OWINGS MILLS — Veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson has a jarring memory of his last encounter with the Houston Texans, a painful vision of how the Baltimore Ravens’ defense was almost completely dismantled.
Until cornerback Josh Wilson intercepted Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in overtime last December at Reliant Stadium and dashed into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, the Ravens were under siege.
They had squandered a three-touchdown halftime advantage as Schaub launched 62 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns for an aborted comeback. The Texans piled up 489 yards of total offense, albeit during a 34-28 defeat.
"That was a tough game for us," Johnson said. "You can’t let them get cranked up. We stole one."
Now, the Ravens (3-1) square off again with the Texans (3-2) today at M&T Bank Stadium.
Despite having never lost to the Texans in four meetings, the fact that Houston star outside linebacker Mario Williams is out for the season and All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson is out with a pulled hamstring, the Ravens remain wary.
Even though the Texans have lost eight of their past nine road games and Baltimore has won 21 of 26 home games under coach John Harbaugh, the specter of last year’s game still looms.
"The one thing I tell the guys about the Houston is that they never quit," Ravens free safety Ed Reed said. "You’ve just got to play 60 minutes against them. They do not quit."
During the last game, the Texans scored 21 unanswered points as All-Pro running back Arian Foster became the last runner to hit the century mark against the Ravens as he gained 100 yards on 20 carries.
And Schaub engineered drives of 99 and 95 yards as the Texans climbed back into the game.
With 29 seconds remaining in regulation, Schaub finished off a 95-yard drive that began at the Texans’ five-yard line. He connected with Johnson for a five-yard touchdown, completing his ninth of 10 passes on that drive for 87 yards.
The Ravens’ defense was visibly exhausted with linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs down on one knee between plays as they played 56 snaps in the second half and overtime combined.
"Thank God they threw us one in overtime," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "We just ran out of gas. It’s our own fault, because we couldn’t get off the field in third downs. We’ve got to get them in third-and-long and then get them off the field. That’s our job."
The potential of a trap game is obviously there because Williams and Johnson not being a part of this rematch.
However, the Texans have plenty of weapons on both sides of the football.
Their eighth-ranked offense is headlined by Foster and Schaub and is averaging 398.6 yards per contest.
Their defense has former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year linebacker Brian Cushing, Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and speedy former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph, climbing to seventh in the league under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
Phillips’ aggressive 3-4 scheme has transformed the Texans’ defense, which ranked last in the NFL in pass defense a year ago and 30th in total defense and is now sixth against the pass overall.
Nonetheless, not having Williams and Johnson could be hard to overcome despite the ability of rookie outside linebacker Brooks Reed and the Texans’ other capable targets.
"When you think about that next man up, you cannot replace an Andre Johnson, you cannot replace a Mario Williams," running back Ray Rice said. The next man up, I’m not saying they’re better or worse, but, at the same time, those guys are names in the NFL that everybody knows, and they’ve been making plays year-in and year-out.
"So, if we were playing them, we would have to account for those two guys. Having them out, I think, is going to be a blow, but expect those guys to be ready to play."
Harbaugh has emphasized all week that the Texans are a dangerous opponent.
And his players believe him despite the Texans’ lengthy injury report.
"We know those guys are good," Johnson said. "He was definitely bringing it up. He has hammered it in, but you really don’t have to. We know the players they still do have are really good. You can relax or whatever because they’ve got a bunch of injuries, but then you’re going to go out and get beat."
The Ravens have been through this before once this year.
After trouncing the Pittsburgh Steelers to launch the season, they collapsed against the Tennessee Titans with a lackluster, flat performance.
Although the Texans lost to an emotional Oakland Raiders team grieving the death of owner Al Davis a week ago, Schaub passed for a season-high 419 yards. Schaub peppered the Raiders with throws to athletic tight ends Owen Daniels and Joel Dreesen.
Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have never lost in three games following a bye. And the Ravens have won eight of their last nine games following a bye.
Will they be overconfident against the Texans?
"You take a team like Houston lightly, and we saw that with Tennessee where we did not play well coming off a big win, and they will beat you," Johnson said. "I would say Houston is more talented. They have a better scheme and are really aggressive. This team can really hurt you."