After finishing the 2007 season with a .500 record for the first time in team history, the expectations were sky high heading into the 2008 season. In our excitement, though, there was concern, mainly the schedule right out of the chute.
Week 1 - On the road to face the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Week 2 - At home to face the eventual AFC champion runner-up Baltimore Ravens
Week 3 - On the road to face the eventual 13-3 AFC South champion Tennessee Titans
Week 4 - On the road to face divisional foe Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 5 - At home to face Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts
That was a daunting start to the season, made worse when the Texans struggled at Pittsburgh right out of the gate. After that game, though, things went sideways, literally and figuratively. Hurricane Ike hit Houston the following weekend and damaged NRG Stadium prior to the home opener. So, the NFL moved that Week 2 matchup with the Ravens to Week 10 when both the Ravens and Texans had bye weeks. Simple, right? Well, that meant the Texans wouldn’t play a home game until that Week 5 matchup with Manning and the Colts.
Not surprisingly, the Texans lost to the Titans less than a week after Ike struck Houston. Then, the Texans lost in overtime to the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Things hit an all-time low in Week 5 when the Texans lost a gut-busting home opener to the Colts, 31-27, a game affectionately known as RosenCopter. The Colts scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to come from behind and steal a win from the desperate Texans.
There couldn’t have been a worst start to a season with such expectations - an opening day loss, a Hurricane, two straight road division losses and the infamous RosenCopter loss. The city felt like it kept getting kicked in the backside. As such, a win of any kind would help everyone’s psyche.
Enter the 2-2 Miami Dolphins.
After a 0-2 start, the Dolphins went to Gillette Stadium and introduced the NFL world to the wildcat formation. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams ran wild on the Tom Brady-less Patriots in a 38-13 stomping. They beat the Chargers in Miami the following week, so they had some momentum, an unstoppable run game and a vulnerable opponent.
As expected, the Dolphins took an early lead behind two Patrick Cobbs receiving touchdowns. But, the Texans bounced back, scoring on a Kris Brown field goal, a Jacoby Jones 70-yard punt return touchdown and an Andre Johnson 12-yard touchdown to take a 23-21 lead in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins answered as Brown ran one in from six yards out with just 1:45 left to give the Dolphins a five-point lead. However, kicker Dan Carpenter missed the extra point, which left the lead at just five.
It wasn’t a RosenCopter-type loss, but after so much pain over the last month, this one stung. Badly. Sitting in the press box that day, I could feel it. I knew that feeling, I’ve seen it before. After Matt Schaub threw an interception to seemingly end the game, I packed up my computer and headed for the press box elevator. Luckily, someone in the press box stopped me to talk and it was just enough time to hear that the interception had been overturned. I decided I would stay for one more play. At least, that’s what I decided at the time. Just one more.
The situation was still bleak.
4th-and-10. Ball on the Texans 36-yard line. Need a touchdown. Just one timeout left.
It was time for Andre Johnson to make one of his greatest plays.
As I stood in the press box aisle, ready to bolt for the elevator, Schaub launched one at the Miami sideline that had no chance. None. Safety Yeremiah Bell was in front of Dre. Dolphins cornerback Andre Goodman behind them. No chance. Absolutely none.
Yet, Dre plucked the ball right out of Bell’s hands for perhaps his greatest catch as a Texan. The diehards in NRG Stadium erupted for the first time in a while. The 23-yard gain gave everyone hope and I decided to stay see how it all ended, no matter what. A 30-yard completion to Kevin Walter put the Texans at the 11-yard line. On the final play of the drive, a 4th-and-2, Schaub ran a quarterback draw for a touchdown to give the Texans a 29-28 win, the first of the season.
Clearly, it was more than just one win. It was a huge sigh of relief for the entire city of Houston. The Texans won the next two games and seven of the final 11 games to finish 8-8 for the second straight season. Andre Johnson caught 1,012 passes in his Texans career and perhaps no reception was more important and/or more memorable than the one he stole away from Yeremiah Bell to lead the Texans to a massively-important win in 2008.