Five Underrated Plays in the Texans' Comeback Against the Colts

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When I write on similar topics two days in a row, which happens a lot with the Texans during the NFL season, I at least try to mix up the way that I lead into a post on here. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. Also, recycling, while good for the environment in real life, can be construed as lazy in the writing world.

However, today, two days removed from the Texans improbable season-saving 26-23 win over the Colts at NRG Stadium, is a day where I shall unapologetically lead off a post with the exact same embedded tweet that I used in yesterday's post, mostly because it's as beautiful as it is unlikely...

That was the Texans' win probability, ONE PERCENT, when Houston called a mind numbing timeout with 4:56 to go in regulation on a 3rd down and 9 with the play cock nearly expiring and the game clock running, another bad clock management gaffe from a Bill O'Brien-coached offense that will get largely ignored because of the final outcome. On top of that improbable winning percentage, it had also been ten years since the Colts coughed up a second half lead on the road. TEN YEARS. And that streak was broken Sunday night by the Texans. 

The Texans, fortunately, converted that 3rd down out of the timeout, and after that third down conversion, there were a handful of other plays that will go unnoticed or perhaps understated in their magnitude.

Any play that contributed to this win, by proxy, saved the Texans's 2016 season. I truly feel that to be the case, that if the Texans were to have gone on to lose that game, at home to a leaky division rival, we would have been veering into a territory where this city was ready to cash out on the head coach and quarterback.

The last time the Texans were in that spot, 2013 happened. 

Thankfully, the Texans got the ship righted just in time, and as we go back and dissect the comeback, here are five plays that were absolutely crucial, with profound ripple effects. If you see any of the players involved in these plays out in public, you go up and give them a BIG KISS ON THE MOUTH, as Les Miles would say... (IF you're a girl)

* 4th quarter, 3:57 to go
HOUSTON 1st and 10, IND 25 yard line
PLAY: DeAndre Hopkins 12-yard catch

The aforementioned 3rd and 9 play out of the Texans's timeout was the first of four consecutive short pass plays to DeAndre Hopkins. This was the fourth and final one. The reason I cite this play is because of two encouraging things, aside from the chunk of yardage that got the Texans into the red zone to set up Lamar Miller's circus touchdown catch and run. First, Osweiler showed a nice ability to dance free of the clutter around the pocket and find Hopkins. Second, and perhaps more subtle, left tackle Duane Brown showed that his surgically repaired quad tendon is up to the task of defending bull rushes from the likes of Robert Mathis...

Two plays later...

* 4th quarter, 2:47 to go
HOUSTON 3rd and 7, IND 10 yard line
PLAY: Lamar Miller ten-yard touchdown catch 
I know you're probably like "Hey Sean, how can you call a play on which the Texans scored a touchdown 'underrated'?" And that's a fair question. Here's what I'll say about this touchdown. First, purely from an analytical standpoint, Miller's crazy play making skills turn what would've been a do-or-die 4th and 4 into a touchdown that accomplished all of the following — 1. cut the Colts's lead in half, 2. gave the Texans and the fans still there in the building some degree of belief, 3. stopped a clock that was bleeding down painfully throughout the drive, which also... 4. kept the Texans's kickoff to the Colts on the right side of the two minute warning, which was necessary at that point, given the Texans only had two timeouts remaining. In other words, it effectively ensured the Texans the option to kick off to the Colts and not resort to an onside kick. Considering that losing this game could've sent the season into a death spiral, I don't think it's a reach to say that this play saved the Texans's season...

* 4th quarter, 2:28 to go
INDIANAPOLIS 2nd and 8, IND 23 yard line
PLAY: Erik Swoope false start penalty

This was the drive where the Colts just needed a first down in order to ice the game, and on 2nd and 8, Swoope (a former basketball player from the University of Miami) flinched just a tad, drawing a five-yard flag. It was a serendipitous five yards for the Texans, when you consider that Swoope wouldn't have even been in the game if Colts starting TE Dwayne Allen hadn't left the game with a lower leg injury earlier Sunday night. Those five yards took handing off to Frank Gore out of the picture as a reasonable option to get the first down. On the very next play (2nd and 13), the Colts rolled Andrew Luck out to the right, WR T.Y. Hilton fell down on a crossing route and Texans safety Andre Hal was free to make a run at Luck and sacked him for a seven-yard loss. The next play, 3rd and 20, the Colts handed off to Gore for a one-yard loss to take the clock down to the two minute warning, before punting away. The difference between 2nd and 8 — still a running down — and 2nd and 13 was the key to that stop for the Texans, as it turned Gore, who had the first 100-yard game for a Colts running back in 55 games, into a non factor. 

* 4th quarter, 0:31 to go
INDIANAPOLIS 2nd and 8, IND 48 yard line
PLAY: Bernardrick McKinney pressure on Andrew Luck

After the Texans' tying touchdown, there were still 49 seconds remaining on the clock. After a short kickoff the Colts got the ball back, 1st and 10 at their own 32 yard line. After an 18-yard pass to Chester Rogers got the Colts to midfield, and a two-yard scramble by Luck for them into Texans territory, an Adam Vinatieri field goal attempt was looking like it could become a reality. On 2nd and 8, Luck dropped back to throw, and Texans inside linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, who's become a force as an extra pass rusher, got just enough heat on Luck to force a short throw to a wide open Hilton on a play that was originally ruled an 11-yard catch that would've set up the Colts with 1st and 10 at the Texans's 37 yard line. Instead, after a reply review showed the ball hitting the ground, the play was overturned and the Colts eventually punted the ball back to the Texans and regulation ended uneventfully. 

* Overtime, 11:42 to go
INDIANAPOLIS 4th and 7, IND 43 yard line
PLAY: Tyler Ervin 17 yard punt return to HOU 33 yard line

As well as the Texans had moved the ball during the frenetic fourth quarter comeback, moving the ball the length of the field to set up a game winning field goal attempt was not something that could be counted on. Field position was still going matter in overtime. Credit Ervin, whose return game has been suspect this season from both an explosiveness and decision making standpoint, for picking up a crucial 17 yards on a return of Pat McAfee's punt after the Colts's first and only possession in overtime. Ervin courageously opted to field the punt, made the first tackler miss, before eating up 17 yards worth of open field. It put the Texans in a spot where one big play — in this case, a 36-yard deep ball to Jaelen Strong — was able to put the Texans and kicker Nick Novak in business for the game-winning field goal.

Again, to quote Les Miles... "WOW, WHAT A GAME!!!"

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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