HOUSTON — As much as it seems like the Texans have been written off coming into their divisional round matchup with a Patriots team that hung a 42-14 loss on them a month ago, defensive lineman Antonio Smith has heard worse.
Back in 2008-09 when he was with an Arizona Cardinals team that squeezed into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, legendary cornerback and smack-talker Deion Sanders said on the NFL Network that he would sell his tickets to the Super Bowl if the Cardinals somehow found a way to make it there.
So being overwhelming underdogs against the Patriots, Smith said, feels familiar.
“I’m telling you it’s like déjà vu,” said Smith. “The same thing I went through last time I was in this situation.”
The Cardinals beat the Falcons, Panthers, and Eagles to reach Super Bowl XLIII, and even though there are some similarities, Smith said he tries not to preach to the Texans about that experience.
“I would if it’s needed, but I think that we’re past that,” Smith said. “I’ve used that card early on when I got here and I guess my feelings were just a couple years off so now we’re in the prime opportunity to be able to grab a hold of our destiny. I started saying that when I first came because it was the same feeling I felt when I was there and I knew this team could be what it is now.”
There’s no special recipe for an upset. Smith said the defense’s job is still to put hits on Tom Brady and not allow him to get as comfortable as he did when he threw four touchdowns in the first meeting.
“You’ve got a better chance to win if you put more heat on Brady,” Smith said. “I think the more hats you can get on him — which they don’t ever let you put too many hard hats on him — but whenever you can, it gets all quarterbacks a little bit rattled.
“Some falter and some stand tall and I’ve seen him stand tall in the past so he’s a great quarterback in that aspect, but still when you hit a quarterback he’s going to know you?re coming. He’s going to look for you the next time.”
“Underdogs” become the buzzword in the Texans locker room. By and large, they’ve accepted the label.
“That’s the secret weapon of the underdog,” Smith said. “Yeah, it bothers us and you just sit there and you take it and you let it harbor and you let it fester and grow into what you need it to grow into.”
It worked when he was in Arizona, and in the end Sanders’s boycott threats rang hollow.
“He was at the game,” Smith said.