Then, after the Texans turned it over on downs in desperation, the Saints got to kneel down.
New Orleans seemed pretty much unstoppable at the game’s biggest moments as it ran away from the Texans for a 40-33 win that was played at such a frantic pace that even mere observers were left breathless.
But don’t use the word unstoppable when talking about the Saints' offense with Houston’s defensive backs, who refused to admit defeat in such terms, leaning instead on the standard “we-didn’t-make-plays” explanation.
“They’re not unstoppable,” safety Glover Quin said, with teammates from the secondary around him joining in to scoff at the notion. “We just didn’t make the plays that we needed to make. ... It wasn’t like they’re something special.”
“They’re a good team,” cornerback Kareem Jackson more reasonably conceded. “We didn’t make the plays we needed to make and they did. That doesn’t mean they’re unstoppable. It’s football.”
With all due respect, if you don’t make the plays, and the other guys keep running into the end zone without you stopping them, and they score 40 points against you, I’m going ahead and calling them unstoppable.
The Texans’ transformed defense that could not stop the pass last season allowed New Orleans to convert 6 of 8 third downs in the second half. Brees finished with 370 passing yards and three touchdowns to go with interceptions by the Texans two new veteran defensive backs, Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning.
There is no great shame in losing to the Saints at the Superdome, but the Texans will carry regrets over the failure to capitalize on the numerous opportunities there were to pull away and move to 3-0.
Gary Kubiak told his team better red zone play, or better defense late, or better coverage on a couple plays and it would have been flying home happy. Instead it’s 2-1, even with the Titans atop the AFC South.
Defensive backs and linebacker made several good plays against the Saints in the first half, breaking up passes in tight coverage or making it too hard for targets to corral passes.
In the second half, there was often more space.
“We kind of backed off of them,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “I thought we wanted to play them a little tougher and a little tighter when we needed to and we didn’t when we needed to. So I think we learned from that. … Our guys played hard, but we just didn’t play well in the second half.”
It was not all on the defense, of course.
Of a possible 35 points out of trips into the red zone, the Texans settled for 19. At crunch time in the fourth quarter, they gained 1 yard in a three-and-out possession and saw Matt Schaub throw an interception to Jabari Greer to kill another.
“They're a great team, we have a lot of respect for them,” Schaub said. “We feel we’re pretty good too and we have the potential to be great too. We just have to keep climbing the ladder, look at this, understand why we didn’t get this done.”
In a season where Kubiak’s job is believed to be on the line and Peyton Manning's neck surgery has opened things up in the division, the Texans have higher expectations than ever.
But a defense revamped into a 3-4 with a Phillips-instilled swagger suffered its first relapse.
Several veteran defenders said they understood the comparison to last season even if they didn’t co-sign it. Last season’s version of the Texans had trouble finishing and many -- myself included -- have questioned whether the overall team personality and mental makeup are suited to win such games.
“When you get 40 hung on you, that’s a terrible day,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “You’ve got to stop teams from scoring and we couldn’t stop them from scoring today.”
Said linebacker Brian Cushing: “I felt we should have won this game. Whether it was last year or the year before, we’ve let that happen before. But as far as what I think of this defense, I don’t think about anything compared to last year. ... We know what caliber of team we just played.”
The Texans may not face another offense as good all season. If they don’t, and they keep climbing the ladder Schaub talked about, this one may qualify as a blip.
In case it’s more than that, they have much work to do to make sure a two-score lead in the fourth quarter will stand up.
As for the potential of any doubt creeping in …
Center Chris Myers said the team’s veterans won’t allow for it.
“The veterans and leaders on this team have to be able to pick those younger guys up and have them understand we’ve got to move on to next week,” he said. “We’ll make some corrections tomorrow, but we’re onto Pittsburgh now.
“It stinks. It’s going to sting. But you’ve got to be able to go out there next week and play like we want to beat them, which we do.”