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Watson was sublime again, but the defense could not close.
Watson was sublime again, but the defense could not close.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

NFL Week 1 Gut Punch: Saints 30, Texans 28 — 4 Winners, 4 Losers

Prior to Monday night, there had been three times in the first 22 starts of Deshaun Watson's young NFL career in which the dynamic signal caller left his team with a lead in the final two minutes, on the road, in a difficult environment.  In his rookie year, he had given the Texans late leads in New England and in Seattle, and both games saw the Texans done in by questionable coaching decisions and shoddy defense.

Then, last season, in Week 16, in Philadelphia against the defending Super Bowl champions, Watson brought the Texans back from a 13-point deficit in the waning minutes of regulation to take a one point lead. Unfortunately, the defense couldn't execute, and the Texans lost that game, and lost a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

So it probably shouldn't really surprise us that, after Watson put together a two-play, 75 yards drive in 13 seconds to take a 28-27 lead in New Orleans last night, the Texans' defense, in no small part because of questionable play calls from defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, coughed up yet another late lead on the road against a good team.

At some point, someday, the Texans' defense and coaching will catch up to the standard that their quarterback puts forth in these defining moments. Someday. For now, we wallow in the aftermath of a gut punch 30-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints. As I head to bed at 1:00 a.m. after a lively postgame radio show, here are some rapid fire winners and losers from last night....

WINNERS

4. Whitney Mercilus
In the first game post-Jadeveon Clowney Era, Mercilus made some big plays. His interception in the first half was the turning point that began the march to a 14-3 halftime lead for the Texans. Mercilus also had the team's only sack on the night. He doesn't command the same attention Clowney does, which ultimately may be a bigger issue for J.J. Watt (more on that in a minute), but Mercilus did a nice job on Monday night.

3. Carlos Hyde
It's only one game, but in a weird way, Hyde's first game as a Texan sort of accentuates the interchangeability and randomness that has engulfed most of the running back crop. Hyde is a guy who hasn't been able to keep a steady job, with the Texans becoming his fifth employer since 2017. Yet, Hyde looked really good on Monday night, providing a tough, downhill running style in racking up 83 yards on 10 carries. Hyde and Duke Johnson provided a nice 1-2 punch against one of the better urn defenses of 2018, with the two combining for 140 yards on 19 carries, and making Texan fans forget all about Lamar Miller.

2. Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills
Aside from giving up one sack, Tunsil was fine in his Texans debut. You can definitely see frequent glimpses as to why the Texans were smitten enough with him to give up two first round picks and a second round pick in their trade with the Dolphins, a trade that also brought Stills over to augment the receiving corps. The main reason I list both as winners is because they were able to escape the cesspool that is Miami Dolphin football, and their 59-10 loss to the Ravens on Sunday.

1. Deshaun Watson
There's not much more I can say about Watson that I didn't already articulate in the opening to this post. I'll just say this, and move on — last night was further proof that the Texans can beat anybody on their schedule, as long as Deshaun Watson is their quarterback. He gives them a chance against anyone, anytime, anywhere.

LOSERS

4. J.J. Watt
For the first time in his career, J.J. Watt was kept completely off of the stat sheet. No tackles, no assists, no sacks, no QB hits, no nothing. The easy thing to do here is point the finger at Bill O'Brien the General Manager (as opposed to Bill O'Brien the Head Coach) for trading Jadeveon Clowney, and leaving Watt to deal with constant double and triple teams in the trenches. Last night's game is probably a bit more nuanced than that, given the opposing quarterback (Drew Brees gets the ball out FAST) and the Texans' defensive strategy (very little blitzing, rushing just three or four guys on most pass plays). Watt will be fine, but it was a tough opener.

3. Aaron Colvin
Aaron Colvin is rapidly shooting up the list of "worst free agent signings in team history." His four year, $34 million ($18 million guaranteed) he signed before the 2018 season is looking like an albatross, and Colvin is a gigantic reason the Texans lost on Monday night. Right now, Brock Osweiler, Ahman Green, Ed Reed... those are the names Aaron Colvin is bumping up against.

2. Offensive line play
I need to go back and watch the film — jeez, I sound like the love child of Gary Kubiak and Bill O'Brien — to know exactly where to assign blame, but the solid running game from the Texans was unfortunately countered by continued shoddy protection of Deshaun Watson, who suffered six sacks and 11 QB hits on the night. A few of those were on Watson for holding the ball too long, but this line still makes too many mental errors for a group that, other than Tunsil, has been in this system for at least a year now.

1. Romeo Crennel
I can live with the 27 points that the Texans gave up to the Saints through the first 59 minutes of the game. Honestly, if you'd told me the Texans would give up 27 points, I would have signed up for that before the game. The problem I have is the final three points, in which, for some reason, Romeo Crennel decided to play defense in a manner where you would have thought the Texans were guarding against a touchdown, not a 58-yard field goal. If we are assigning very specific blame over this loss, Crennel is the one guy that we can point to whose decision making could have prevented the loss. The final play from scrimmage before the winning field goal, where the Texans just willingly yielded about eight yards of crucial field position, just because....

Infuriating. Another chance for a signature win under O'Brien squandered, completely bewildering.

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 and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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