After jumping out to a quck 14-0 lead in the first quarter, the Houston Texans found themselves in a 14-7 battle with the Tennessee Titans early in the third quarter. Tennessee had the ball and was looking to drive to tie the game up. Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw a pass toward the right sideline to TE Taylor Thompson that glanced off of his hands and into the air.
Texans SS Danieal Manning caught the ball and 55 yards later was in the end zone with a pick-6 that swung the momentum back to the Texans and opened the flood gates to what would become a 38-14 rout. Manning’s game turning play was the highlight of an outstanding afternoon for Houston’s secondary. He made a major impact throughout the game, finishing with 5 tackles, a team high tying 2 passes defensed and the impressive interception return for the touchdown.
Manning, who last season was the Texans return man on kickoffs and has been one of the better return men in the NFL throughout his career, used those instincts to get to the end zone Sunday. He made the interception along the right sideline and headed upfield. Bolstered by a flattening block from Johnathan Joseph, Manning did the rest, eluding Tennessee offensive players and cutting all away across the field before scampering into the end zone with his first career pick-6.
That got the ball rolling for Houston in the 2nd half, and from there it turned into an avalanche as the Texans would add 17 more points, force 2 more turnovers, and score another defensive touchdown on a second pick-6 of Hasselbeck. To say that Manning’s play set the tone would be an accurate statement. It definitely stood out on a banner day for Houston’s pass defense, who surrendered only 167 yards to go along with the 2 return touchdowns.
It was the second consecutive season that Manning picked off Hasselbeck, but he had a much better ending this time. In the Texans 41-7 week 7 victory in Nashville last year, Manning made a leaping interception of a Hasselback pass. He came down and landed awkardly after the pick, before getting up and returning it several yards before feeling pain in his leg. It was a play in which Manning broke his left leg. After undergoing surgery to repair a fractured left fibula, he rehabbed and returned after missing just four weeks and only three games.
It was a swift return for Manning, who made it back on the short end of the 4 to 8 week recovery timetable. He returned and didn’t miss a beat, capping his first season with the Texans with an interception in the playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Manning has picked up where he left off last season, and is fourth on the team in tackles through four games.
There is no doubt that Houston’s front office and GM Rick Smith made the right decision last offseason. Instead of signing now Philadelphia Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency, the Texans signed Manning and Joseph, solidifying not only one but two spots in the secondary. Their play, veteran leadership and tutelage has been immense in the turnaround and development of a pass defense that is now one of the leagues’ best.