When he was drafted out of Texas A&M by the Houston Texans in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, kicker Randy Bullock probably dreamt that someday he would line up for a kick that would win the AFC South for the Houston Texans — I'm guessing, though, he probably didn't think he would do it in a Cincinnati Bengals uniform.
But that's exactly what happened on Christmas Eve night at NRG Stadium. After a gift from the football gods earlier in the afternoon, a Tennessee Titans loss to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in which Titans QB Marcus Mariota's season ended with a broken leg, the Texans took the field Saturday night knowing that if they beat the Bengals, they would win the AFC South for a second consecutive season.
For most of the night, it was a perfect microcosm of the Texans' season — a lot of fundamentally sound defense, very little offense, and rampant discussion of just how many more years Shane Lechler can punt at such a majestic level. A busted defensive play by the Texans secondary in the fourth quarter, an 86-yard catch and run by Brandon LaFell, gave the Bengals a 10-6 lead.
Then, like last week against Jacksonville, when his team absolutely needed it, Tom Savage marched the Texans down the field for the go-ahead score. A Nick Novak blocked PAT made the score 12-10, which eventually was the platform for Bullock's game-winning opportunity on the final play of the game...
So the Texans are heading to the postseason for the fourth time in six seasons, against whom remains to be seen. Pittsburgh's win over the Ravens on Christmas night ensured that the Texans will indeed be the No. 4 in the AFC, that much we know.
For now, let's look at winners and losers from this weekend...
4. Duane Brown
This past week, it was announced that Jadeveon Clowney made his first Pro Bowl — more on this in a second. It was also announced that four Texans were named Pro Bowl alternates, including left tackle Duane Brown. Brown returned to action about a month into the season after spending the entire offseason and training camp rehabbing what could have been a career-ending quad injury he sustained in Week 17 last year. It cannot be overstated how remarkable it is that Duane Brown has not only returned from this injury, but returned playing at a level we haven't seen from him since Gary Kubiak was actually winning games here in 2012.
3. Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney was named to his first Pro Bowl this past week, and once again, on Saturday, he was arguably the best player on the field. It's funny; Clowney is making some big "splash" plays, but some of the most entertaining, breathtaking stuff he's done is off the ball in plays that have, ironically, ended poorly for the Texans. Against the Jags, it was on the Bortles touchdown where tackle Josh Wells bounced off of Clowney like a bug, and on Saturday, watch Clowney chase Brandon LaFell on his 86-yard touchdown catch and run...
That's a DEFENSIVE END. Are you kidding me?
2. Tom Savage
Savage's stat line for this one was pretty ho-hum. On a night when there were all sorts of protection issues up front (more on this shortly), he managed to go 18 of 29 for 176 yards, no touchdowns, but no picks either. Make no mistake, Savage needs to do more (and be ASKED to do more) if the Texans are going to win a game or two in the postseason. That said, a) aesthetically, the Texans offense looks like Air Coryell compared to when Brock Osweiler was running it, which is saying something, considering they scored only 12 points, and b) for the second straight week, when the Texans HAD to have a touchdown drive, Savage was able to make enough throws to engineer a touchdown. On Saturday night, it was a four-play, 76-yard drive in response to the Bengals' only touchdown of the night. On that drive, Savage sandwiched passes to Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins around an 11-yard scramble of his own, all before Alfred Blue ran it in from 24 yards out.
1. O'Brien postgame press conference
Call me crazy, but I think Bill O'Brien is tired of hearing how ugly his team's wins are...
The only thing missing is O'Brien screaming "SCOREBOARD... SCOREBOARD... " every time Brian T. Smith tried to ask his question.
4. Bengals gonna Bengal
If I were covering this game from the Bengals perspective (which would suck, because it means I'd be living in Cincinnati), I would probably be doing the "How to Lose a Game in Ten Plays" gimmick post on Tuesday, and if I were doing that post, then five of those plays would be these crippling penalties committed by the Bengals in the third quarter, all of which kept Texans scoring drives moving. Courtesy of NFL.com box score:
1st and 20 - CIN 39
(12:39) (Shotgun) 3-T. Savage pass short right to 41-J.Grimes pushed ob at CIN 31 for 8 yards (27-D. Kirkpatrick). PENALTY on CIN-24-A. Jones, Illegal Use of Hands, 5 yards, enforced at CIN 39 - No Play.
1 and 10, CIN 34
12:25) 3 - T. Savage pass incomplete short right [96-C.Dunlap]. PENALTY on CIN-96-C. Dunlap, Face Mask (15 Yards), 15 yards, enforced at CIN 34 - No Play.
Drive ended with a Texans field goal, 3-3.
2 and 10, HOU 24
(5:00) (Shotgun) 3 - T. Savage pass incomplete short right to 28-A.Blue [99-M.Hunt]. PENALTY on CIN-99-M.Hunt, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at HOU 24 - No Play.
3rd and 2, HOU 47
3:27) (Shotgun) 3 - T. Savage pass incomplete short left to 15-W. Fuller. PENALTY on CIN-24-A. Jones, Defensive Pass Interference, 8 yards, enforced at HOU 47 - No Play.
3rd and 10, CIN 45
(1:24) (Shotgun) 3 - T. Savage pass incomplete short left to 10 - D. Hopkins. PENALTY on CIN-24-A. Jones, Defensive Pass Interference, 9 yards, enforced at CIN 45 - No Play.
Drive ended with a Texans field goal, 6-3 Texans.
If you're keeping score at home, that's three penalties on Pac Man Jones, two of which came on third down, two of which also came following DeAndre Hopkins's offensive pass interference penalties had put the Texans in unfavorable down and distance situations. For a long spell of football in the third quarter, the Texans' best offensive weapon was the Bengals' utter stupidity.
3. The human fibula
Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Tyler Lockett...all with broken legs on Saturday. Brutal. By the way, there is still an outside chance that the Raiders could be the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC — Week 17, Raiders beat Broncos, Dolphins beat Patriots — so we could, it's unlikely but we COULD, live in a world where Matt McGloin is quarterbacking the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC in the postseason. If this were college football, the Carr injury would absolutely affect seeding, where humans rank teams subjectively, AND factor in significant injuries. I'm not sure which system I like better — the NFL's system is obviously the fairer way because it's all rule-driven, and everyone plays under the same rules, but as fans, do we really want to see Matt McGloin quarterbacking a team that is a top two seed? Both systems have merit.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
2. Right side of the offensive line
I have no idea what kind of noise, if any, the Texans can make in the postseason. It'll depend partially on matchups, for sure, but regardless of the opponent, the offensive line is going to need to do a much better job of keeping Savage clean than they did on Saturday, specifically the right side of the offensive line. Right tackle Chris Clark is a QB Hit waiting to happen on every snap, and right guard Jeff Allen has been just as underwhelming, for his position, as Osweiler has been. The only differences are the relative impact of each guy's position and the dollars involved in each contract. With Derek Newton's future cloudy at best with his two shredded knees, I could see the offensive line getting heavy treatment in this spring's draft.
1. Randy Bullock
I think this tweet from Kendall Lamm pretty much captures what most Texans fans were thinking after Bullock's kick drifted wide right on Saturday night...
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.