October 4, 2009
A Measure of Redemption for Many
by Keith Weiland
A disappointing start to the 2009 season sent several Texans seeking an opportunity to reclaim their hope for a successful campaign. So perhaps it was ironic that the Raiders, arguably the league's most reviled franchise, played the role of redeemer on Sunday, lighting the path for the Texans to emerge from their own Black Hole toward a 29-6 victory.
The Texans defense, which through three weeks had allowed opponents rushing statistics far too obscene even for the internet, played with inspired effort against the Raiders, often pressuring quarterback JaMarcus Russell and rendering much of their offensive gameplan as hokum. Stuffing the Oakland trio of Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas, and Michael Bush, the defense only gave up 31 yards on the ground combined to the three visiting rushers.
Texans running back Steve Slaton, who himself had meek performances through the first three games of the season, put an early fumble behind him to amass 89 total yards and two touchdowns. Slaton's fumble, where he lost the ball tripping over his own lineman, sent him to the bench midway through the first quarter. Head coach Gary Kubiak sent Slaton back onto the field one drive later, and on his second touch, Slaton ran 32-yards up the left to give the Texans a 13-3 lead with ten minutes left in the first half.
Slaton again put the Texans on the scoreboard with the team's next offensive possession. He caught a short pass from quarterback Matt Schaub and scampered 18 yards into the endzone for the commanding 20-3 lead, which the Texans protected into the halftime break.
Both teams sensed the inevitable by the second half, mostly trading punts the rest of the way, but a two-play series in the third quarter helped the Texans make the final outcome a certainty. Having pinned the ineffective Raiders offense on their own 1-yard line, rookie linebacker Brian Cushing wrapped up Fargas in the endzone for a safety. Returner Jacoby Jones returned the ensuing punt-kickoff 95 yards for the score and the game's final points.
The safety and kick return may have put the game out of reach for the Texans, but it was perhaps Slaton's second score that erased what little effort the Raiders were willing to invest in the game.
Set up by a 44-yard reception from tight end Owen Daniels, Schaub had moved the offense to the Raiders' 18-yard line with 8:19 left in the second quarter and a 10-point lead on which to build. Having Slaton firmly returned to the lineup following his fumble and the runner's confidence buoyed by his earlier score, Schaub calmly found Slaton open in the short field. Slaton then took it up the seam the rest of the way, zipping through a porous Raider secondary for the six points and an unclenching hold onto the game's lead.
Slaton may not have been at his best in this game, but it was a performance that he could use to boost his confidence for the rest of the season. His fumble, basically untouched by the defense while lunging over a fallen lineman, was completely inexcusable, but credit Kubiak for showing some mercy (or was it desperation?) in getting Slaton back onto the field. And credit Slaton, too, for making the most of a second chance.
Defensively, the front seven came ready to play. The defensive line in particular had been maligned throughout the first month of the season, but Amobi Okoye and Antonio Smith finally flashed some willingness to impose their abilities. And Mario Williams stayed within reach of Russell most of the afternoon, culminating with a sack-fumble late in the game.
And credit to Cushing, the rookie who wrapped up Fargas in the endzone and wouldn't let go. It was something of a redeeming play for him, too, as in last week's loss, Cushing sat back from behind the goalline to watch the opposing quarterback practically walk the football into the endzone.
22-45, 2.0 yards per carry
The Raiders offense may be among the league's most inept at this point in the season, but their rushing offense had been considered by most to be at least respectable, especially when given the opportunity to challenge what had been the league's most embarrassing run defense.
Call it the law of averages, call it a turning point, call it whatever, but the Texans defense at least got the result, especially on the ground. When a defensive team is in as much need for something on which to cling and build upon as they begin their climb back to respectability, hosting the Raiders and getting the victory is one terrific way toward taking that first step.
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