Most Texans fans have probably erased Houston's last encounter with the San Diego Chargers.
After all, Space City was still basking in the glow of the Houston's stunning opening win over the hated Cowboys when the Texans ventured to San Diego for their second game in team history.
But Dom Capers remembers. He remembers the Chargers pouncing on the Texans early and cruising to a 24-3 win. He remembers turning the ball over three times. He remembers watching his frazzled team commit 12 penalties. But most of all, Capers remembers the performance of his rookie quarterback, David Carr.
"The Chargers got after us in every way they could have gotten after us that day," Capers said this week. "But I learned a lot about David."
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But Carr kept getting up off the canvas in a game the Texans had no chance of winning. He refused to come out of the game. Seven days earlier he had engineered a remarkable win. But it was in San Diego – in defeat – that Carr earned the respect of his peers.
"Believe me, I had mixed emotions about leaving him in the game," Capers said. "Once the game got out of control you've got your number one pick in franchise history and we're having trouble protecting him and he didn't want to come out of the game.
"He wanted to stay in there and fight until the end, and I really felt at that time that if I had pulled him out, I would have done a lot more harm than good as the leader of the team. It would have looked as though I was treating him much different than the rest of the guys on the team. He wanted to stay in and he stayed in there and battled right until the end and I think he gained a lot of respect from our team that day."
Nearly two years later, Carr opens his third season under center against the Chargers Sunday at Reliant Stadium. Both teams are markedly different. But Carr will draw from what he learned that humbling afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium.
"It was a rough game," Carr said. "I knew we probably weren't going make the playoffs or go to the Super Bowl or anything, but I wanted to get something positive and I got a chance to take all the snaps.
"Hopefully, when we start winning some games, it will be nice to look back on those times because it was tough then and hopefully it is going to get better."
This is an important season for Carr – he'll be the first to admit that. The Texans finally have some depth and experience at most positions and the feeling in Houston is that the club is ready to take a lengthy step forward in 2004. And most fans expect Carr to drive the bandwagon.
"I feel comfortable with where we're at right now and I feel comfortable as a quarterback," Carr said. "I think the guys around me feel comfortable with me in there. Most of us in the huddle right now have played together and the guys I haven't played with yet have played a lot longer than me. It's a good feeling."
Let's face it, quarterback is unlike any position in team sports. You usually get more credit and blame than you deserve, considering each NFL team has 22 starters. And the spotlight on No. 1 picks like Carr is even brighter, even though your draft status is hardly an assurance of future success. This week alone, we've seen Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (the 1998 top pick and reigning NFL co-MVP) lead his team in a crucial prime time game against the defending Super Bowl champion. And we've also the 1999 top selection, Tim Couch, cut by the Packers and looking for work.
Where will Carr fall along that spectrum? It's too early to tell. But if his off-season and preseason work is any indication, the Texans look solid under center for seasons to come.
"We expect him to be the best that he's been this season," Capers said. "I don't think there's any doubt heading into the third year that he's going to be a more confident player."
Carr still possesses a rocket arm, but he's not forcing the ball as much as he used to. Consistency appears to be his catchword this season with the media and it shows on the field. He completed 70 percent of his passes in the preseason. He's still difficult to corral in the backfield. And most of all, he's showing more command in the huddle.
"The thing I'm most impressed with is his demeanor, his attitude and the way he leads this ball club," tight end Mark Bruener said. "I'm sensing some great things and I really think that David is going to be one of the premier quarterbacks."
The Texans ranked just 31st in the NFL in total offense last season but the pieces appear to be in place for a significant jump up the ladder. Carr has a revamped line in front of him that has embraced the team's new zone blocking scheme. Running back Domanick Davis is seeking another 1,000-yard season and is a reliable dump-down option for Carr. Houston's quartet of receivers is talented, led by budding star Andre Johnson.
In short, Carr doesn't have to carry this unit alone. He just has to manage it.
"We just want to improve," Carr said. "It's hard to put a number on it as far as wins and losses. I just want to see improvement on offense. That's the only thing that I can control.
"I think that through the preseason we've shown that. I also want to be consistent. I think we've gone out and played really well against some teams in the first half, and the second half we wouldn't play so well. We need to grow up and keep our defense off the field."
Considering he already has 28 starts under his belt, it's hard to believe Carr just turned 25 at the outset of training camp. It's not like the gridiron Grim Reaper is hovering around the locker room, waiting to tap Carr on the shoulder.
Sure, the last two years have been long and arduous. But they've also been beneficial, even those three seemingly endless hours in San Diego.
"I've learned a lot," Carr said. "I've played in 30 or so games since then and I've seen a lot of things. I think I've gotten more comfortable with my offense and more comfortable with what defenses around the NFL do to try and stop us.
"I've seen what can make you lose a game and, if you do something right, what can make you win a game."
The bet here is that knowledge will translate into a few more wins this season.