If it were the first week in September and you were drawing up the blueprint for how this 2015 version of the Houston Texans was going to win football games, that plan was on full display on Monday night in Cincinnati. The Texans won the turnover battle (2-0), the Texans hit hard and hit often on defense (256 total yards allowed), and they made timely plays when they needed them offensively (Holy shit, T.J. Yates!!).
The Texans' anemic running game notwithstanding, their 10-6 win over the previously undefeated Bengals was beautiful in its ugliness, and now the 2015 season goes from life support to a detectable pulse, with a suddenly meaningful game against the 5-4 New York Jets on tap for this weekend at home. In a matter of four hours on Monday, the season went from pending doom to "this could get fun."
And who saw that coming two weeks ago? Hell, who saw that coming two DAYS ago? Let's take a look at last night's game, in rapid-fire format…..
4. Whitney Mercilus
It's not a reach to say that if you ranked the 54 quarters of football that Whitney Mercilus has played this season, the top 11 quarters are the 11 that Jadeveon Clowney has missed because of injury — the entire Jags game, the final three quarters for the Titans game, and the game last night against Cincy. Last night, Mercilus was the same disruptive force he was in those other two games, with three tackles for loss and some general chicanery caused. I'll be fascinated to see what Romeo Crennel does when Clowney returns, and how or if he works to keep Mercilus in his comfort zone on Clowney's usual side of the field.
3. Ryan Griffin
Hey, it wasn't anything that's about to get him to a Pro Bowl, but considering just how bad the tight end position has been for the Texans this season, Griffin's three catches for 36 yards may as well have been a vintage Gronk performance. Griffin gave both Brian Hoyer and Yates a nice target in the midrange game. I can't believe how excited I am for the return of a backup tight end.
2. Charles James
The signing of James a few weeks ago has been everything the Texans have hoped for and more. Sure, they're getting the special teams participation that they expected. In fact, maybe it's a coincidence, but with James on the team, the Texans' coverage units have been positively inspiring. Also, have you seen who is in there right now as the nickel corner? Ahead of Jumal Rolle, Darryl Morris and AJ Bouye? CHARLES F'NG JAMES, THAT'S WHO!! Let the record reflect that I hope Charles James is a Texan for a very, very long time. Seven tackles last night for the Texans' nickel corner.
1. J.J. Watt, budding comedian
So after the game, J.J. Watt got off this little salvo regarding Bengals QB Andy Dalton….
RED RIDER BB RIFLE!!! BURN, DALTON!!! Little did we know, the Red Rocket had what he thought was a proportional response….
4. Andy Dalton
….and here it was….
Honestly, listen to Dalton's comments. He reacts like J.J. Watt called him a racial or homophobic slur. Dude, he called you a RED RIFLE BB GUN…it was a lighthearted jab, and not even a funny one. (Seriously, can we just discuss how lame the joke was? For all of his greatness, J.J. has a cheeseball vibe sometimes that is hard to ignore. Can you picture him rehearsing the RED RIFLE BB GUN line in front of the mirror? Like 1,000 times? Yes, me too.)
One thing we can say with certainty — one player cracking a Christmas Story-related joke on another player and the second player actually taking offense to it makes for the lamest, whitest beef ever between two athletes.
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3. Garrett Graham and Rahim Moore
Before the 2014 season, the Texans willingly brought back Graham on a three-year, $11 million deal to be the starting tight end. Before the 2015 season, the Texans signed Moore to a three-year, $12 million deal to be the starting free safety. Last night, both were healthy scratches. If "free agent shopping" were The Price Is Right, I'm not sure BillRick O'Smithien would ever get off contestant's row.
2. Tyler Eifert
This was supposed to be a game where the Texans' defense, talented as it may be, wouldn't have the athletics juice to hang with the Bengals' two nuclear weapons — WR A.J. Green and Eifert. Green had a quiet 5 catches for 67 yards, and Eifert was downright abysmal, with just three catches for 26 yards, and at least three drops. The Texans were going to need a little bit of luck to win this game, and Tyler Eifert's decision to use tennis racquets for hands last night was indeed fortuitous.
1. The betting public
The Texans' outright win as a double-digit underdog appropriately capped a positively dog-friendly weekend in the desert. Underdogs went 12-2 ATS in NFL games this weekend. THIS was one of those weekends where the Vegas powers that be could comfortably decide to build the next bright, shiny resort. The public got steamrolled.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.