Including the postseason, this recent run of dominance by the New England Patriots over the Houston Texans stretches back to December 2012. Who knew that when the 11-1 Texans would show up at Gillette Stadium in their letterman jackets, only to get their heads handed to them 42-14, that that night would trigger one of the most frustrating stretches of failure against a single opponent in Texans' team history.
While the Patriots hummed along with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick steering the Patriots' ship, the eight game Texans' losing streak against the Pats, for Houston, would span two head coaches, two general managers, one flat organizational structure, and what feels like dozens of quarterbacks.
We know that the Texans have found their quarterback, we didn't need Deshaun Watson to be great last night to ascertain that. (News flash — he was great anyway.) But last night, we learned that maybe the team's head coach, who doubles as their general manager, is going to make it. There's more work to do, to be sure, but for me, last night begins and ends with what this win means for Bill O'Brien.
So let's start the winners and losers there, with the head coach and leader of the Flat Organizational Structure of General Managership, Bill O'Brien....
4. Bill O'Brien, head coach and play caller
Of the eight losses in the Patriots run of dominance over the Texans, O'Brien had overseen the last five, and they'd come in all shapes and sizes. There was a blowout at the hands of Tom Brady in 2015 (ironically, in a Sunday Night Football game like last night's). There was a blowout at the hands of a rookie, Jacoby Brissett, making his first career start in 2016. There was a postseason loss, also in 2016. There was a close loss that the Texans probably should have won in 2017, and finally, an opening week loss last season. Understandably, the overriding sentiment heading into Sunday night's game was "How might O'Brien lose this one?" It turned out to be a moot point. The scoreboard says the Texans won by six points, but they dominated that game for the better part of 50 minutes, and were able to squeeze across the finish line. O'Brien the Play Caller had his finest moments on a 13 play, 88-yard drive that gave the Texans a multiple score lead that they didn't relinquish until the waning moments of the game, where the Patriots cut the lead to six with under a minute to go, against a super leaky Texans prevent defense. But add in the deep shot TD to Kenny Stills (one play after a Will Fuller TD was overturned), and the trick play DeAndre Hopkins TD pitch to Deshaun Watson, and this was a great night for O'Brien the head coach.
3. Bill O'Brien, general manager of the Flat Organizational Structure
As for O'Brien the general manager, this was an equally great night for him. Actually, my radio cohost Seth Payne and I refer to O'Brien's GM persona as "William O'Brien," so for purposes of this paragraph, let's call him William. If you want to know what kind of night it was for William O'Brien, whose responsibilities include upgrading the team's roster, compare the players on offense who had prominent roles in the Week 1 loss last season to the Patriots, as compared to last night's team:
* RUNNING BACKS: 2018, Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue; 2019, Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson
* TIGHT END: 2018, Ryan Griffin; 2019, Darren Fells
* WIDE RECEIVERS: 2018, Bruce Ellington and Vyncint Smith; 2019, Will Fuller (injured for the 2018 game) and Kenny Stills
* LEFT TACKLE/LEFT GUARD: 2018, Julien Davenport and Senio Kelemete; 2019, Laremy Tunsil and Max Scharping
Those are crazy upgrades. Add in the on the fly additions in the secondary, most notably Vernon Hargreaves, and I love what William O'Brien has been doing this season. Credit to both O'Brien personas.
2. J.J. Watt
With the Texans now at 8-4, according to the website Five Thirty Eight, the Texans now have a 90 percent chance at making the postseason. If they do indeed make the playoffs, look who might be back!
Think you’ve seen the last of #Texans star JJ Watt this season? Think again… Sources say Watt could return for the playoffs and Houston is saving an IR/to return spot for him ????????. My story: https://t.co/18gehFxRaZ— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 1, 2019
I'm not even sure how realistic this is, to expect Watt to return. Pectoral tears like his are normally a four to six month healing process. However, it is fun to think about, and if anyone could make it back, it would seem to be Watt.
1. Bradley Roby
When we look back at this Texans season, if they ultimately achieve a level of success that is above expectations — and for the record, I would say getting to a conference title game fits that description — we will look back at Bradley Roby's interception of Tom Brady in the first quarter as, perhaps, the ultimate turning point in the season, since it was absolutely the turning point in this monumental win. It was nice having Roby back out there, as he'd missed the last four games with a hamstring injury. He added a huge sack on a third down early in the second half, and more than anything else, added to the Texans' athleticism in the secondary, allowing them to go with man coverage on the Patriots overmatched wide receivers (other than Julian Edelman, who was his usual annoying, productive self).
4. First drive productivity
If we want to nitpick the greatest win of the O'Brien Era, well, you don't have to go far on your game rewatch. The Texans once again failed on their opening drive, going three and out in a pretty depressing, nondescript fashion, bringing their opening drive numbers to the following:
Houston Texans first drive blues update, Week 13 —— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) December 2, 2019
12 opening drives
68 plays, 150 yards
And on and on it goes….
3. Josh Shaw
We interrupt this recap of the Texans' win for one NFL news item from over the weekend, in which Cardinals CB Josh Shaw was suspended by the NFL for the rest of this season and all of the 2020 season, pending appeal, for betting on NFL games. Apparently, Shaw, who has been on injured reserve since the summer, went to New Jersey with some friends, and decided to place some casual wagers on NFL games, just for fun. There's only one problem — the NFL strictly forbids sports betting by any of its employees, players or otherwise. Evidently, Shaw interpreted the Supreme Court's ruling last year, giving states the right to legalize sports wagering, as a green light for NFL players to bet on games. That's a real statement. I know it's hard to believe an NFL player could be this dumb, but Shaw is the same player who, when at USC, lied about an ankle injury he suffered jumping from a building — he said he had jumped to save his drowning nephew, but as it turns out, he jumped because he'd been involved in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, and the cops were on the way. Forget through 2020, Shaw should be suspended through 2050 for stupidity.
2. Patriot pass protection
The Patriots offense has been very pedestrian this season, but there was still concern coming into this game, because since J.J. Watt went down with his injury, the Texans have had a hard time generating a pass rush, and if you give Tom Brady time, it doesn't matter that he is 42 years old. He can still find open receivers. Well, the Texans were able to throw a ton of bodies at the pass rush issue on Sunday night, and thanks in part to an uptick in play from that group, combined with great coverage on the back end, the Texans' pass rush generated three sacks and, more importantly, 12 hits on Tom Brady. The heat the Texans were able to bring was an absolute contributor to.....
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1. Tom Brady
..... one of the worst stretches of football that these eye have ever seen Tom Brady play. Yeah, the box score will say that Brady threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns. The truth of the matter is that he piled up a vast majority of those yards, and all three touchdowns, once the Patriots had fallen behind 21-3. At that point, and especially later in the game when the Texans were leading 28-9 in the fourth quarter, the Texans were playing against the clock more than they were Brady and the Patriots. When this was a game where both teams were playing "real" football, not "prevent" football, the numbers for Brady went like this:
BRADY up through Texans 21-3 lead: 9-24, 90 yards, 1 INT
BRADY after Texans 21-3 lead: 15-23, 236 yards, 3 TDs
Make no mistake, when it mattered, the Texans made Brady look every bit his age. It will be interesting, and unfortunately no less scary, if these two teams meet again in January. Right now, that is on track to happen.