Schaub's shaky performance the elephant in the room

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Schaub's shaky performance the elephant in the room

FOXBORO -- For the second time in a month, Houston Texans safety Danieal Manning walked out of the visitor's locker room at Gillette Stadium with his No. 38 letterman jacket.

This time he carried it around his arm. And this time, there would be no next time.

Sunday marked Houston's second loss of the year to the Patriots, in New England. But this is the playoffs. And with a 41-28 loss, the Texans' season is done. And it ends in the same round of the playoffs as it did last year.

"We've been down this road before, and we just can't get over this divisional round," said Manning after Sunday's loss. "We felt like we had a great team. We had people that we needed last year, that were able to get into playoffs this year, and still, we couldn't close the door."

He's talking about Matt Schaub, who missed last year's playoffs with a foot injury. With Schaub healthy, the Texans figured this year would be different.

But after another tough loss to the Patriots, and their season over, Schaub's performance was the elephant in Houston's locker room.

Schaub finished the game 34-of-51 for 343 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. But those two touchdown passes came way too late, the timing of the interception was devastating, and at the end of the day, he didn't make as many plays as Tom Brady.

He needed to be great. But on Sunday night, Schaub was, well, not good enough.

"It's quarterback-driven. And I knew it was going to be that way," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak afterwards. "This team's very difficult to run the ball against. We had a lot of opportunities to make plays in the pass game, and we did make a lot. But there were some more that we missed.

"And we talked. You've got to come in here and play great. And he did a lot of dang good things. And it's my job to keep pushing him towards greatness."

Kubiak went on to defend his quarterback, calling Schaub "one of the top quarterbacks in football." But still, it felt as if something was missing.

"You don't get over that hump unless you're willing to keep going back there keep getting yourself in that position," said Kubiak. "It's very, very difficult. I do not take anything for granted for where we are tonight, because it's hard to get there. But I believe in our quarterback wholeheartedly. My point is, we're going to continue to push him to a new level, as a player."

If Schaub was at the level the Texans needed him to be at, he would have put the ball in the end zone well before the fourth quarter. In fact, he should have threw a touchdown pass in the opening possession, after Manning returned the opening kickoff 94 yards, down to New England's 12-yard line.

But instead of a touchdown, the Texans ran three plays and settled for a field goal.

"We had the big return and we want to go out there and put up seven in that situation and they held us to three," said Schaub. "We cant settle down there especially against a team like this in their building; weve got to get touchdowns down there."

Schaub's first pass -- on second down -- should have been caught in the end zone by fullback James Casey, but he dropped the pass. Then, on third down, Schaub had Andre Johnson wide open in the back of the end zone, but the throw was well behind him.

"It got away from me a little bit," said Schaub. "I was a little late with the football going from my read low to high, and the safety was coming from the backside, so I tried to get in there, but it just took off a little on me."

"Those are big plays you've got to make," said Kubiak. "And there's a few of those in this game When you miss them and they make them, in the long haul, that's the difference in winning and losing in this league.

"You've got to step up and make those plays if you want this organization to take the next step."

Again, the elephant in the room.

Following the game, the Texans continued to point out that they "didn't make enough plays" to win the game. That is true, especially in crucial third-down situations.

Houston went 4-for-15 on third down. That's under 27 percent. Not good enough.

"The thing that jumps at me is, I think we must have had five 3rd-and-10's in the first half," said Kubiak. "And they had them too. They made them and we didn't. They made some great plays. And when you get in this environment, you get in games like this, you've got to step up and make those type of plays. And I think we had our opportunities."

Arian Foster did his job on Sunday. He finished the game with 90 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, and 63 receiving yards and a touchdown reception.

But Schaub needed to do more, when the game was still in reach. And with the Texans trailing only 24-13 in the third quarter, Schaub had a chance to finish off a drive that started at his own 10-yard line.

They marched all the way down to New England's 37-yard line, when Schaub threw an interception over the middle to Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, with 4:14 left in the third quarter.

"We liked the look with James Casey working over the middle, and they dropped a D-end out there, and I just didn't get enough height on it," said Schaub. "Ninkovich jumped up and made the play and ultimately hes the one that came down with the ball. But we had a play with James just over the top of that defensive end."

Ninkovich made the play, and Brady turned it into a six-play, 63-yard touchdown drive and a 31-13 Patriots lead.

Schaub's two touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter. By then, it was too little, too late. And it ended in a 41-28 Patriots win, leaving the Texans questioning what went wrong.

Actually, they weren't questioning. They already knew the answer.

"That's the thing, when you play against a team like this, they're capable of scoring every time they touch the ball," said a discouraged Johnson after the loss. "And we knew that. We knew that we had to come in and score points as an offense. And not kick field goals, but score touchdowns when we got in the red zone.

"They made more plays than we made, and they won the game."

Schaub was asked if he felt his name belongs in the same level as the four quarterbacks who are moving onto the conference championships. Those quarterbacks are Brady, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Colin Kaepernick.

"There is no doubt that I belong," said Schaub. "I think I belong right up there with every one of them."

The Texans thought Schaub's presence would help them get further than they did last year. But that was obviously not the case.

"You feel like, when you get back to the same spot that you were last year, you think you'd be able to overcome the things that you went through last year," said Johnson. "We got back to the same spot, and ended in the same spot. So we weren't able to overcome those things.

Johnson also pointed out that you don't get many shots at a championship, with the type of talent the Texans have on the roster.

"It took me nine years just to get two shots," Johnson. "So, I don't know. We just have to keep fighting, keep working, and keep banging on that door. And hopefully it will fall down."

As we saw on Sunday, that won't happen until Schaub takes his game to that next level.

It's the elephant in the room.

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

BOSTON -- The decision to sit out Saturday night's game against the Islanders, for whatever issue needed healing, worked wonders for Tuukka Rask.

Rask looked fresh, strong and determined while stopping 24 of 25 shots in a 4-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday night, and, at the very least, temporarily quieting talk of his missing Saturday's win over the Islanders because of a lower-body injury that wasn't disclosed until the day of the game. It also snapped his personal four-game losing streak, in which Rask had allowed 15 goals on 95 shots (an .842 save percentage) and hit rock bottom while surrendering a couple of damaging soft goals in last week's loss to the Lightning.

After watching Anton Khudobin battle, brawl and double-pad-stack his way to a huge win in Brooklyn on Saturday, Rask played with his own battling style Tuesday, fighting through Nashville attackers as he limited the the Preds to one goal.

"I loved [his battle]," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "He really worked hard to find pucks in traffic. They created some good opportunities, and even the goal against, he found it. They just tipped it at eye level so it was going to be a tough one, and we need to be better in the shooting lane on that one.

"But I thought he was terrific, very pleased with his performance. If you've got to track pucks, you've got to find pucks and you've got to fight through bodies, and he did a real good job with it.

"I thought we played well in front of him, but when we broke down it seemed to be in those areas where we couldn't break the puck up below our goal line. [There were] lot of bodies, a lot of point shots. This is the type of team, [Ryan] Ellis, [P.K.] Subban, [Roman] Josi, they rely on that part of the game and traffic. It was going to be a test for [the defense] there. I thought [Rask] answered the bell and in a terrific manner."

There were no two ways about it, Rask was truly excellent in a game where he had to be.

He made a save in the second period on Viktor Arvidsson when a David Backes turnover at the half-wall gave Arvidsson a wide open look at the net, and made 9 of his 24 saves in the third period as the Predators ramped up the desperation once Craig Smith had broken through on a tipped Josi shot. He also was the beneficiary of 24 blocked shots from the defenders in front of him. Adam McQuaid had five of the blocks all by himself,  absorbing all kinds of bumps and bruises in the process.

It was clear that the Bruins, as a team, were in late-season urgency mode.

"Well, we needed [a win]," said Rask. "Personally, I mean, I've lost four games but played a couple good games there, and we just didn't get the bounces. But we kind of got in winning habits there in [Broooklyn] and me stepping in here, I just wanted to make sure that I gave us a chance to win. The guys did the rest. So, it was a great team effort today, I think. As I said before, we blocked a lot of shots, which is huge."

So does one solid performance mean everything is settled for the B's No. 1 netminder after sitting out last weekend?

It certainly goes a long way toward putting some distance between Rask and whatever lower-body injury popped up and then disappeared just as quickly, and it puts a bit more of an optimistic spin for the remainder of the season. Rask didn't actively listen to any of the criticism of the last couple of days, but he fully understands that it comes along with the territory of being the No. 1 goalie in a city that takes hockey seriously.

"I can't do anything about what people say," said Rask, who took a pretty good hit on a Predators drive to the net in the third period but kept right on trucking. "I'm not staying home because I want to say home. I'm not playing because I don't want to play. I don't think any athlete does that. Obviously what's happened where I missed a game [vs. Ottawa] last year, people are going to talk about it. That's just the nature of media people, and what they talk about. It's fine.

"[All you can do is] you try not to read any of it, you stay even-keeled and you play the game the right way."

But the bottom line is the Bruins need much more of what they saw from Rask on Tuesday -- determined, tough-minded, a strong No. 1 goalie -- in the final six games if they want to be a playoff team this year.

He played well enough in the first few months, carrying the Bruins through the early portion of the season, to make people forget about calling in sick against Ottawa in the final game of last season. That's to Rask's credit. But last weekend's action, or lack of it, brought some of those same nagging questions back. He needs to build on Tuesday's encouraging performance to continue instilling confidence that he's a big-time No. 1 goalie.

Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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