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Texans confident Leinart can keep playoff train rolling; mail

An hour later, it was learned Houston quarterback Matt Schaub will miss time -- probably the season -- with a mid-foot sprain that could require surgery. For a team that was winning without major stars Mario Williams and Andre Johnson, this seemed almost a cruel blow, almost too much for one team to take and keep winning. And it may be. Now quarterback Matt Leinart steps into the breach. All he'll be asked to do -- following his failed experiment as starting quarterback for the Cardinals -- is keep the Texans atop the AFC South and in contention for not only the franchise's first playoff spot ever, but also a bye in the first week of the playoffs.

"He has been waiting for this moment,'' said right tackle Eric Winston last night. "Obviously, this isn't ideal, losing your starting quarterback while you're in a serious playoff chase. But I really believe he can do it -- execute our offense and keep us on track.''

The Texans have their bye this week, which helps. They have a manageable schedule in the last six weeks, which helps more: at Jacksonville, Atlanta, at Cincinnati, Carolina, at Indianapolis, Tennessee. And they have a guy, Winston claims, who we don't know very well.

"When people ask me what Matt Leinart's like, I think they expect me to say he's some brash, cocky kid who doesn't work very hard,'' Winston said. "It's totally wrong. The first year he was here, he wanted to come in on Saturday to do extra work to try to catch up in the offense. Nobody knows that side of him. He's been a great teammate, totally supportive of Matt, and well-liked in the locker room. He knows, we all know, that quarterback is not an easily replaceable piece. But I believe the guys on this team really have faith he can do it.''

Most of the football world will expect teams now to crowd the line and shut off the amazingly productive Arian Foster and force Leinart to beat them. I'd say the Texans would enjoy that. When they come back from the bye, Johnson's injured hamstring is expected to be near 100 percent. I'd challenge any team to leave Johnson single-covered for jump balls downfield. "Andre will be a huge safety valve for Leinart,'' Winston said.

And he's got an extra week to prepare as the No. 1 guy, even though the Texans will be off a full four days before returning to work next week. If Leinart fails, it will be a performance issue for him -- not a preparation issue. One of the best stories down the stretch of this season will be to see if Leinart can keep the train moving.

Final note: Schaub's injury means that the top four players on the Texans (arguably) -- Schaub, Foster, Johnson and Williams -- will have been playing for a total of one quarter together all season. If the Texans hang on, it'll be a tribute to the team that Smith and coach Gary Kubiak have built over the last few years.

Now for your email:

GOOD QUESTION. "Question re: Legacy Fund ... Don't the retired players bear some responsibility for their plight for not making CBA deals during their playing years that were more long-range in scope, rather than just go for the best up-front money deal possible? I saw this a lot during my years working in a union; reps were more concerned with squeezing every penny of salary they could, and far less concerned with actually improving pension benefits. Comment: Excellent points about Joe Paterno; I agree completely. The real issue that bothers me (aside from Sandusky's heinous crimes, of course) is: how does a 28 year-old former college player witness a sexual act of some kind involving a much older man and a preteen boy, and not go rushing in to break things up? That, to me, is far more disturbing that anything Paterno may or may not have done.''-- Keith, Baltimore

Lots of people who wrote in this week feel the way you do -- that players should prepare more for their retirement and not rely on the NFL to give them their entire post-career nest egg. Problem is, when you compare it to other sports like baseball, football's pension is sorely lacking. Re Penn State: Now that the assistant coach has come out and claimed he did more than people thought, I repeat what I have maintained for a week -- these charges, and this story, is so incendiary that I prefer on many of the major points to wait 'til the whole story is out before nailing anyone's reputation to the wall.

DEFENDING REID. "Peter, I just don't get it. I'm a Packer fan and couldn't really care much less about what happens to the Eagles, but I hear the trumpets sounding for Andy Reid's job. After so many years of great football, NFC championships, and a Super Bowl appearance, is it a reality that his job is in jeopardy? After only nine games of mediocre football, does he not get any benefit of the doubt? Is this because Philly has no patience and just can't appreciate a good coach? All I've ever heard about Reid is how great a coach he is and now, within a half a season, he's got to go. It just seems crazy to me.''-- Matt, Blaine, Minn.

Me too.

A REMEDY FOR THURSDAY TRAVEL AND THE SHORT WEEK. "Regarding the Thursday night games and how the coaches dislike them due to the time constraints placed on the teams, I have a solution. Have a Thursday night game every week, with the two teams playing that game taking the previous and following Sundays off. This serves a couple of purposes; it effectively eliminates the bye weeks, it reduces the stress of playing on a Thursday following a Sunday game (especially for the road team), and it puts every team on nationally televised game.

There are 32 teams in the league, so there would need to be 16 Thursday games scheduled. Currently Detroit and Dallas host the Thanksgiving Thursday day games, with one more team hosting a night game. That leaves the NFL with needing to fill 13 more Thursdays over a 16 week timeframe. There may need to be 'tweaking' done to this to make it work, but I can't see a downside. The NFL network gets live games to carry throughout the season (more ad revenue ), fans of the lower level teams get to have their teams play in prime time, and the teams don't have to compress a six-day work week into three days.''-- Marc Courtney, Syracuse

Interesting idea. Like it a lot. Listening, NFL?

HE DOESN'T THINK ELI BELONGS. "Love the column and appreciate your Monday insight every week. One thing I don't get is how you continue to mainly put quarterbacks on the MVP list. While I'm a Giants fan and think we've had more "Good Eli" than "Bad Eli" moments this season, to list him as an MVP candidate over Matt Forte or Arian Foster is just wrong. These two players have accounted for over 50 percent of their teams' production and if not for the undefeated Packers, would both be #1 in their respective divisions. I also believe that Matt Forte and the Bears defense is the only reason that team is winning, while Arian Foster had overshadowed the fact that nobody other than Andre Johnson is a number one receiver on the Texans. Please give some due respect to these running backs.''-- Jeff Borck, Chappaqua, N.Y.

Good point. I just think the role quarterbacks play in terms of the word "value'' is far more important than players at other positions. After Manning drove 85 and 80 yards on the Patriots in the last seven minutes in Week 9, I thought he deserved a spot because of what he'd done in driving the Giants to not only that win but also to the top of their division with the injuries the Giants have played through. I believe quarterbacks have an edge in the MVP discussion because they're the most irreplaceable players on most teams. I love Arian Foster and I believe he has great value. But if you have to play without one player on that offense -- Foster or Matt Schaub -- would you honestly tell me you'd rather be missing Schaub?

PATERNO, ETC. "I am disappointed that you think that Joe Paterno has been treated unfairly. How should someone in a position of authority be treated if they are informed of an adult touching a child in a sexual nature and do nothing to stop the behavior? This is what Joe Paterno has admitted to in a grand jury setting. Informing your superior (a day after being told) and then never following up is not acceptable behavior from someone in a position of authority...ever.

The outrage against Joe Paterno is not against his legal obligations, it is against his moral ones. While you may have been trying to be kind and show that Penn State students are thoughtful and intelligent, Ms. Kaplan came off as the blindest type of Paterno apologist there could be. I wonder if she thinks the victims of abuse would rather have a small agricultural school than the institution that Joe Pa built?''-- Shawn Bunn, Cambridge, Mass.

My only point through all of this is simple: There is much we don't know about the happenings in 1998 and 2002 involving Sandusky's and Paterno's culpability. Why the rush to judgment, particularly with a man who has done good for a long time? As I wrote Monday, there may come a day when I'll view Paterno as a scoundrel. Before I do, I'd like to know all the facts.

MORE PATERNO. "Thanks for your take on the Penn State scandal. As a local writer said, this became a competition of 'I hate child abuse more' among the media, so I know that your call for patience will not go without criticism. As a PSU alum I know that Joe had to go, but your point about Sandusky and Joe being portrayed as suspects 1a and 1b is exactly what I've been feeling all week.''-- Jim, Jacksonville

Thanks for writing.

ON DEVIN HESTER. "Devin Hester may be having the best year of his career, and he has cemented his position as the greatest returner ever. The scary thing is that he still has a long way to go in his career. By the time he is done, his career return stats should dwarf the accomplishments of every returner before him. My friends and I were debating whether he is a Hall of Famer. There are no players in the Hall of Fame for punting, and similarly, I am not sure that a returner makes enough of a quantifiable impact to ever be enshrined, even if he is the best returner ever. What do you think?''-- Stephen Whiting, Provo, Utah

Other than in patently obvious cases (Dan Marino, Barry Sanders), I never form a final opinion on a player's Hall chances before his career is finished. It's not fair. Your question has to be -- because tomorrow isn't promised to anyone -- whether Hester would be a Hall of Famer if he never played another snap. And I would just say this: Regardless of whether a player is a special-teamer or offensive or defensive, if I believe he is among the very best who ever played his position in the NFL, I consider him strongly for the Hall.

EMILY KAPLAN ROCKS. "Please pass on to Emily Kaplan that she is a terrific, insightful, well-written young woman. She is a credit to her parents and Penn State. I hope she continues to advocate for an outstanding university. Our daughter was just accepted onto the Main Campus of Penn State, and she is thrilled with the opportunity to earn at least her undergraduate degree from Penn State. She has three younger brothers, and we are sickened by the accusations made in this matter, and we pray for the victims and their families. While we have been rocked by this scandal, it does not change how we view State College or the University itself.

I hope it is not true that students are losing internships or that sponsors are withdrawing from THON, an amazing student-run philanthropic effort. What a truly stupid knee-jerk reaction that would be, to lose the opportunity to work with serious, talented students, or to withdraw support from fundraising for children suffering from pediatric cancer. I cannot imagine that the victims of this scandal believe that sponsoring THON and all it stands for is a proper reaction to this matter.

Finally, I thank Emily for her refusal to abandon Joe Paterno and all that he has striven to achieve at Penn State. If we all attempted to live our lives modeled on the values espoused by Joseph V. Paterno and his wife, Sue, for the 60 plus years they have been associated with Penn State, this world would be a far better place. The failures that occurred in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case involve many, many people starting in at least 1994, and Joe Paterno and the University should not be viewed solely through the lens of this tragedy. Emily, we stand with you: WE ARE ... PENN STATE!!''-- Sharyn Bowser, Tallmadge, Ohio

Thanks for the email, Sharyn. I will be sure Emily sees it.