It was 16-13 entering the fourth quarter of the Broncos-Texans game at Reliant on Sunday. After three quarters, the Texans actually had a shot at beating the team many believe will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year. Then Peyton Manning did what he does. He threw three touchdowns, including an NFL record-tying and clinching 50th and 51st of the season, and snatched defeat for the Texans from the jaws of victory.
Not surprisingly, the game turned on a Matt Schaub interception that was not run back for a touchdown, but was on their end of the field. Schaub, who got the start for an injured Case Keenum, had 176 yards on the day with one TD and two picks against a very mediocre Denver defense. Still, the Texans defense, which mixed up blitzes and ran some zone coverages against Manning and the Broncos, held the Denver offense down...until it didn't.
For at least a half, the Broncos played the part of the Texans, racking up penalty yards that stalled drives, but the Texans were unable to capitalize and Manning eventually found a way to win.
Unfortunately, the Washington Redskins managed to lose in their own creative way against the Cowboys, meaning the Texans must lose to Tennessee next week in order to clinch the first pick in the NFL draft, in a sort of backward, bizarro-world version of being forced to win a game to make the playoffs.
What went right: 45 Minutes The Texans, all season, have managed to put together one good half, usually the first one, and crater in the second. This time, they managed three quarters of relatively solid play before collapsing under the weight of Manning's impending MVP trophy.
What went wrong: Running Back Injuries Eventually, they might just have to do a lottery and pull people out of the stands. The Texans were already down Arian Foster and Ben Tate for the season. Dennis Johnson didn't last the game, and even Deji Karim pulled up hurt late. Jonathan Grimes, a former roster casualty of the Texans, came in and ran for 23 yards, which was 16 yards more than he had run in his entire career.
What must improve: I got nothin'. After this nightmare of a season, it's nearly impossible to find something that doesn't need to improve. Even Andre Johnson -- we're certain lost in a fog of dreaming about the offseason -- dropped a gimme in the end zone. It has just been that kind of season.
What should stay the same: You've got that losing feeling... One more to go and the Texans sew up the number one pick in the draft. Not that there is necessarily anyone there deserving of that selection -- arguments can be made for Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota (if he decides to leave school) and Jadeveon Clowney -- but having the pick puts them in the driver's seat to keep it or trade it. Better to have the option than be sitting in second or third hoping for the team's in front of you to leave the player you want. What did we learn from the game? Peyton Manning is good. Better that NFL single-season touchdown record is in his hands that smarmy Tom Brady. He's been killing the Texans for years, but you have to give the man his due. He is one of the all-time greats and it showed yet again on Sunday.
What do we never want to see/hear again? Dan Fouts was stumbling and bumbling all over himself on Sunday. I have to wonder if some of these guys get bored towards the end of the season, particularly in games with crappy teams like the Texans, so much so that they just don't prepare. He sounded, at times, like a guy who had read some press clippings 10 minutes before kickoff, clapped his hands together and said, "Let's do this!"
Key Moment of the Game The Texans had clearly gained the momentum, something unfamiliar to them all season, when Matt Schaub threw a pass to DeAndre Hopkins on a sideline route. Mike Adams stepped in front picking it off in a beautiful play before falling out of bounds. Two plays later the Broncos were in the end zone and the route had begun.
Game Balls: Vance Joseph Give some credit to Joseph who was making the defensive play calls. Despite working most of the game without Jonathan Joseph, who suffered a foot injury in the first half, he held Peyton Manning in check most of the game. For the Texans of this season, that counts as progress.
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Goats of the Week: Ed Hochuli's Guns Where were they Sunday? I'm pretty sure if he were allowed, Hochuli, the NFL referee version of Mr. Universe, would wear a muscle shirt and grease up for games. Yet, for some reason, those bad boys were tucked away inside his shirt. Maybe he's put on a couple pounds during the holidays or something and didn't want people seeing him, you know, "in this condition."
Random thought of the week: Would the Texans actually start Grimes next week if Johnson and Karim are hurt? Seriously?
Next Up: at Tennessee The Titans squeaked out a win against Jacksonville on Sunday giving hope that the former Oilers can still put a whoppin' on the Texans in Nashville. Fingers crossed.