Notes from the Texans' 31-25 victory at Denver in Week 3 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:
Watt dominates – again
Defensive end J.J. Watt said last week that he wanted to add Peyton Manning to his sack list. He did it 2.5 times, bringing Manning down seemingly at will in his first game against the future Hall of Famer. Watt also had four tackles for loss and seven tackles and drew a holding penalty on guard Manny Ramirez.
Watt now has 5.5 sacks through three games, already matching his 2011 season total. The second-year defensive end from Wisconsin ranks first in the AFC in sacks and second in the NFL behind Green Bay's Clay Matthews. Watt leads the Texans with 15 tackles, one more than Brian Cushing, and five passes defensed, one more than Johnathan Joseph.
"He's playing out of his mind right now," Texans running back Arian Foster said. "It's fun to watch. It's fun to be a part of. He needs to keep that going. I enjoy it."
In his last five games, including the 2011 playoffs, Watt has 29 tackles (23 solo), nine sacks, 11 tackles for loss, one interception, one touchdown, six passes defensed and one fumble recovery. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Watt is playing as well as any defensive lineman in the league.
"He's a top player," Phillips said. "We've said it all along, and he just continues to be that. I'm glad he's on our team."
Andre Johnson made one of the unheralded plays of the game with a 12-yard catch on third-and-five late in the fourth quarter. It extended the Texans' final drive and allowed them to run off all but the last 20 seconds of game clock before punting back to the Broncos.
Johnson beat perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey with an out route on the play, but he gave all the credit to quarterback Matt Schaub.
"Matt gave me a chance," Johnson said. "I went to Matt earlier before we got the ball and said, 'I've been playing like [expletive]. Just give me a chance. Don't give up on me.' He came to me and said that I've been playing too much football to get down on myself. He gave me the opportunity, and I was able to make a play."
Johnson thought he played poorly despite beating cornerback Tracy Porter with a double move for a 60-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
"There was just some plays that I felt like I left out on the field," he said. "You try to have short-term memory, forget about it and move on, but for some reason, I don't know, I just got down on myself and it just kind of affected me throughout the game."
Johnson was likely upset about two sensational catches that he almost made on deep passes from Schaub in the third quarter. One came on the first play of the second half, the other on the play on which Schaub was hit late by Broncos linebacker Joe Mays. On the latter play, the ball bounced off Johnson's leg as he tried to make a juggling catch past Bailey in the end zone.
Protect the ball
Before the Texans turned the ball over on a Ben Tate fumble with 10:20 left in the fourth quarter, they led 31-11 and had outgained the Broncos 437-266. The fumble led to a quick scoring drive by the Broncos and sparked a furious rally that came up just short.
"Like I tell (the players), if we protect the football, I think we're going to be very happy as a football team at the end of the season," Kubiak said. "But if we turn it over, we're going to be in trouble, and we got ourselves into some trouble, but we had the character to still get out of here with the win."
Offensive line rotation
The Texans continued a rotation at right guard, and they may have started a rotation at right tackle.
At right guard, starter Antoine Caldwell played 39 snaps (57 percent). Rookie Ben Jones played 29 snaps (43 percent). Caldwell and Jones had a 55/45 split last week at Jacksonville after Caldwell took all the right guard reps in Week 1.
At right tackle, Derek Newton played 51 snaps (75 percent). Ryan Harris played 17 snaps (25 percent) after playing mostly on special teams in Weeks 1 and 2. Harris, who started 34 games with the Broncos from 2007-10, was signed by the Texans just before the season.
Schaub has only been sacked three times this season and was sacked just once on Sunday.
"It looks great, but I can tell you that he's getting hit too much," Kubiak said. "We played Ryan Harris some in the game. You guys saw that, so we've got to continue to take a hard look at ourselves. But (Schaub's) the key to what we do, and we can't come out of those games telling him he did a great job of getting rid of the ball but taking 10 or 12 big hits in the game, and he did today, so we've got to protect him better."
Eight different Texans players caught a pass against Denver, a new season-high. Second-year wide receiver Lestar Jean had a career-long 46-yard catch that set up an Owen Daniels touchdown, and rookie wide receiver Keshawn Martin picked up 20 yards on the first two catches of his career. Martin, a fourth-round draft pick from Michigan State, also gained 21 yards on a reverse.
Kevin Walter led the Texans with 73 yards on three catches, including a 52-yard touchdown. Daniels had three catches for 26 yards and a touchdown. Fullback James Casey had a season-high three catches for 11 yards. Johnson had 72 yards on two catches, including a 60-yard touchdown. Tight end Garrett Graham had two catches for 39, and Foster had one catch for a three-yard touchdown.
"We had a lot of guys make big plays in the game," Kubiak said. "Lestar Jean makes a huge play. Garrett Graham makes a big play. Kevin Walter… exceptional. We knew it would take everybody."
In addition to losing a small piece of his left ear, Schaub went to the locker room for X-rays on his left (non-throwing) shoulder in the third quarter. He said he was fine. Schaub did not miss any plays because of his shoulder and was only in the locker room for a matter of minutes.
Quintin Demps, the Texans' top backup safety, suffered an undisclosed thumb injury. He returned to the game after the Texans put a cast on it. Demps tied for second on the team with seven tackles and had one tackle for loss and one pass defensed.
The following Texans players were inactive on Sunday: rookie wide receiver DeVier Posey, quarterback John Beck, cornerback Roc Carmichael, cornerback Brandon Harris, inside linebacker Tim Dobbins, tackle Andrew Gardner and rookie guard Brandon Brooks.
Dobbins, the Texans' special teams captain, missed the game with a hamstring injury. He was the only injured player among the inactives. Second-year outside linebacker Bryan Braman made his 2012 debut after missing the first two games with a hamstring injury.