For the 2012 Houston Texans, a six-point road win in which they never trailed qualifies as "sweating it out."
Houston's 23-17 victory over the New York Jets on Monday Night Football pushed its record to 5-0, but it came at a high price.
Linebacker Brian Cushing suffered a knee injury during the game, and early reports by Tania Ganguli of The Houston Chronicle are not encouraging.
While the first major injury of 2012 is sure to dampen the Texans' enthusiasm, there was plenty to like in their gritty win.
While it was easily the worst passing performance of the year for Matt Schaub, the Texans compensated on the ground behind 152 yards rushing from Arian Foster who bludgeoned the Jets' defense all night.
Houston moved the ball effectively on the Jets, but had difficulty finishing drives, settling for three field goals deep in Jets territory. Schaub was forced to rely heavily on Owen Daniels and James Casey as Andre Johnson was limited to a single catch.
Houston's missed opportunities combined with unusual aggressiveness from the Jets on fourth down, and a kick return for a touchdown helped keep New York close most of the night.
The Jets successfully blanketed the passing game, allowing the Texans' run game to thrive, but keeping the score low and the game close in the process.
For seemingly the umpteenth consecutive week, it was J.J. Watt who turned in the play of the night, dumping Sanchez on 3rd-and-10 with the Jets at the Houston 35-yardline. It boosted his league-leading sack total to 8.5 on the season, and snuffed out the Jets' best chance of the night to take the lead.
Every time it seemed the Jets were ready to pull even, the Houston defense came up with a big play. Mark Sanchez through two interceptions, one deep in Houston territory, that helped the Texans hold off the desperate Jets.
Despite the final margin of six points, Houston was clearly the superior force. The Jets' odd mix of trick plays, aggressive strategy and a special teams score made the final margin appear much closer than the actual play on the field warranted.
Whatever struggles the Texans had offensively, this win makes it clear that they can battle a complicated opponent on the road and still be decisively superior.
Fans may complain about a lack of style points, but wins like the Texans had in New York on Monday night are the bedrock of a strong season. The Jets schemed well for Houston, but in the end, talent and execution beat trickery and confusion.
How Houston absorbs the loss of Cushing remains to be seen, but there's every reason to expect the Texans to continue to win as they push toward a top seed in the AFC playoffs.
The Texans will have their perfect record tested the next two weeks as they face high-profile opponents in the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens. Given the way Houston has played so far, it will likely be favored in both contests.
Houston is the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, and other than the injury to Cushing, nothing happened Monday night that should make anyone think differently.
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