Football has been in its share of metaphors over the years.
It has been called a war, a chess match, a test of wills, egos and skill. But perhaps the game is best described as a puzzle.
It is divided into four quarters – pieces – and just one piece out of place or jammed into the wrong hole can make the entire picture look bad.
The Texans have plenty of good pieces left spread out on the floor. Now it's just a matter of putting them together.
Houston has fell victim to some bad stretches of football this season. The team dropped into large holes against Minnesota, Denver and Indianapolis. It suffered lopsided losses to the Colts and Broncos, but came back from 21-0 to force overtime with the Vikings.
The Texans had a 13-3 against Green Bay, putting together a great first half, but fell off the pace in the third and fourth quarter and lost 16-13.
All in all, a bunch of misplaced pieces – a good quarter here, a bad quarter there – and a 4-6 record to show for it.
But Sunday the Texans proved they could put at least three quarters together
and win in comeback fashion, beating the Titans 31-21 after being down 21-3.
The pieces are starting to fall in place.
"I think we've had our share of games if you go through our 11 games, probably the ideal game I go back and look at the first Tennessee game because I spent a lot of time looking at it last week," head coach Dom Capers said. "Our focus in that game was to start hot and then finish. There have been a number of times that we started hot, where we've gone out, put together a good drive and got points. We did it against Green Bay in here, the thing we didn't do is we didn't finish."
Every NFL team looks for that certain balance – a quick start followed by a solid finish – but it has eluded more than one club across the country, including Houston.
The Texans have been outscored 41-19 in the first quarter this season, but is outscoring opponents 51-84 in the fourth quarter.
Last week's game against the Titans was a step in the right direction. The team
dug out of a hole for a solid three quarters of football. The defense held the
Titans scoreless in the second half and forced two turnovers when it needed to
protect a 24-21 lead. Domanick Davis rushed for a season-high 129 yards to help control the clock.
So is there more to come?
"I think we've played well in the second half in certain games," tight end Mark Breuner said. "I wish we would play well all four quarters. I wish we would be a team that doesn't have to come from behind. You never want to get that trademark or name brand in regards to a team that starts slow and finishes strong.
"I think we're getting very close and I'm very excited with the way we've been playing I think we're very capable of being a complete football team and the sign of a complete football team is a team that plays well for four quarters in all three phases."
The New York Jets, Houston's next opponent, are 8-3 on the season but have struggled when opponents get off to fast starts.
The Jets are 2-2 this season when opponents score first, but are 6-1 when leading at halftime.
And while defenses admit they are always looking for a challenge, they are never thrilled about spending too much time on the field or being forced to play overly aggressive to get the team back into a game.
The three phases of football – special teams, offense and defense – feed off one another.
The defense obviously feasted on the offense's 21 unanswered points against the Titans.
Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair fumbled twice and threw an interception late
in the game.
Balance across the board is the first step to putting it all together and the Texans had no trouble doing that against Tennessee.
"I think that's a good thing because that means we're getting stronger as the game goes on," defensive end Robaire Smith said. "It's easy for guys to be front runners, to be able to come out and do it early in the game and not be able to do it late. That shows a lot of what this team is really about. In the third and fourth quarter we're still going out there and playing hard like we were in the first."