When you are down to your third-string quarterback and facing the mighty Baltimore Ravens in their home stadium where they have gone undefeated this season, a team looks for any motivating tool it can find.
The Houston Texans have grabbed on to the most obvious one and are holding it as tightly as a Rottweiller does a pork chop.
They are beating the underdog drum as loudly as they can and hoping it will provide them with a cause they can rally around besides the game itself where the winner advances to the AFC championship.
Confidence, motivation, desire — at this time of the season they are ingredients that are more important than talent as far as being the determining factors of who wins and loses.
Among the Ravens eight home victories this season was a 29-14 victory over Houston on Oct. 16, a game where Baltimore took over in the fourth quarter.
It is why the Ravens have been installed as 7.5-point favourites.
The Ravens don’t even have god on their side, as he will be in Foxborough, cheering on the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow in their game against New England.
The Texans will have to rely on themselves and when you go to war that’s the way it usually is.
They also will have to pull off an upset on a outdoor track where it will be cold and sunny. The high of the day is expected to be -2C, with 25 km/h winds dropping the wind chill factor to -10.
Being the underdog, though, is what the Texans are used to after they lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart.
“I think it’s kind of been our situation since we’ve lost some key players, especially since we had our quarterback situation,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said this week. “I think a lot of people have said there are a lot of things we can’t do. We’ve had to go to work and try to prove them wrong, so to speak. That’s been part of our motivation as a football team and will continue to be that.”
The Texans may be down to T.J. Yates at the quarterback position, a third-string rookie from North Carolina, but they are buoyed by how well they played last week at home when they beat Cincinnati to post the first playoff win in franchise history.
“It is what it is,” offensive tackle Duane Brown said of being the underdog. “We are used to it by now, but we have a quiet confidence about us. We know what we can do. We really took this team to the limit the last couple times we played them. We know we’re the underdogs.
“Everyone is going to expect them to stop us from running the ball or put up X amount of yards with their offence. So, we are used to the talks but we have to go out there and play our game.”
The Texans hope is that they will be able to execute against the Ravens as well they did against the Bengals. They know the Ravens are a big step up as far as talent goes but they are not intimidated.
“Well, I think the biggest thing is that they know if they play the type of football we played last week then we’ll have a very good chance,” Kubiak said. “That’s what we’re trying to give ourselves, the best chance to win in that stadium so we’re going to have to play clean. We did that last week so we’ve got some confidence coming out of that game.”
When Peyton Manning couldn’t answer the bell for the season and doomed the Indianapolis Colts, the door swung open for the Texans to waltz to the AFC South division crown.
But it wasn’t that easy as they, too, lost one key player after the other to injuries.
They survived. Overcoming setbacks and obstacles has become second nature for the Texans.
This season they have shown themselves to be nothing if not resilient.
Those setbacks may have produced doubters along the way but inside the clubhouse it acted as a bonding agent and drew the team closer.
“That was good, because most of the year it had been: ‘They’ve gotten this far, but this is why they can’t win this game,’ or, ‘They’ve gotten this far, but this is why they can’t beat Atlanta, this is why they can’t go on the road to beat Cincinnati,’” tackle Eric Winston said. “Seems like we’ve played well from the underdog role. It seems like we’ve played well when most people are doubting us, so, you know, that’s fine. We’ve had a lot of doubters all year.
“Maybe we’re the only ones that believe in each other and believe that we can beat anybody in this league when we’re playing the right way and we’re playing within ourselves and how we know how to play, so I’m excited about the challenge.”
Sunday offers them another game where it will be circle-the-wagons time.
The Texans have survived to this point. They believe they will survive on Sunday.
Ray wants another ring
The goal of the remaining eight teams in the NFL playoffs is the same — to win the Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens great linebacker Ray Lewis already has one — they defeated the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV — but what is motivating him this time around is to share that experience with his teammates.
“For me personally, it’s very simple: For me, as the leader of this team, it’s to try to get a lot of these young kids a Super Bowl,” Lewis said when asked what a second ring would mean. “That’s it. For me personally, if we go do what we are supposed to do, then I walk up out of here with two rings. It’s more special than me. I would do anything — and I have always told Ray Rice this, I’ve told Haloti (Ngata), I’ve told Ed (Reed) this — to win a Super Bowl with you guys would be a very, very special thing, because it’s a special group of men that you win a Super Bowl with.
“With this group that we have right now, we’ve been building and building and building, and now we have a special group of men. If we go do what we’re supposed to do ... And every team is saying the same thing. Every team is saying the same thing, that they have a special group of men. But we have a very special group of men. That would be a heck of a way to really celebrate something like that with this group.”