At 7-3, I would hesitate in calling the Houston Texans one of the league's most surprising teams. A gifted squad with playmakers on both sides of the ball, Houston was projected as giving the Indianapolis Colts a run for their money even before it was known that Peyton Manning would miss the entire season. With Manning gone and the Colts reeling without him, it was widely expected that Houston would run away with the division and as right now, that is what they are doing.
But it hasn't been easy, that's for sure.
Like a lot of teams, the injury bug has hit the Texans hard this season but unlike those other teams, this bug has been targeting the star players of this Houston squad. The most notable injuries of the season have been to wideout Andre Johnson (expected back soon), safety Daniel Manning (out for a few more weeks) and defensive end Mario Williams (done for the season). Even their stud rusher, Adrian Foster, has had hamstring issues for a good chunk of the season.
Houston has been inflicted with these injuries, faced setbacks because of them, but in the end, they have been able to overcome them to get to 4 games above .500 and a firm hold on the AFC South. No, however, after their last win, they face their greatest challenge yet, the loss of their star quarterback Matt Schaub.
Schaub, who is one of the premier passers in this league, suffered a “significant foot injury” and will not play after the team’s bye week. This injury, being reported by Adam Schefter as being a Lisfranc injury, is thought to be season ending even if the Texans still aren't admitting to that. The news of this injury, and the timing, is the proverbial punch in the gut to a team that has already taken a string of haymakers and may be the straw that finally breaks this Houston camels back.
"To come in and here that today," Andre Johnson said, "it was kind of like, 'Wow.' Now you're hearing rumors that it's possible he could miss the rest of the season and things like that. So it's kind of like, where did all of that come from?"
With Shaub undergoing a round of evaluations, the reigns of this team is being handed to backup Matt Leinart, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. Leinart found a ton of success in the college ranks, quarterbacking for USC and winning the Heisman Trophy, but has failed to live up to his hype in the pro's. After a disappointing stretch with the Cardinals, Leinart found himself the Texans backup and despite not throwing a single pass in 2010, decided to re-sign with the team this offseason.
Now, like Kurt Warner did when replacing him in Arizona when he was injured, he has a chance to go out and prove he has what it takes to be a starting NFL quarterback.
"Your time's going to come, and you've got to be accountable for when that opportunity comes," Leinart said. "They know that I work hard and I study hard and I'm prepared very well. We'll going to take this and go game-by-game and I don't think much is going to change."
As unsettling as this newest injury is for the Texans, they have got to rally around Leinart and stick to the type of football they have been playing the past few weeks, mainly run the ball to open up the pass. If any team is capable of this, then it is Houston, who has proven time and time again this season that they are a team first, bigger than the loss of any individual, even someone as important as Matt Shaub.
"In the past, when we had injuries, it always hurt us," Johnson said. "Everything we've been through as a team, you learn from those things and all the obstacles we've been through.
"Losing our quarterback, I still feel very comfortable, I still feel very positive about it. We'll pick up the slack, man. Everyone will step their game up and we'll keep going in the right direction."
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