound back also got some extra work as the club was off this past weekend.
The additional time to prepare should be big for Scott, who hasn't rushed for 100 yards in a game since Nov. 22, 2009 during his rookie year and didn't post more than 50 on the ground in a game last year. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden doesn't expect to alter his approach without Benson, even with the Seahawks yielding a respectable 105 yards per game on the ground.
"We're not going to stop running the ball because their good. We're going to challenge our offensive line, our fullbacks, backs and tight ends and see what they can do," said Gruden.
Sunday could also mark the season debut of cornerback Adam Jones, who began the season on the physically unable to perform list due to a herniated disc in his neck. The oft-troubled Jones practiced on Monday.
"I feel like I'm ready to go. I've done a great job preparing, the coaches have been a great job preparing me. I give them all the credit for it," said Jones. "I'm just taking it one day at a time and when it's time for my number to be called, I'll be ready."
One has to wonder just how much Jones will be able to give right away. The 28- year-old former first-round pick, who can also help in the return game, has played in just five games since the start of the 2009 season.