Newyorkjets.com will profile each NFL playoff game this postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: Sunday's AFC Divisional Round Game:
(3) HOUSTON (11-6) at (2) BALTIMORE (12-4), 1 p.m. ET, CBS
It's a tribute to Gary Kubiak's coaching and Houston's character that they lost their top two QBs (Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart) and their outstanding DE (Mario Williams) to injuries during the year and continue to push further into the playoffs than any of the previous nine Texans teams.
Then there's the T.J. Yates story. A fifth-round rookie, Yates is the first QB drafted in Round 5 or later to win a postseason game since the common draft began in 1966, this after coming in to replace Leinart to save one victory and win two more as the Texans secured the third seed before the final regular-season week.
But quoth the Ravens, "Nevermore." Or something like that.
Baltimore, the tough, hard-nosed group from Crabcake City, is 8-0 at M&T Bank this season. The Ravens' top-ranked defense produced an AFC-high 48 sacks, and their offense is led by QB Joe Flacco, who isn't always pretty but gets the job done, especially vs. HOU — in three career games vs. the Texans, his passing line is 57-of-89 (64%), 725 yards, four TDs, 1 INT, 99.7 rating. Head coach John Harbaugh has won twice as much as he's lost (48-23) in his four seasons at the purple and black helm.
One of the many subplots will be the head-to-head collisions between two friends, legendary Ravens LB Ray Lewis and dynamic Texans RB Arian Foster.
"We played them last year," Foster explained, "and there was a play in the second quarter when he just came up to me and said, 'I love the way you play the game.' And it just kind of took me by surprise. So I just was like, 'Likewise, sir.' "
The two have reconnected a number of times since. But only one can move on to the AFC Championship Game. Will it be the big, bad Birds or the upstart Texans? We'll know probably before the Giants kick off at 4:30.
Foster, who rushed for 153 yards in the Texans' 31-10 AFC Wild Card win over the Bengals, needs a mere 126 yards against the Ravens to have the most rush yards in a player's first two postseason games. The record-holder is the Cowboys' Duane Thomas with 278 yards in 1970. The Jets' Shonn Greene is fourth on the list with his 248 yards in the '09 playoffs.
Of course, that could be difficult against the Baltimore defense, which is top-four in the NFL in four major categories: overall defense (third), rushing (second), passing (fourth) and scoring (third).
They'll be coming hard after Yates with LB Terrell Suggs (AFC-leading 14 sacks), Lewis (team-leading 95 tackles), DT Haloti Ngata and S Ed Reed (seven INTs in nine career playoff games).
But Houston's "D" rankings are almost identical: second in overall defense, fourth vs. the run, third vs. the pass, fourth in scoring defense. Minus Mario, the Texans have still thrived with Pro Bowl CB Johnathan Joseph and LBs Connor Barwin (11.5 sacks) and Brian Cushing (114 tackles plus eight more last week).
Other top rookies in this game: Texans DE J.J. Watt became first rookie since sacks became official in '82 to have a sack and an INT-return TD in a postseason game. Ravens WR Torrey Smith tied for second among NFL rookies with seven TD receptions.
Baltimore has already defeated Houston at M&T Bank Stadium once this year, by 29-14 on Oct. 16 as Flacco passed for 305 yards, Ray Rice gained 161 from scrimmage, Anquan Boldin caught eight passes for 132 yards, and Billy Cundiff went 5-for-5 on his FGs. That makes the Birds 5-0 in the rivalry since the Texans began life in '02.
The Ravens, in their first home playoff game since 2006, are bidding for their first playoff win at home since beating the Broncos, 21-3, in the AFC Wild Card Round on Dec. 31, 2000, en route to their Super Bowl XXXV win over the Giants.
Overall Baltimore is 9-6 in the postseason while Houston is 1-0, that win coming by 31-10 over Cincinnati last weekend.
The Texans have four former Jets on their roster. RB Derrick Ward was a seventh-round selection of the Jets in 2004 and spent time on their practice squad. TE Joel Dreessen was their sixth-round pick in 2005, playing one season with the Green & White. G Wade Smith played in 21 games for them in '06-07. Matt Turk, the Jets' punter in 2002, is in his 16th NFL season overall and his fifth season with the Texans, although he began the season with the Jaguars before returning when rookie Brett Hartmann was injured.
Additionally, LB Brian Cushing hails from Park Ridge, N.J., and Bergen Catholic High, and TE Garrett Graham is a native of Brick, N.J. On the coaching staff, DBs coach Vance Joseph began his pro playing career as an undrafted free agent in the Jets' secondary in 1995.
The Ravens have only a few one-time wearers of the green on their side. DB/ST Emanuel Cook was signed after the Jets waived him in December. And WRs coach Jim Hostler coached QBs and WRs for the Jets in 2003-04.