With 3:18 left in the second quarter of the Houston Texans' 29-22 win over the New York Jets on Saturday night, the Jets were facing a 3rd and 3 at their own 24 yard line, trailing 16-3, and essentially floundering in every aspect of NFL football. At that particular juncture of the game, advanced analytics indicated that the Texans' win probability was 93.0 percent.
However, anyone who's watched the 2018 version of the Houston Texans knows that win probabilities amidst prosperity mean nothing with this team, and sure enough, Sam Darnold scrambled for a first down, and as the Jets slowly crept back into the game, the game took on a very familiar feeling. The Texans have routinely allowed lesser teams to hang around in games all season long. Early in the season, that dynamic led to three losses. Since then, though, aside from one hiccup against the Colts a week ago, it's led to ten wins.
On Saturday evening, the Texans not only allowed the woeful Jets to hang around, but allowed them to take a 22-19 lead with five minutes to go. Fortunately, the Texans have a magical young quarterback, with balls the size of grapefruits, and on an evening where Deshaun Watson's struggles with the Jets' pass rush belied a fairly stellar stat line (21 of 28, 294 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT), the young quarterback picked the perfect time to engineer his fifth fourth quarter comeback of 2018.
To put that last sentence into perspective, Matt Schaub engineered 11 fourth quarter comebacks in his entire Texans CAREER. Again, Deshaun has five THIS SEASON, which by the way, lines up pretty favorably alongside some historical greats:
So, on a night where Texan fans' hand-wringing appropriately amped up as pertains to just how the Texans are going to manage their seemingly growing number of flaws when the postseason gets here, we were reminded that they do have one thing they've never had — a quarterback who always, ALWAYS gives them a chance to win. So, let's start there...
4. Deshaun to DeAndre
To say Todd Bowles and the Jets employed an odd game plan against DeAndre Hopkins would be an understatement. I mean, it seemed like last week that the Colts gave everyone else the code to bottle up the Texans' offense — double Hop, and make everyone else beat you. Instead, Bowles used a ton of single coverage on Hopkins, and Watson ate them up. (Maybe this is why Bowles will be fired within the next two weeks... and maybe there are 50 other reasons.) On this night, Watson and Hopkins connected 10 times on 11 targets, for 170 yards, and two touchdowns, including the game winner, a spectacular grab along the left edge of the end zone with a defensive back draped all over Hopkins. Watson had a perfect 158.3 passer rating targeting Hopkins, and Hopkins showed, once again, why he is the best football player on this team, and the best receiver in football.
3. Texan -6.5 backers
Win probability is one thing, but there's also the probability of covering the spread, and for those of
us you out there who love to gamble, it was a tense evening, if you were backing the Texans -6.5. Once the Jets scored their second touchdown to cut the lead to 16-15, it was very apparent that covering a spread of a touchdown or more was going to be an issue for the Texans, especially given how anemic their running game was once Lamar Miller left the game. However, the Texans -6.5 backers got a gift from the gambling gods, when the Jets correctly decided to go for it on 4th down deep in their own territory, trailing by four with a little over two minutes to go. The Jets failed to convert, the Texans ran the ball three times unsuccessfully (because that's just what they do), and Ka'imi Fairbairn kicked a 40-yard field goal to give the Texans a 29-22 lead, and send Texans' bettors home elated, knowing they stole a gambling win they had no business getting. Hey, speaking of the Texans' placekicker...
2. Ka'imi Fairbairn
Fairbairn has quietly become one of the most reliable kickers in the league, showing a great efficiency from distance — Saturday, he kicked a 53-yard field goal and 49-yard field goal — and an underrated ability to send kickoffs out the back of the end zone on a nearly constant basis, a huge key considering that Jets' return guy Andre Roberts has been monster in the return game all season. The biggest thing with Fairbairn over the course of the season is that he's been asked to make kicks in bigger and bigger spots, and let's face it — in the postseason, the Texans' best case scenario is that they will be playing tight, one possession games with the likes of the Chiefs, Patriots, and such. They will need a reliable field goal kicker, and they appear to have found one that can be that guy for a long, long time.
1. Sam Darnold
Given the Jets' difficulties protecting the passer this season, and given Darnold's proclivity for spitting the seed (15 interceptions in 10 starts, coming into Saturday night), I figured Saturday night's effort from the Texans' defense to mirror and exceed what they did to Baker Mayfield a couple weeks ago, when they forced the Browns' rookie QB into three turnovers. They didn't sack Mayfield that game, and hence my "exceed" projection for the Jets game — I figured the Texans would sprinkle in a handful of sacks to go with a few turnovers. Well, I was definitely wrong about Darnold. The 2018 third overall pick in the draft put pressure on the Texans' defense all night long with his underrated mobility and his ability to make difficult throws on the run. He managed the game about as well as you could expect, and engineered scoring drives of 13, 9, 8, and 15 plays. My biggest takeaway from this game, aside from Watson's apparent dabbling in witchcraft, was that the Jets should feel good about their future under center.
4. Jason Myers
On the scoreboard, Mayers' two missed PAT's didn't cost the Jets the game. It was two missed points in a seven point loss. However, if you watch a game in its entirety, especially with a rooting interest, you know that game pressure can be a funny thing, and Myers' first miss sent the Texans into the locker room with a seven point lead, not a six point lead, so they could feel okay about being up a full touchdown. The second PAT miss allowed the Texans to maintain a 16-15 lead, so instead of being down 17-16, the Texans could at least say "Hey, we weathered this two touchdown disaster on defense and we're still winning." Put another way, imagine if the Texans were protecting a two point lead instead of a four point lead on the final Jets possessions of the game Saturday. I wasn't wild when the NFL decided to move the extra point back a few years ago, but I have to say, it's added a little bit of drama, and it may have, in an odd way, saved the Texans on Saturday night.
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3. Keke Coutee's hamstring
So Coutee missed another game on Saturday night, with the most problematic hamstring since Chris Paul's in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. (What the hell is it about hamstrings in this city?) At this point, even if Coutee is fully healthy, I'm leaning toward the team waiting until the postseason to bring him back. I think they can cobble things together okay with DeAndre Carter the next two weeks, and then Coutee can return to help the Texans unleash a few different things on their playoff opponents.
2. The Alfred Blue Express (slowest express EVER)
For the entire season, the Texans' running game has centered around Lamar Miller's largely consistent, mostly workmanlike play (with a few spectacular moments sprinkled in) with a secondary dosage of Alfred Blue grinding out three yards a carry (if he's lucky) for like eight carries a game. On Saturday, we got a sobering slap in the face as to just how pedestrian this running game is right now, when Miller left the game with an injury in the first half. Blue ran for six yards on nine carries, in a depressingly non-shocking lack of any type of explosiveness. While I think the Texans would be wise to play it slow with bringing Coutee back, I think the opposite about D'Onta Foreman — if Foreman is ready to go and healthy enough to play, he needs to be active next week, if for no other reason so as to avoid a situation where Alfred Freaking Blue is the Texans' only healthy running back because of an in-game injury.
1. Shareece Wright
God bless Shareece Wright, who gave the Texans more through the first 12 games of the season than any slow footed, street free agent cornerback had any business giving a team. However, in the last two weeks, Wright has been exposed, first by Andrew Luck and the Colts, and then on Saturday by the Jets, who ran the EXACT SAME ROUTE that the Colts used to beat Wright for a touchdown in Week 14 to get themselves a touchdown to make it 16-15 on Saturday night. As long as we're discussing reentry plans for injured players, it's time to start working cornerback Aaron Colvin back into the mix, which it appeared the Texans started to do in the second half on Saturday. Kayvon Webster could be back soon as well, but all of these names we're tossing around at cornerback underscore the real issue — the Texans don't have anybody who can run with elite speed guys, and when the quarterbacks' names on the other side are Mahomes, Brady, or Rivers (and not, say, Osweiler, Keenum, and Peterman), this is going to be a real problem. If the Texans are fortunate enough to get to a playoff game with the Chiefs, they might need aliens to abduct Tyreek Hill.
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