After Texans safety Eugene Wilson picked off Kerry Collins and returned the ball 13 yards to the Tennessee 29, Schaub threw a pass deep left to third-year receiver Jacoby Jones. Jones, wide open, dropped it. It was early in the second quarter. Houston trailed 21-14.
"Jacoby is a guy who's got swagger, and you want him to keep that, because he plays his best with it,'' Schaub explained. "He had that look after he dropped it; he was getting down on himself. You can't shy away from a player you believe in. I went right back to him.''
Next play -- wham! A 29-yard touchdown pass to Jones. A rifle pass, an assertive catch. A tie game.
And later,with the game tied at 31-31 in the fourth quarter, Schaub found Jones for a 44-yard connection to the Titans 24 that set up Kris Brown's winning field goal. Houston 34, Tennessee 31.
Schaub kept coming back to the player he believed in, and it paid off. He wants that same level of trust from the franchise.
It is not easy for the Texans -- or their fans -- to give that. Given the bust by No. 1 pick David Carr seven years ago, and the futility and frustration that followed, the Texans have had their share of quarterback quandaries. Schaub arrived in 2007 with another high price tag: two second-round Texans draft picks and a swap of first-round draft spots in '07 with the Atlanta Falcons.
Schaub started 2-0 in his first season and looked like Houston's answer.
But injuries and blotchy play, a couple of 8-8 seasons and a scary-bad outing in the Texans' Week 1 loss to the Jets left Schaub wondering if the Texans would keep coming back to him, if he would continue to be a player they believe in.
On Sunday, Schaub embraced the chance he was given.
He was throwing deep on third-and-short. He was plunging without fear on fourth-down conversions. He completed passes of 21 or more yards to four different receivers. Three of his career-best four touchdown passes went to wide receivers, including a 72-yarder to Andre Johnson.
He crouched low and tight under center, almost Doug Flutie-like for his towering 6-foot-5, 239-pound frame, and he unleashed himself and his arm in a hold-nothing-back manner that was refreshing for all who care about the Texans. Schaub is 28 -- young enough to keep rising, yet old enough to expect rapid production.
"You can't play against the Titans defense hoping a play can work,'' Schaub said. "You'll wind up looking back and wondering what could have happened if you had done this or that. I didn't want to have to dwell on that no more than dwell on what happened against the Jets.
"I came to this franchise when it was sort of at a crossroads. There were a lot of first- and second-year players here and I was young, too. I think we're maturing as a group, as a team. I realize now is the time.''
What the Texans set loose in Schaub on Sunday, they cannot reel in during future weeks. What Schaub set free in his mind, in his own game, he must find consistently. Both must move forward together, giving this quarterback every chance to win games with his big arm and his big receivers.
And the Texans keep coming back to Schaub, the guy they believe in.
NOLAN ROLLING: Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen made it clear that he selected Josh McDaniels as his head coach with an understanding that Mike Nolan was going to be the Broncos defensive coordinator. Bowlen believed in Nolan -- his experience, his containment-concepts of defense.
Two games into the 2009 season, Nolan is rewarding that confidence.
He has pieced together a hodge-podge mix of defensive parts that helped the Broncos hold Cincinnati to seven points and Cleveland to six.
Nolan makes sure his defensive players know exactly what they are supposed to do. He emphasizes that the little things they do take away big things for an offense. "No big plays allowed" is Nolan's mantra.
This Broncos travel to Oakland next, and that is a test Denver's defense should pass. We will know plenty more about Nolan's group in the following weeks when Dallas and New England bring their big-play brands of offense to Denver.
FLACCO IS BACK FOR MORE: NFL general managers are impressed with Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco's 2-0 start, one year after helping the Ravens reach the AFC championship game as a rookie.
Here's analysis from one: "When you get a quarterback who can get the ball downfield, you've got a chance. Flacco can throw it. He's big and he's a better runner than people give him credit for. I saw some of our guys chase him when we played him that I thought should have caught him and he ran away from them.
"The Ravens are turning their team into something different. It used to be protect the defense with the offense. Now the offense is trying to score, first and foremost, and that is putting more pressure on that defense. You show me a No. 1 defense, and I'll show you most of the time that team has a near-No. 1 run offense or big advantage in possession time. Now with the Ravens doing more with that offense, that Ravens defense is going to allow more points because it is not as rested and sometimes may be put in some bad spots. But for the long haul, the Ravens can go further now because they have a quarterback and an offense that can win games late, especially playoff games, where that shows up most.''
REVIS PROVES HIS WORTH: New England receiver Randy Moss said that the Jets' Darrelle Revis is not a shutdown corner -- after Revis shut down Moss in New York's Week 2 win.
One of the reasons the Jets defense is off to a fast start is because of the shutdown play of Revis. There is no way a defense can blitz like the Jets do unless their corners can play press coverage and stick. Revis does that. He is a superior cornerback.
One NFL coach who saw the Jets upset the Patriots surmised: "Revis outplayed Moss. Moss is used to making plays and just being better than his coverage. Revis was up to the task. Moss has a penchant for being a little disinterested and lazy at times. Revis took total advantage of that.''
FREE KICKS: Though the Texans won with Schaub's arm, they kept the Titans defense honest with 29 rushes for 63 yards. The number of attempts kept the Titans creeping forward, so that the Texans could hammer them over the top. The Patriots must adopt a similar strategy with their attack. Tom Brady threw 47 passes Sunday, compared to just 20 New England runs. In the Patriots' opener, the ratio was 53 passes to 23 runs. The Patriots have to make the rushing attack a focal point, so that Brady can make the passing game the difference.
• A few hours after Mario Manningham was drafted in the third round in the 2008 NFL draft, I spoke with him by telephone, reaching him at his Warren, Ohio, home. Thirteen receivers had been drafted ahead of him -- he was hot. He was determined to prove everyone wrong about his talent and his character. In Sunday's games, he led all NFL receivers with 150 yards and was a key factor in his team's victory at Dallas. The Giants coaches love his quickness. They remind him he is better than most of the cornerbacks and coverage he faces, something he knows. If he was two inches taller than his 5-foot-11 frame, he would be a prototype receiver. Just as he is, though, might be a huge Giants answer at receiver.
• Consider that Bengals defensive tackle Antwan Odom made three sacks in 2008 -- he had five in Cincinnati's victory at Green Bay. At 6-foot-5, 280 pounds with a motor and strength that the Packers' depleted offensive line could not handle, Odom pulled a rare feat for a defensive tackle. He currently leads the league with seven sacks. Think the Titans would love to have him back, let alone Albert Haynesworth? Tennessee failed to gain a sack against the Texans.