Mark it down. November 29. Week 12. I'll go ahead and say it — the Texans are officially a sneaky, sort-of-dangerous team. You have no idea how skittish I was about typing that sentence, like the mere pressing of the period button at the end of that sentence activates some sort of jinx function that will have them losing 33-10 to Buffalo next week, but there's no denying that a team whose defense gives up just six points each in three out of four games (all four games, wins, by the way) and gives up just two touchdowns in their last 18 quarters of play has to be taken pretty seriously.
Sunday's 24-6 win over New Orleans was particularly impressive, when you consider that this was the first win for Bill O'Brien as an NFL head coach over what people would generally consider an "elite" quarterback. Drew Brees had thrown a touchdown pass in each of his last 45 games, and on Sunday he didn't engineer a single touchdown drive.
Furthermore, there hadn't been on game in the Drew Brees Era in which the Saints hadn't scored a touchdown…. until Sunday. The Texans completely flummoxed Sean Payton's offense into a meager 250 yard performance, ran their record to 6-5, and remain tied for first in the AFC South.
The Texans were 4-0 in the month of November. Damn, December is gonna be fun. Let's look back at yesterday for a few minutes….
4. Ryan Griffin
HOLY SHIT, SO THIS IS WHAT IT'S LIKE TO HAVE TIGHT ENDS!! That had to be what all of you were saying on Sunday, right? Griffin was the huge beneficiary of Hoyer's decision to throw to large semi-plodding white dudes running free in the middle of the field, catching four passes for 72 yards and the first touchdown of the game. When the Texans made Griffin their designated "IR eligible for return" choice early in the season, I was a little dubious, but Griffin brings an athletic element that this team needs at tight end in order to get through the month of December.
3. Cecil Shorts III
Bill O'Brien has done a nice job maximizing what he's getting out of this roster, using players in as many positions and formations as their respective bandwidth will allow him. No player offensively has had his limits pushed like Shorts the last couple weeks, two games in which he's thrown a touchdown pass, run some zone read, and on Sunday caught a touchdown pass on a fly sweep shovel pass. The Texans record in free agency the last couple seasons has been hit or miss, but Shorts' last two weeks has him trending toward "hit."
2. Xavier Su'a-Filo
Everyone was ready to write off the Su'a-Filo pick earlier this season (probably myself included), but if there's one position group where the Texans have shown you need patience, it's offensive line. The list of Texans players who struggled early on the o-line before getting it straightened out includes prominent names like Duane Brown, Chris Myers, and famously Derek Newton. Su'a-Filo has been steady in the run game and improving as a pass protector. The line is a strength of this team, and a month ago this would've sounded crazy.
1. Brian Hoyer
For the first time all season, the Texans got points on their opening drive, and really seized momentum of this game in the first quarter. On that first drive, Hoyer took the Texans 70 yards on 11 plays, going 7 of 7 for 55 yards and the touchdown pass to Griffin. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off this team's collective shoulders after undergoing a Mallett-ectomy a month ago. Chain of command at the QB position is clear, Hoyer is playing well, the Texans are winning games. (And honestly, I have no idea what Mallett is up to.)
4. Garrett Graham, Rahim Moore
For the third straight game, Moore and Graham were healthy scratches. At this point, I don't think Graham gets back on the field for this team, barring injury, and why would you start messing with the defense to get Moore back on the field?
3. Drew Brees
At the outset of this post, I called Brees an "elite" quarterback, but that be more of an historical designation than actual fact at this point. There was no point in the game on Sunday where I felt like Brees was going to bring the Saints back. Their offense was stuck in neutral all day, and where Brees would have, in years past, rained down a flash flood of quick hit completions to about ten different receivers, on Sunday he was 25 of 44 and never really threatened the Texans once down the field. It felt like we were watching the end of something on Sunday — either the end of Drew Brees, the end of the Saints' Brees Era, or both.
2. Jimmy Graham
Perhaps one of the things Brees is missing is his former tight end, who the Saints shipped to Seattle in the offseason for center Max Unger, in the sprint of trying to toughen up the running game. Graham's time in Seattle has ranged from shaky to nightmarish, and now the season is over, with Graham suffering a ruptured patellar tendon on Sunday against Pittsburgh. Bonus points to the Seahawks for making big moves to get weapons for their highly paid QB, negative points for using him like he's an average Joe.
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1. People with real jobs
With more wins comes more relevance, and with relevance comes more prime time appearances. Well, for those of you who have to wake up early Monday to go to work, this little nugget came down last night during Sunday Night Football...
Flex alert: The #Texans Dec 13 game against the Patriots will now be the Sunday night game.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) November 30, 2015
Should be fun!
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.