September 8, 2010

2002: Texans Defeat Cowboys in Franchise’s Debut

For the first time since the Oilers departed for Tennessee following the 1996 season, NFL football returned to Houston on September 8, 2002. The Houston Texans hosted the Dallas Cowboys in their regular season debut at the equally new Reliant Stadium. There were 69,604 fans on hand on a Sunday night to watch the new team take on their intrastate rival in what Commissioner Paul Tagliabue dubbed “the Texas Super Bowl.”

The Houston franchise had been awarded to Bob McNair for $700 million in 1999. Charley Casserly was hired as general manager and began building a scouting organization two years prior to the team’s taking the field. Dom Capers was hired as head coach, who had the experience of coaching an expansion team previously in Carolina.

The club looked to sign younger veterans in the expansion draft, and picked up several notable players including OT Tony Boselli and DT Gary Walker from Jacksonville, CB Aaron Glenn of the Jets, and WR Jermaine Lewis and LB Jamie Sharper from Baltimore. With the first choice in the college draft, the Texans picked QB David Carr from Fresno State (pictured above).

The stadium’s retractable roof was closed and the decibel level high as the Texans came out throwing in their first series. Carr threw a deep pass intended for WR Corey Bradford, who drew an interference call that resulted in a 43-yard gain. Three plays later, Carr passed to TE Billy Miller for a 19-yard touchdown and the Texans were up 7-0.

The contest settled into a defensive struggle, with Houston scoring again early in the second quarter on a 42-yard field goal by Kris Brown. The Cowboys got on the board before the half when Billy Cundiff kicked a field goal from 33 yards out, but their offense had sputtered much of the way as the first seven possessions ended in six punts and an interception. QB Quincy Carter failed to complete a pass until the second quarter.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys tied the score at 10-10 in the third quarter when RB Michael Wiley ran 46 yards for a touchdown. The Texans went back in front to stay early in the fourth quarter when Bradford made an outstanding catch of a pass from Carr for a 65-yard touchdown.

Houston regained possession on the ensuing kickoff thanks to a fumble, but was unable to capitalize when a Carr pass was deflected for an interception. However, the Texan defense continued to frustrate the Dallas offense and scored the final points of the game when NT Seth Payne tackled Carter in the end zone for a safety with under three minutes remaining. The Texans won by a score of 19-10.

David Carr completed 10 of 22 passes for 145 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Ominously, he was sacked six times, which would be a chronic problem throughout the inaugural season – Carr took every snap for the Texans and was sacked an NFL-record 76 times. RB James Allen led the team in rushing with 56 yards on 19 carries. Corey Bradford (pictured at left) was the top receiver with four catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.

The Cowboys largely won the statistical battle, outrushing the Texans 155 yards on 24 carries to 87 yards on 35 attempts. They also had the most total yards, 267 to 210. RB Emmitt Smith, who was closing in on the career rushing record, led the team with 67 yards on 17 carries (Wiley’s 46-yard TD run was his only carry of the day). Quincy Carter completed just 13 of 30 passes for 131 yards with one picked off. WR Joey Galloway was the top receiver, catching 6 passes for 69 yards.

Both teams were heavily penalized, with the Texans drawing 11 flags and Dallas 9. There were few turnovers, as the Cowboys lost the ball twice (one fumble and one interception) and Houston gave up the one interception.

Said Dallas owner Jerry Jones afterward, “I’m disappointed for Cowboys fans everywhere.” An embarrassed Emmitt Smith added that “We did nothing good.” Nevetheless, there were some bright spots for the Cowboys, such as the play of the defense and in particular that of DT La’Roi Glover. Glover, a six-year veteran who had been signed as a free agent, recorded 1.5 sacks and intercepted Carr’s deflected pass in his regular season debut with the Cowboys. Dallas went on to a 5-11 record for the third consecutive season – the last under Head Coach Dave Campo.

As for Houston, it was the first time that a modern NFL expansion team had won its initial regular season game since the Vikings did so in 1961, and as was the case in that instance there were few wins thereafter. The Texans lost their next five games on the way to finishing the season with a 4-12 record, placing them at the bottom of the AFC South.

The opening game against the Cowboys set the tone for the rest of the year: the defense played respectably, but the offense ranked at the bottom of the NFL. David Carr showed toughness but also made plenty of rookie mistakes. The offensive line performance was spotty, and the loss of Tony Boselli to shoulder surgery (he ended up never playing for the team) was a major blow. The running game suffered accordingly, as rookie RB Jonathan Wells led the club with 529 yards on the ground, but with an average gain of only 2.7 yards-per-carry. And while veterans like Gary Walker and Aaron Glenn made the Pro Bowl, others were disappointments (Boselli and Jermaine Lewis).

But at least for one week, Carr and the Texans were 1-0 and had reason to exult.