If anyone deserves to be heralded as a comeback hero, it’s someone who has been injured for a very long time. Brian Cushing returned an interception for a touchdown as part of an impressive return for the Houston Texans on the season opener when it seemed like the day was lost very early on.
In the end, the Texans managed to comeback from a 28-7 hole in the third quarter to win it as time expired, 31-28, in San Diego, against the Chargers. In what has been a recurring theme this season opening weekend, a team that started out on fire cooled down in the second half, only this time they couldn’t even hang on to their lead.
But while Philip Rivers was doing perfectly for most of the game under pressure, hitting four touchdown passes while getting blitzed, he completely imploded in the fourth quarter, finishing with only 1-of-7 and the interception that Cushing returned for a touchdown, tying the game with 9:30 left on the clock.
Matt Schaub was the complete opposite in the fourth. He was 8-of-10 when under pressure, including the touchdown pass to Owen Daniles early in the fourth quarter to put the Texans within one TD away from the Chargers. Schaub doesn’t have too many weapons to throw to, but he has been one of the best quarterbacks in recent years (5th last season) when it comes to executing under duress.
Schaub also continued to excel in play-action, even without a completely healthy Arian Foster on the field. Schaub, who threw three touchdown passes on the day, completed his first pass to Owen Daniels of a play-action fake. He was third in the NFL with 10 touchdowns on play-action fakes last season. Foster was limited to only 57 yards on 18 carries, but the Texans did enjoy a strong day from Ben Tate with 55 yards on 9 carries, perfectly capable of carrying the load instead of the injured featured back.
Andre Johnson didn’t catch a touchdown pass, but he came up big in every other way. He caught 12 passes for 146 yards, and was especially clutch on third down plays. He caught all 5 of his 3rd-down targets for 72 yards, including a huge 3rd-and-4 with 1:49 left on the final drive, enabling the Texans to reach field goal range, with Randy Bullock converting the 41-yard kick.
If there was any question about Cushing’s value (considering his $55 million contract) or about his health coming back from his injury, the interception and first pick-six of his career ended the debate. The Texans started blitzing very late in the game, but eventually it paid off. They had a hard time getting to Rivers, or harder than expected, with J.J. Watt not recording a sack (but two quarterback hits, one tackle for a loss and a deflected pass), but it’s about remaining focused to make the big play, and none were bigger than Cushing’s touchdown.
The Chargers showed signs of improvement, but they’re still far away from coming close to competing for the number one spot in the AFC West. For the Texans, this was the kind of win that builds confidence about the Super Bowl – a less than perfect day on defense and still waiting for their best running back to return. At the end, a win came out, a hard one, on the road. It’s hard not to feel optimistic about the future.