Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster show Texans are legit

DENVER -- Somewhere around the 48-yard line at Sports Authority Field -- depending on how far the force of Denver Broncos linebacker Joe Mays' hit might have sent it flying -- a piece of Matt Schaub's earlobe is now among the blades of grass.

But don't worry, Schaub says. It's totally cool.

"I felt fine, you know," the Houston Texans' quarterback said after Sunday's 31-25 win. "I just lost a little piece of my ear. I was bleeding and my helmet came off, so I had to come out for a play, but I was fine."

Don't you just hate when that happens? When your stupid helmet and your wimpy ear won't stay on your head, forcing you to leave the game for an entire play because of some dumb rules about blood and head gear? It's so ... inconvenient.

Here's the good news, Texans' fans: Unlike last year, when Schaub was sidelined by a foot injury for much of the 2011 season, the NFL's most underappreciated quarterback missed just one play on Sunday because of Mays' ridiculously hard (and illegal) hit.

This was actually great news for the rest of the league, too. It's about time we find out once and for all about this talented Texans squad, which has easily the NFL's most balanced combination of explosive offensive stars and suffocating defensive studs. But there's only one way we're ever going to do that: If Houston stays healthy.

Last year, even as the Texans quietly were looking like a championship-caliber team, it was rare to see running back Arian Foster, wide receiver Andre Johnson and Schaub on the field at the same time. As a result, Houston didn't even get the most attention in Texas, let alone the league. The truth? The Texans might just be the best in both.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. After all, the San Francisco 49ers, who were viewed by this very columnist as early Super Bowl contenders, look far more human after losing to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. This is a long season -- and caution is justified by a tidy little statistic that says just 21 percent of teams that start 3-0 go on to win the Super Bowl.

Still, a team needs to begin somewhere. So why not begin with the first 3-0 start in franchise history?

"Well, in order for us to get where we want to go, you know you have to do things you've never done," Johnson said. "So we knew how big it was, coming in here, to get a victory. We know it was a big test for us. We were just up for the challenge."

Talent has never really been the problem in Houston. Neither has Schaub's ability to put up massive numbers -- like the 52-yard pass to Kevin Walter or the 60-yard pass to Johnson or the 46-yard pass to Lestar Jean. Instead, it's been about finishing games strong and finishing seasons healthy.

Well, on Sunday, the Texans pulled out a win despite a late 14-point surge by Peyton Manning's Broncos. And Schaub finished the game despite losing part of his ear. So, once again, the Texans appear determined to make this year different than the last, even if injuries aren't exactly under their control.

"We're not focused on last year, but everyone does understand what it took to get to the playoffs last year," center Chris Myers said. "We've been successful so far at 3-0, but it's a long way away."

Don't underestimate what Myers is saying there, either. This team made the 2011 playoffs. And it's clearly more dangerous and more experienced this year.

Did you see Texans defensive end J.J. Watt's performance on Sunday? Foster did.

"He's playing out of his mind right now," said Foster, who once again rushed for more than 100 yards, finishing with 105 on 25 carries. "It's fun to watch. It's fun to be a part of."

Watt, who added another 2.5 sacks and a tackle for a loss to what has been one of the top defensive performances in the NFL this season thus far, is equally grateful for the offensive stars like Foster.

And that, without question, is what makes this Texans team ridiculous. While Watt is playing as well as any defensive player in the league, Foster and Johnson also have the potential to be the best at their positions.

"I love that we can beat you so many different ways," Watt said. "That the offense can go in and have an 18-play drive, that the defense can get a three-and-out or a turnover, that special teams can play a huge role in the game.

"It's not just one way we can beat you. We go out there and have so many different weapons. It's a lot of fun to play on this team."

Aside from the moments when Schaub's ear is a bloody mess, it's a lot of fun to watch the Texans play, too. But we still have to ask the most important question: Can they keep it up? Can they take advantage of all this talent, of this fast start, of the experience they gained in their trip to the playoffs last season? Can they bottle it all up and prove capable of doing more than providing a regular feast for fantasy football players?

The Texans are on the edge of becoming a great team -- one that can surpass every accomplishment in its brief history. Let's just hope, for the sake of good football, that this roster stays healthy.

One more request: Let's also hope, for the sake of our stomachs, that nobody else loses any body parts.

"I saw him bleeding out of his ear -- and he only came out for one play before he was back at it," said left tackle Duane Brown, another Texan who is among the most talented in the league at his position. "That's a testament to how tough he is and how bad he wants it."

We hear you, Duane. We hear you loud and clear.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

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