MIAMI — Matt Schaub won’t remember Sunday’s Pro Bowl as any kind of turning point in his career. He’s way too practical for that.
He understands quarterbacks ultimately are judged by their ability to get a team to the playoffs and then to win in the playoffs. By that measuring stick, he’s not there yet.
This was the season he proved he could stay healthy and fulfill a lot of the expectations the Texans always have had for him. And he capped it all off with a near-perfect performance in his first Pro Bowl.
“This was a game you watched as a kid and maybe wondered if you could be here some day,” he said. “It gives you a lot of confidence. There was a ton of great players out here, and to be mentioned in the same breath is an honor. It just feels great.”
Playing in the first and fourth quarters, he completed 13 of 17 passes for two touchdowns and led the AFC to a 41-34 victory with on an 11-play, 76-yard game-winning drive.
He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and, after exchanging bear-hugs with teammates Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, searched for some perspective.
“To be here with three of my teammates says a lot about what we’re doing in Houston,” he said. “We made a huge step forward this season. Now, it’s about taking the next one.”
This season, the Texans had their first winning season at 9-7, in large part, because they got the Matt Schaub they thought they were getting when he arrived three summers ago.
“He showed what kind of player he is,” Johnson said. “He deserved this. All he needed to do was stay on the field. We’ve known what kind of player Matt is.”
Schaub is 19-14 in games he has started and finished for the Texans, but the really important goals remain unrealized. So the portrait is a work in progress. What this season represents is another step in the right direction.
Schaub was among the NFL’s best quarterbacks this season, and the Pro Bowl was a reward for a job well done. It was an opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the NFL’s best players and enjoy the first-class treatment elite players are supposed to get.
He played two series in the first half and threw a touchdown pass in each.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It was a great week getting to know all these guys and having a good time.”
He began the game with five consecutive completions, the last one a 33-yard scoring throw to Johnson. The Texans wide receiver ran a double move, Schaub pumped once and that was that. As teammate Eric Winston tweeted, “Seen that before somewhere.”
“I told him all week we were going to get that play,” Schaub said. “He made a great move.”
Schaub finished his second drive with a 23-yard scoring pass to Brandon Marshall. In his first two seasons, Schaub started and finished just 17 of 32 games, but this season he went wire to wire. Actually, he did more than that.
He played despite an ankle injury in the opener and came back into a game against Jacksonville after having his left shoulder popped back into place.
He was in the top 10 in the NFL in yardage (first), completion percentage (fourth), touchdowns (fifth) and passer rating (seventh). He was second in the league with 62 completions of at least 20 yards and fourth with 15 completions of at least 40 yards.
“It’s very rewarding,” Schaub said. “You don’t get many opportunities to do that, and I just feel privileged to be in an offense that allows us to do those type of things and have the guys on the offensive side that can make those plays. It was just me giving a guy a chance and him making a play.”
Quarterbacks can’t be measured just by the numbers. There’s also poise, leadership and work ethic. Schaub is first-rate in all these areas. Next season will be about taking another step — and making the playoffs.
“When he came out of the locker room in Jacksonville after (getting hurt on) the first play of the game, it lifted the team, the coaching staff, it lifted everybody,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “He’s got himself in the company of some great ones now, and now he needs to propel his team to the next level. The one thing that was never in doubt, when we went and got Matt, was how important football was to him. Matt loves to play. It’s important, and he works very hard at it. You can’t substitute for that.”
The Texans finished this season with an empty feeling because of the close losses and the near-miss of the playoffs. But Sunday night, Schaub and his friends made the most of their consolation prize.
By RICHARD JUSTICE