With Johnson out, Texans find alternative

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- When the Houston Texans entered regular season with only one wide receiver -- Andre Johnson -- with more than 10 catches in an NFL season, fans and media warned them about being so inexperienced in case something happened to Johnson.
Well, something happened to Johnson in the fourth quarter of the second game -- a 30-24 overtime victory over Tennessee on Sunday, making the Texans the first team since the merger in 1970 to win their first two games of a season on the last play.
With the Texans trailing 24-16, Johnson made an incredible 21-yard catch on which he was drilled by Titans strong safety Bernard Pollard.
Johnson walked off the field with a concussion and didn't return. Quarterback Matt Schaub had no choice but to turn to his young receivers, and they responded like seasoned veterans.
Johnson, who's undergoing the concussion protocol and should be ready for the next game at Baltimore, turned over the receiving spotlight to rookie DeAndre Hopkins, the team's first-round draft choice.
Before Johnson went down on the game-tying drive, Schaub and Hopkins took advantage of man coverage by connecting on completions of 23, 13 and 28 yards.
After Johnson was injured and Arian Foster tied the score with a 1-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion, the Texans got the ball one last time in regulation.
Keshawn Martin, who caught 10 passes as a rookie last season, had a 32-yard catch to get the drive going. The drive stalled when Randy Bullock missed a 46-yard field goal.
In overtime, Hopkins caught a 25-yard pass. Then, on third-and-goal from the Titans' 3, Schaub threw a fade route to Hopkins in the end zone, and he made a fantastic catch for the winning touchdown.
Hopkins finished with seven catches for 117 yards. Johnson had eight catches for only 76 yards.
"The (Titans) basically said Andre wasn't going to beat them in the way they played us," coach Gary Kubiak said. "Ultimately, somebody else was going to have to make some plays.
"Hopkins was huge in the back end of the game. He made some big plays. That's what he's here for. We survived because of some great heroics by him -- putting up some jump balls and trusting him."
In the first two games of his career, Hopkins has 12 catches for 183 yards. He was the second receiver drafted behind St. Louis' Tavon Austin, 27th overall.
"It felt great to be able to pick up the slack once Andre left the game," said Hopkins, who played at Clemson and entered the draft after his junior year. "What was going through my head was that they were probably going to come to me, and I was going to be able to make plays for my team. Anytime I see one-on-one coverage, that's a wide receiver's dream.
"I feel like I (can) play my best game, every game, (and) not just when guys go out."
Hopkins has been a starter since the day he arrived in Houston after the draft. Johnson has been helping him develop.
"I feel like I can be better than Andre; that's my mindset," Hopkins said. "That's what Andre tells me - 'Don't try to shadow yourself when you know you can be better.' He tells me that all the time.
"I joke around and ask him, 'What were your most receiving yards? It was like 274, and I really couldn't say much. He tells me to build the mindset, which is going to make us be a better team, if you feel like you can be better than me. I expect him to tell me that."
--Johnson was undergoing tests Monday to complete the concussion protocol. His teammates said after the game that Johnson is "fine" and wanted to return to the game. Kubiak said Johnson "looked good" on Monday.
--FS Ed Reed missed a second consecutive game because he's still recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his hip. He's expected to make his debut with the Texans at Baltimore.
--DE J.J. Watt was angry about Tennessee center Rob Turner's peel-back block on him that resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Inside linebacker Brian Cushing suffered a season-ending knee injury last season on a similar block.
When asked if the block was dirty, Watt said "absolutely" without hesitation.
"I'm not trying to get my knee blown out," he said. "That's why there's a rule in place, and it was clearly blatant. I mean, you peel back around, and you're going toward your own goal line. You know exactly what you're doing: You're going low on somebody's knee.
"You respect that this is people's job. This is your life. And to go at somebody's knee like that -- that's just something that you don't do.
I said, 'You were clearly trying to take out my knee,' He tried to apologize. 'But you're trying to take out my knee - that's exactly what you're trying to do.'"
Turner said the play was a "bad decision" on his part.

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