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Texans win comes with hangover

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DETROIT -- The Houston Texans played nearly 10 quarters of football in a span of four days -- an unheard of abuse of their bodies -- and they looked like it in their locker room late Thursday afternoon, their movements slow, their faces seemingly grimacing with every move.

It was if the entire team had gobbled down plates of turkey and the L-Tryptophan was already at work.

"This is the worst my body has ever felt," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith said.

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"That's a lot of football. We're beat up, man."

The Texans, fresh off an overtime victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, had to do it again Thursday when they beat the Detroit Lions 34-31 in overtime on a 32-yard field goal by Shayne Graham. The Jaguars game didn't end until there was 2:15 left in overtime and this one didn't end until there was 2:21 left in the extra period.

No wonder Texans coach Gary Kubiak gave the entire team a game ball.

"Ten quarters in four days is unheard of," Kubiak said "This group refuses to go down."

They did have some help from the officials -- and Lions coach Jim Schwartz. That came when running back Justin Forsett appeared to be down on a run, but kept running into the end zone for what was ruled an 81-yard touchdown run. He was clearly down and a review would have shown that.

But Schwartz threw his flag to challenge before the review process started, which you can't do. It means there can be no review and he was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. It's a dumb rule. But it's a rule, and all coaches know it. That touchdown made it 24-21 in the third quarter and gave what looked like a lifeless Texans team some life.

"I know that we can't challenge a turnover or a scoring play and I overreacted," Schwartz said. "I had the flag out of my pocket before he even scored the touchdown, and that's my fault."

Forsett said he knew he was down, but kept running.

"I love the rule now," he said laughing.

That play will overshadow the resiliency of this Texans team. But the victory will also overshadow something else: They suddenly have defensive issues that make their waltz to the No. 1 seed in the AFC look unsteady.

In the past two weeks, their defense, which was playing without starting corner Johnathan Joseph Thursday, has given up 68 points. The Jaguars and Lions have combined to throw for 791 yards. Detroit's Matt Stafford carved them up for 441 yards and two touchdowns.

So while the Texans get a nice 10-day break before they play again, and do so with a league-best 10 victories, the most in franchise history, they have to be concerned about the defensive troubles of the past couple of weeks. Throw their home blowout loss to the Packers in on top of it, a game in which Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes, and suddenly they have work to do.

The secondary has become a trouble spot. They play a ton of man, and missed tackles have been killing them. It doesn't help that they haven't been getting much rush from their outside rushers either. Conner Barwin and Brooks Reed, the two outside rushers in the 3-4, have 4 ½ sacks between them.

Aside from end J.J Watt, who had three sacks against the Lions to give him 14½ for the year, the Texans aren't getting home, which is putting a ton of pressure on the back end.

Can you imagine if somebody told them three weeks ago that they'd average giving up nearly 400 yards passing in two consecutive games?

"I would have said you were crazy," Smith said. "I would have never believed that in my wildest dreams. Maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe we're getting out heads out of the clouds a bit. Get us back focused."

The defensive numbers offered no hint to the struggles of the past two weeks. The Texans came into Thursday's game ranked fourth in points allowed, fourth in total defense and seventh against the pass.

The excuse last week against the Jaguars was they weren't as focused after a huge road victory against the Bears. OK, maybe.

But two weeks in a row?

They will get starting nose tackle Shaun Cody back soon after he missed time with injuries. And Joseph should be ready when they play the Titans in 10 days. But they also had Reed and linebacker Bradie James go down with hamstring injuries against the Lions.

"I think when we get healthy, we'll be all right, man," Smith said. "[Defensive coordinator] Wade [Phillips] knows how to get us right. He always does. And I have faith that we're going to be just fine."

He might want to circle two weeks from Monday on the calendar to make sure it's right. That's when the Texans go to New England to play the Patriots in what could be a battle for the top seed in the AFC.

Three weeks ago, everybody was raving about this team. They could run it. They had come alive throwing it. And the defense won a slugfest at Chicago. Now questions have surfaced.

Where's the pass rush? Where's the secondary play? Where's the tackling? And if that isn't good enough, can they score enough?

The past two weeks the offense has been plenty good enough with two consecutive 500-plus games -- if you count Forsett's touchdown that wasn't, which we have to do.

"Like great teams, you find a way to win, no matter what the circumstances," Watt said. "But right now, I'm just worried about finding some turkey and stuffing."

Just what they need, something to make them go to sleep -- maybe for the four days off they have from Kubiak.

Just make sure somebody wakes up that defense, or they could be in big trouble come playoff time.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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