It says something about just how storyline-laden Thursday night's Houston Texans 42-23 win over the Miami Dolphins was when you consider that the return of Brock Osweiler, arguably the least popular player in the history of the franchise, was about the fourth or fifth item people wanted to talk about by the time the game was over late last night.
Some of the prime talking points to come out of this game were very, very good for Texan fans (now THAT's the Deshaun Watson we've been waiting for!) and some were borderline catastrophic (NO! NOT WILL FULLER!). We will get to all of those below, but allow me a paragraph or two to give equal time to complimenting Bill O'Brien as I've given to dissecting and, at times, destroying him during the early part of this season.
The criticism of O'Brien earlier this season was not unfair. As the team got off to an infuriating 0-3 start, it was absolutely warranted. Hell, O'Brien himself would agree with that. However, the last two games, as this defense has gelled and as Deshaun Watson has figured out that bones DO break, O'Brien has game planned magnificently.
A lot of teams would have had players sniping with each other, if not outright quitting when it got to 0-3. The Texans never quit, and now here we are, with the first five game winning streak of the Bill O'Brien Era. I may be in the minority in town, as it seems O'Brien's popularity level is still a gigantic question mark, at best, but I'm happy for Bill O'Brien. There, I said it!
Now let's break down last night's game....
4. Mike Devlin
Man, it was just a couple weeks ago that we were being forced to take out calculators and post eight digit tickers on the internet just to keep track of how many hits Deshaun Watson was on pace to take this season. The offensive line was routinely giving up at least a dozen QB hits per game, and it was compounded by an inability to run the football. Now, we've had two straight games with a 100-yard rusher, and on Thursday night, Watson was hit once all night. ONCE! For a guy who had to take a charter bus 12 hours to Jacksonville, Watson is now going into this chunk of the schedule (one game over the next 24 days) relatively healthy, which is a huge win considering we were making his funeral plans for around Thanksgiving a few weeks ago. Kudos to Mike Devlin and the offensive line for improving. It's still WAY far from where it needs to be, but these last two games have been encouraging.
3. DeVante Parker's agent
One of the big stories in Miami this past week centered around the agent for Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker's stating to the media that Dolphins head coach Adam Gase is "incompetent," reason being was Gase's leaving Parker on the inactive list the previous week's game. With injuries to Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills, Tase was forced to bring Parker back into the mix, and I'll say this — Parker actually made his agent look smart, hauling in six passes for 134 yards, including a superb reenactment of the "Immaculate Reception" in the second half, when a ball bounced off two Texans defenders into Parker's hands for a 46-yard gain.
2. Lamar Miller
For the first time in his Texans career, Miller has strung together back-to-back 100 yard rushing games, and the encouraging thing about Thursday night is that he FINALLY had an explosive play, the likes of which he laid on the Texans when he himself was a Dolphin in 2015. His 58-yard run in the third quarter set up Jordan Thomas' second touchdown of the game, and gave the Texans a gigantic swing in field position when the Dolphins were still hanging around in the game. With Will Fuller likely out now, the Texans are going to lean even more heavily on running the football, and Miller will be huge key for the rest of the season.
1. Deshaun Watson
Now THAT'S what we've been waiting for, Deshaun! If I had to capture the mood of Texans fans regarding Watson over the first five or six weeks of the season, I'd say "concerned" would be the right adjective. Concerned over his health, and concerned that he just didn't look like the same decisive, explosive, ultra-confident athlete that he was in those six starts in 2017. Last week was a big step forward in his maturation in terms of showing he could manage a game in which he was clearly dealing with some medical issues. Last night was, quite frankly, a return to the efficient greatness we saw last season. He was hitting deep balls, he was deadly off of play action, and he took what the defense gave him on the ground. Watson finished the game with more touchdown passes (5) than incompletions (4). Welcome back, Deshaun!
4. Brock Osweiler
Much as I thought I would going into the game if the Dolphins lost, I'm not going to get on here and beat up Osweiler. For one thing, there's too much positive stuff happening with the Texans right now to get bogged down in reliving the Osweiler Era (and all of the dopey soundbites that go along with it). I'm including Osweiler here because he needs to be discussed. His return last night was a big storyline. At the end of the day, we learned Brock is what he is — a serviceable backup, who, for whatever reason, manages to look somewhat confident (even if he's not at all threatening) running Adam Gase's system. In the end, it was nice to be on the right side of what was a standard Osweiler night at the office — a 57 percent completion percentage, a soul crushing pick, a strange quasi-fumble play that the competition committee will now need to review this offseason, and a hilariously tone deaf postgame press conference. That's it.
3. The officiating crew
Yeah, it was not a great night for the zebras. The play that I referred to in the bullet point above, the Osweiler apparent-fumble-that-wasn't-a-fumble right before halftime, was actually called correctly upon further review. The rule just stinks, that's all. However, this crew was anywhere from annoyingly unnecessarily detail oriented (illegal formation on a kneel down...really?) to just flat out bad (how do you nullify THAT catch by DeAndre Hopkins?). Hell, it took ten minutes to administer the opening kickoff because of illegal formation calls that were dubious, at best. It was not a well officiated game. Just be glad it didn't cost the Texans.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
2. Adam Gase, tactical genius
So Gase gets all the credit in the world for getting any sort of productivity out of Osweiler. That's something that Bill O'Brien most certainly can't claim. However, if we are going to kill O'Brien for game management head scratchers here, then we must do the same when the opponent makes strange calls. So after cutting the Texans lead to 28-20, Gase chose to have his team onside kick. The attempt failed, but the message SEEMED clear — the Texans are now moving the football, so we need to aggressively try to steal possessions and keep up with them. Then, in the fourth quarter, trailing 35-20 with 11:26 to go in the game, and facing a 4th and 4 at the Texans 28 yard line, Gase chose to kick a field goal to make it 35-23. That decision made no sense, as it still left the Dolphins needing two touchdowns to not lose the game. 4th and 4 is a makable conversion, and that juncture in the game, three points did them no good. Nice seeing the other team's head coach make those types of decisions. Thank you, Gase!
1. Texan team doctors trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour
Well, the Texans did get a win Thursday, and it was a huge win, but it came with a costly toll. They had at least half a dozen players leave the field to go into the medical tent, and four of them never came back. The most depressing injury of the bunch was wide receiver Will Fuller doing something to his right knee on a deep route in the fourth quarter. By the time you read this, we should know what ails Fuller, and the concern is that he is done for the season with an ACL tear. Johnathan Joseph (ankle) and Zach Cunningham (knee) also left with injuries, and we will know more on them soon, too. With the trade deadline a few days away, the spotlight now shifts to general manager Brian Gaine, who SHOULD be under some sort of pressure, self-imposed or otherwise, to find a deep threat on offense, and some help for an injury-depleted secondary.
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.