HOUSTON — The NFL’s next irresistible force/immovable object experiment will come when the Texans, who are unbeaten in their six road games, face the Patriots, who have won their last 19 December home dates over the past decade. One of those triumphs was a 40-7 beatdown of Houston in 2006 when the hosts ran up a 27-0 halftime lead and answered the Texans’ only touchdown with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ellis Hobbs.
A week later, Houston stunned Indianapolis with a last-play field goal, the Colts’ final loss in their Super Bowl season.
This year, besides handing the Broncos their only home setback, the Texans have prevailed over the Jaguars, Jets, Bears, Lions (in overtime), and Titans.
“It’s a confidence thing,” said coach Gary Kubiak, whose 11-1 team has the league’s only perfect road record after going 5-3 away from home last year and has lost only to Green Bay. “I’ve been with young teams that, they go on the road and here comes the noise. All of a sudden, boy, you panic and you just don’t look like yourself.
“This group, it doesn’t matter. They’ll go play anywhere. They know. I’ve preached to them for a period of time. It’s about how you play, it’s not where you play. They figured that out, so it doesn’t matter where they play.”
While the Texans currently own the top seed in the AFC for next month’s playoffs, they still haven’t clinched the AFC South, which they won last year for the first time. They can do it if they beat the Patriots and Tennessee knocks off Indianapolis.
If all the cards go their way this weekend, the Texans can wrap up home field for the entire postseason. That means knocking off New England after the Titans have taken care of the Colts, the Raiders have defeated the Broncos, and the Redskins have subdued the Ravens, which is a most unlikely trifecta.
The Texans also can manage it by winning Monday’s game plus one of their final three against the Colts (home and away) and Vikings. That won’t be easy. The Texans are 3-17 lifetime against Indianapolis and never have won there.
Cornerback shiftIt’s not as if the Texans weren’t having trouble at the corners before Brice McCain broke his foot last weekend and went on injured reserve after having surgery Monday. Johnathan Joseph (J-Joe to his colleagues) has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury while Alan Ball has a foot problem.
“You get thin, you get thinned out,” said Kubiak, who had planned on having McCain cover Wes Welker in the slot. He’ll likely have to go with second-year man Brandon Harris inside in the nickel package and hope that Tom Brady doesn’t have a field day.
“This team can force you to play a couple guys inside so you could be in dime,” observed Kubiak. “You never know how you’re going to get played, but we’ve got a couple young players who are going to have to stand up and play well and that’s our rock.”
Harris, who was inactive for eight games this season, was drafted with the Patriots’ second-round 2011 pick that produced Stevan Ridley and Marcus Cannon in a trade exchange.
“Brandon has been chomping at the bit,” said Kubiak. “He’s been close to getting on the field for a while and has just been kind of the odd man out. Now it’s time.
“You go from playing zero to playing 59, so it tells you what’s fixing to happen with this young career of his.”
The Texans, who rank second in the league against the run but 19th against the pass, also are banged up at linebacker where Brian Cushing is down for the season, Brooks Reed is expected to miss at least a couple more games after hurting his groin on Thanksgiving, and Bradie James missed last weekend’s game with a hamstring. Joseph, who was back running on Monday, Ball, and James are day-to-day, as are tackle Derek Newton (knee), guard Antoine Caldwell (hamstring), and tight end Garrett Graham (concussion). So the Texans, who return to work on Thursday, are grateful for the extra day’s rest, a luxury for a team that last month played three games in 12 days, the last two of which went to overtime.