Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 5: Falcons 21, Texans 19 — Four Winners, Four Losers

Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans experienced the first close loss of his NFL head coaching career.
Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans experienced the first close loss of his NFL head coaching career. Photo by Eric Sauseda
During the first four games of the Houston Texans' 2023 season, they've won at home, they've lost at home. They've lost on the road, they've won on the road. The one thing they had not done, as of Sunday morning, though, was play in a close game. Their two losses were by an average of 14 points, their two wins were by an average of 22 points.

On Sunday, in Atlanta, the Texans found themselves in a game with the Falcons that was nip and tuck throughout, a game where C.J. Stroud engineered a clutch touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to take a 19-18 lead. Unfortunately, the Falcons were left with time on the clock and a quarterback, Desmond Ridder, having the best day of his young career.

In the end, a Younghoe Hoo field goal with no time remaining provided the winning margin, and the Falcons defeated the Texans, 21-19, in a game where the Texans will look back at so many missed opportunities. The loss was indicative of a young team, still learning how to win. The arrow is still pointed up for the team long term, but the Texans somehow made Desmond Ridder look like Patrick Mahomes on Sunday, which is not easy to do.

Let's look at the winners and losers from a disappointing Sunday in Atlanta:

WINNERS

4. Texans run defense
Coming into the game, the one area that looked like a surefire Achilles heel in this game was the Texans run defense, which was ragged at times in both of their recent wins and was a train wreck in their two losses. Oddly enough, the Texans actually defended the run really well on Sunday, holding the Falcons to 96 yards on 36 carries (2.7 yards per carry), and containing Bijan Robinson to just 36 yards, and a long run of 13 yards. This was encouraging.

3. Falcons tight ends
The flip side for the Texans defensively, unfortunately, was they were abysmal at defending the intermediate passing game, particularly defending the Falcons' tight ends. Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, and MyCole Pruitt combined for 14 catches for 176 yards, and seemed to move the chains every time they touched the football. The most disappointing part of this was that the Texans blitzed very little on Sunday, so there were presumably enough bodies in the secondary and linebacking crew to contain these tight ends better than they did on Sunday.

2. Ka'imi Fairbairn fantasy owners
The Texans once again were subpar in the red zone, going 1-3 on red zone opportunities. Additionally, early in the game, DeMeco Ryans opted for a field goal on a 4th and 1 play in Falcons territory. As a result of this disturbing lack of efficiency by the offense and lack of aggressiveness by the head coach, Fairbairn kicked four field goals, making Fairbairn fantasy owners thrilled, but frustrating Texans fans beyond words.

1. Desmond Ridder
If you'd told me before the game that Ridder would throw for 329 yards, especially in a game in which the Falcons only ran for 96 yards, I'd have told you that the Texans won by at least two scores, and that Ridder was piling up yards in garbage time while trying to get the Falcons back into the game. That was obviously not the case at all. Ridder was crisp in delivering the football, and sound in his decision making. The two turnovers by the Falcons were fumbles by Robinson and Jonnu Smith. In other words, if you were waiting on a Ridder mistake, it never came. He is now 5-0 at home, and 0-4 on the road in his career, as a starter.

LOSERS

4. Texans run game
This is the one thing that the Texans must fix as soon as possible, especially if offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik insists on running the football at least 25 times every Sunday. Too often, the run game put C.J. Stroud in bad down and distance situations on third down. He acknowledged this after the game. In this offense, everything is predicated off of a capable running game. This team's running game right now is as bad or worse than anything the Texans have trotted out the last two seasons, and that's saying something.

3. These two guys....
I don't know who they are, but there are no winners when it comes to something like this. Come on, Astros fans, we have enough enemies. Let's not fight with EACH OTHER!
2. Offsides penalties
Okay, back to the Texans — as good as the defensive line played in defending the run game, and containing Bijan Robinson, for some reason, they couldn't keep from jumping offsides in the first half of the game. FOUR different times, Ridder was able to get a Texans defender to jump and give the Falcons a free five yards. Just a careless lack of discipline, especially considering it was four different players who were guilty of jumping early — Jon Greenard, Khalil Davis, Sheldon Rankins and Kurt Hinish.

1. Sean Payton 
Before the season, Broncos head coach Sean Payton did an interview with USA TODAY where he called last year's Broncos, coached by Nathaniel Hackett, one of the "worst coached" teams he'd ever seen. While the 2022 Broncos were undoubtedly poorly coached, Payton violated about ten chapters of the head coach's code of honor by publicly trashing a fellow head coach. Hackett is now the offensive coordinator for the New York Jets. Well, on Sunday, the Broncos played the Jets in Denver, and with both teams at 1-3, the main storyline was the Payton dynamic. AS we all know, karma is a bitch, and the Jets beat the Broncos 31-21 in front of a stunned crowd in Denver. If you despise Sean Payton the way I despise Sean Payton, this press conference is basically porn. ENJOY!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast, on Instagram at instagram.com/sean.pendergast, and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast