Well, that's that. The Texans franchise record winning streak ended on Sunday afternoon at nine games in a 24-21 loss to the team against whom the streak began, the Indianapolis Colts. Hey, it was bound to end at some point, and most certainly it was fun along the way, watching the Texans put themselves in position for bigger and better things come postseason in the month of January.
In other words, back in September, at 0-3, if you told Texan fans that they can sign up for 9-4 and a near lock as the three-seed in the AFC, we'd have gladly put our name on the page and gobbled that up. However, at some point during a streak like this, you get a little greedy, and in the last couple weeks, dreams of a first round bye had begun to creep in.
So what makes Sunday's loss a little more painful is that things outside of Houston actually broke the Texans way, by and large. The Patriots lost on a miracle ending, the Steelers lost to the damn Raiders. Hell, even the Cowboys gave the Eagles less incentive to try in Week 16 against the Texans by functionally ending Philly's season with an overtime win in Dallas.
Beyond that, though, Andrew Luck was the first really good quarterback to face the Texans since they were riddled by, well, ANDREW LUCK back in Week 4, and he did it to them again. If you're a Texan fan, Sunday was a sobering wake up call to what might be awaiting them when they face quarterbacks better than Josh Allen, Brock Osweiler, and Marcus Mariota in January. Let's get to winners and losers....
4. Patrick Mahomes' MVP candidacy
As I mentioned earlier, there was plenty of carnage in the AFC on Sunday, as three of the four division leaders lost close games. The only one to escape was the Kansas City Chiefs, who needed a miracle of their own to beat the Baltimore Ravens in overtime on Sunday. They were ultimately bailed out, trailing 24-17 late at home, by a miraculous 4th and 9 heave from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill, a throw rolling to his right, throwing back across his body, that only Mahomes (and maybe Aaron Rodgers) can make. Now, the Chiefs have a two-game lead over the field, and Mahomes might have secured a similar lead in the MVP race.
3. Texan tight ends
There was plenty to be concerned about offensively for the Texans on Sunday — the offensive line seemed to be back to their old ways, the team couldn't really run the football, and the Colts took DeAndre Hopkins out of the game fairly easily. However, it was nice to see the tight ends in the game, and not in a "Brock Osweiler involving them because he can't complete balls of more than six yards" kind of way either. Deshaun ain't no Brock, and the tight ends were catching balls at crucial junctures (Jordan Thomas with the one hand grab for a first down comes to mind) and for the occasional explosive play (Ryan Griffin, where did THAT come from?). With no Will Fuller and the slot guys banged up, the tight ends are going to need be ready if this team has any hope of winning a playoff game or two.
2. Andrew Luck
If you're an AFC South team outside of Indy, you had a window there of two years in which you could kick around the Colts and count them out of the mix. Well, the Jacoby Brissett days are over. Andrew Luck is back — yeah, I know they lost 6-0 just a week ago to the Jags — and the floor for the Colts, once again is around 9-7 going forward, with a ceiling to be determined by how well Colts GM Chris Ballard deploys all those draft picks and that cap space he has this offseason. Luck toyed with the Texans for most of the afternoon (399 yards passing), only really slowed down early in the game when his tight ends bobbled two short third down plays to end drives. I like Andrew Luck, he seems like a swell guy, but his being good at football again is problematic.
1. T.Y. Hilton
Of course, even more problematic is the fact that Luck has Hilton to throw to. There seems to be very little secret with what the Colts try to do against the Texans when Hilton is out there — send him deep, and watch guys chase him. On Sunday, Hilton had 199 yards on nine catches, and it looked like a replay of every other game he's played against the Texans. Hilton now has 1,453 yards in 14 games against Houston in his career. More disheartening than that, though, was that this game served as a reminder as to what things may look like in a month or so when the Texans are facing Hill or Antonio Brown or Josh Gordon or Keenan Allen or maybe even Hilton again. Who knows?
4. Texans on first down
The Colts went three and out on their first four possessions, but once they got into a groove, Luck did a nice job of taking underneath stuff to put them in fantastic down and distance situations all afternoon. It felt like the Colts were in 2nd and 3, or 2nd and 2, for nearly the entire time that they were building a 24-14 lead. The Texans were the complete opposite. On Sunday, the Texans found themselves in second down 22 times during the course of the game, and half the time (11 total) their distance to go on first down was double digits, including seven of their nine second downs in the first half. Lamar Miller carried five times for -8 yards on first down in the first half. That's how you fall behind 17-7.
3. Bill Belichick, delicate genius
I mentioned that the Miami Dolphins pulled off a miracle to beat the Patriots 34-33. If you want to re-live the magic, here it was....
The question, aside from "Did Bill Belichick kill somebody for this?", is "What the hell was Rob Gronkowski doing out there on that play?" I get having Gronk out there on defense if it's a Hail Mary throw situation. He's tall, he can knock down passes, I get that. However, we knew this would be a jail break, lateral fest, and Gronk's ability to move laterally and tackle...well, it became a meme....
Gronk trying to make the tackle on the last play pic.twitter.com/SD4L81ijDN— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 9, 2018
It's a shame the Texans couldn't capitalize on this, but if you're a Texan fan be rooting for the Steelers this weekend. It will probably be the last chance for the Patriots to pick up a fifth loss, as they close at home against the Bills and Jets.
2. Slot receiver health
This was the first game since Will Fuller went out with a torn ACL in which his absence was felt VERY acutely, and it was only exacerbated when slot WR Deandre Carter went out with a concussion in the first half. Regular slot WR Keke Coutee was still dealing with a hamstring injury, so the Texans were left with Joe Webb playing the slot for most of the afternoon. Look, nothing is going to replace Fuller's downfield speed, but if this team doesn't have an underneath threat with some wiggle and quickness (news flash — NOT Joe Webb), then the offense is going to move the way it did for most of Sunday afternoon — not well.
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1. Jadeveon Clowney
WHY CLOWNEY, WHY?!?! That's all we could say when the Texans had a chance to get the Colts' offense off the field late in the game on a 3rd and 1, maybe get the ball back, MAYBE let Deshaun Watson pull another rabbit out of his hat, only to have it snuffed out before the play was even run when Clowney bit on an Andrew Luck hard count on a play where there was NO PLAY ACTUALLY CALLED. Their entire intent was to get Clowney to jump, and he obliged. Unfortunately, Clowney was much more cordial in dishing out game-ending penalties for the Colts than he was with the media after the game in explaining himself. He was out of there without answering a single question, a lame move for a guy who's a fantastic, playful quote when things are going well. This was a bad look for Clowney both on the field and in the locker room.
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