As the Texans prepare to face the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs at Gillette Stadium, all eyes – or at least a lot of them – are on quarterback Matt Schaub.
Schaub is making his first-career road playoff start. His first-career playoff start, period, came last Saturday in the Texans' 19-13 Wild Card victory against Cincinnati at Reliant Stadium, and popular opinion is that Schaub will have to raise his game to another level if the Texans are to topple Tom Brady and the high-scoring Patriots in Foxboro.
"We need to see it from everybody," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "It's not one player. Our team's got to go play extremely well at a high level. Obviously, he's the one taking the snaps. It's a big step forward for him. He plays in his first playoff game last week and obviously this is his second one on the road against a tremendous opponent. He's going to have to play at a high level, but we all are. We've got a job to do around him."
Schaub was 19-of-32 for 232 yards and an interception in the Texans' 42-14 loss at New England on Dec. 10. He was efficient if not perfect against the Bengals, going 29-of-38 for 262 yards with an 83.4 passer rating and one glaring mistake, an interception in the second quarter that Leon Hall returned for a touchdown.
But for Schaub, it was an important milestone as his playoff starting debut. He watched the Texans' inaugural playoff run from the sidelines last season with a broken foot.
"It was great to be out there with my guys, especially with how last season went for me, being injured and not being able to be out there," Schaub said. "To go out and win the football game in front of our home crowd, it was a good day.
"I think we're all excited for that opportunity to go on the road in the environment we're going to go into and cut it loose and give it our shot."
For all the criticism Schaub has endured, he did rank fourth in the AFC this season with a 90.7 passer rating. He's 19-7 (.731 winning percentage) as a starter since 2011. That includes a 6-2 road record in 2012, which tied for the best road record in the NFL.
"I think he'll be ready," wide receiver Andre Johnson said on Wednesday. "He's working his butt off like he's done every other week. I think him just getting his first win probably got a monkey off his back because that's something a lot of people talked about or whatever. I think with him getting that out of the way, it probably would make him feel more comfortable going into the game."
Brady has won 16 playoff games in his career, tied with Joe Montana for the NFL postseason record. He has won three Super Bowls and been to two others.
It's the opposite end of the spectrum from Schaub, who could start to build his own legacy with an upset victory on Sunday.
"This is his opportunity to start to get those chances as a player," Kubiak said. "He's been working really hard for nine years to get this opportunity. Unfortunately, last year, he was hurt. I think he's got a lot of football left in him. Hopefully, he's going to play in a lot of those big games. Obviously, that's what you're trying to do, trying to lead a team to play in those types of games."