DENVER — Matt Schaub's day started with a sack for a safety and ended with him getting X-rays on his aching left shoulder. In between, an illegal hit from linebacker Joe Mays sent both his helmet and a piece of his ear flying.
Despite the blood, bruises and bumps, Schaub said he felt pretty darn good.
He drew a bombardment of praise for his toughness from his teammates, his coaches and even his opponents after withstanding a constant barrage of pass-rushers to lead the Houston Texans past the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning 31-25 on Sunday.
"It's the ultimate compliment when your teammates feel that way about you," Schaub said. "It's just me being the quarterback. I've got to be out there every play and you're going to get hit in this league and you've got to take it and go."
Actually, Schaub had to miss one play after Mays' brutal third-quarter hit.
He had a towel to his left ear to staunch the bleeding while backup T.J. Yates took one snap and handed the ball off.
"I felt fine. I just lost a piece of my ear," Schaub said. "I was bleeding and my helmet came off so I had to come out for a play, but I was fine."
That toughness inspired his teammates.
"It was awesome to see him do that, come back in after taking a big hit, and keep fighting," teammate J.J. Watt said.
"It shows his character and the type of leader he is, the type of guy that is reliable, that you can count on," guard Wade Smith said. "He made a hell of a lot of plays today. He played a great game and was a big reason why we won."
Mays explained to Schaub after the game that he didn't mean any harm and didn't purposefully hit him with the crown of his helmet.
"After the game we shook hands and talked about it. No hard feelings. It's football. It's a physical, violent game," Schaub said. "He said, 'Hey, nothing intentional, nothing personal.' We move on."
Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Schaub didn't even want to come out for that one play.
"His ear was bleeding real bad on the field, to be honest with you," Kubiak said. "That was the biggest reason he even came off the field. But he's fine. Boy, he played like a champ today."
Schaub, who threw for 290 yards, said he had his left shoulder looked at after the game as a precaution but it checked out fine.
Off to a 3-0 start for the first time in their history, the Texans built a 31-11 lead heading into the fourth quarter on the strength of Schaub's four touchdown throws before Manning made it interesting.
Schaub helped seal the win when he hit Andre Johnson for 12 yards on third-and-5 from his 25-yard line with perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey in coverage.
"I was going to go to my guy and 'Dre ran a great route against a very good corner and we were able to get it in there and get a first down and use more of the clock," Schaub said.
"I was right there," Bailey lamented. "It was just two good players making a play. His quarterback put it right where I couldn't get it. Once I started following him around, he didn't have a catch. In crunch time, he made it happen. Got to give him credit for that."
The Texans punted away with 20 seconds left, not enough time for Manning, who fell to 1-2 in Denver after getting harassed all day by Watt, who collected 2½ sacks and four tackles for loss.
"He's a great quarterback and you want to put as much pressure on him as you can," Watt said. "You want to put as many guys in his face as you can. He still made a lot of great throws. They're going to have a heck of a year. He's a great quarterback, but we had a good day defensively."
And Schaub had a great day offensively.
Schaub mixed quick scoring strikes of 60 yards to Johnson and 52 to Kevin Walter on play-action that fooled the Broncos' safeties with a methodical 97-yard touchdown drive in the first half that ended with a 3-yard TD toss to running back Arian Foster.
The Broncos jumped out to a 5-0 start on Elvis Dumervil's sack/safety and Matt Prater's 32-yard field goal before Johnson sped past cornerback Tracy Porter at the line of scrimmage and hauled in Schaub's perfectly thrown pass to put the Texans ahead for good with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
"We gave them points early," Schaub said. "We got backed up and we had a play pass there and I just held it a split-second too long. They have good pass rushers and you hate to start the game that way. And then obviously, you're giving them a short field on the kick afterward.
"But our defense really held up and played extremely well. It was great to get back into the rhythm of the game and get back on our script and be able to hit Andre for the big play."
Tight end Owen Daniels, whose 14-yard touchdown grab made it 31-11, said the Texans aren't going to get this good start get to their heads.
"I don't think we're going to make too much of it, but we've played three games and we've got three wins," he said. "But we've got a long ways to go. We've still got stuff to clean up but it's a great position to be in right now."
Thanks to that tough guy Schaub.
"He's one of the toughest guys I've seen play," Daniels said. "Sometimes, I don't think he gets enough credit for how tough a guy he is. He was taking some shots. I didn't see the shots with my own eyes, but I heard 'em.
"For him to come back in after stepping out for a play and getting his bearings was huge for us and huge for the confidence of the guys in the huddle, knowing that he was going to do everything he could to make sure we won that game."
Notes: Texans OL Ryan Harris played against the team that cut him this summer. ... Schaub went 17 of 30 for 290 yards and a 115.3 passer rating.
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