Sometimes, I can't decide if the sports gods are just really, really cruel, or if they have a completely macabre, warped sense of humor. Two years ago this week, the Astros were clinching their first ever World Series, while the Texans, even in a loss in Seattle, had burgeoning hope thanks to a rookie QB named Deshaun Watson. Ironically, the day after the Astros clinched that World Series, news came down that Watson's season was over. Torn ACL. Done. The gods never let you celebrate long.
Yesterday, we felt it again. The sequencing winds up different, the Astros haven't clinched anything yet, but on the same day that the Texans pull off one of their gutsiest wins in recent memory — a 27-24 win over the Raiders with about as depleted a secondary as you'll see in an NFL game — and the same that the Astros won Game 5 of the World Series to take a 3-2 series lead, J.J. Watt's season is over early for the third time in four years. Torn pectoral muscle, on a tackle for loss of all things. He is done for 2019.
Again, the gods never let you celebrate long (unless you live in Boston, where they gift you a championship in something at least every six months, but I digress).
In the standings, the Texans now sit at 5-3, a half game back of the Colts. On the medical sheets, this team is, all of a sudden, decimated by injuries. These are the times that test a head coach, and test a general manager, and for the Texans, that is the same guy. Over the balance of 2019, Bill O'Brien will need to do his best work yet, considering the "all in" type moves he's made to win a Super Bowl now. Let's get to winners and losers from yesterday's win at NRG Stadium....
4. AFC South
Man, it's a good thing the Texans won yesterday. Not only would falling to 4-4 after the win over the Chiefs brought them to 4-2 be a real kick in the groin, but the rest of the AFC South is suddenly surging. The really crazy part? The rest of the AFC South is suddenly surging with Jacoby Brissett, Gardner Minshew, and Ryan Tannehill as their quarterbacks. Yesterday, all four AFC South teams won, making it the only division with all four teams at or above .500. The Texans have the Jags in London this week, and then the Colts and Titans a total of three times in Weeks 12 through 17. The division that gets left behind in quality debates now has four teams that are all, at least, in the "sneaky annoying" range on the opposition scale.
3. Ka'imi Fairbairn
A few weeks ago, I was shouting from the rooftops that the Texans needed to at least bring in some kicking competition to light a fire under Fairbairn, who missed two PAT's against the Falcons, and missed another PAT and a crucial field goal against the Chiefs. Since then, over the last two games, Fairbairn seems to have straightened things out, or more appropriately, the "kicking operation" (snapper, holder, kicker) seems to have straightened things out. Yesterday, Fairbairn made all five of his kicks (3 PAT's, 2 field goals) after hitting three field goals last week against the Colts. Fairbairn is super talented, so it's good to see his mental game begin to catch up, once again, with his physical tools.
2. DeAndre Hopkins
If there is one thing Texan fans have been blessed to see over the course of the first couple decades in existence, it's the likelihood that we've been watching Hall of Fame wide receivers every season since 2003, when Andre Johnson first arrived in the league. In 2013, Hopkins was drafted to play alongside Johnson, and by 2015, the torch had been passed, and now it's Hopkins who is essentially outpacing all of Johnson's team records. On Sunday, Hopkins had 11 catches for 109 yards, an amazing eight of those catches for first downs, and surpassed the 8,000 career yardage mark, the third youngest player in league history (behind only Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss) to do so. Hopkins is being used a little differently this season, as almost a de facto extension of the run game when the team is trying to control the ball and control the clock, and that's reflected in his yards per catch, which is a pedestrian (for him) 10.3 yards per catch. However, just watch him, and you know how important those short catches have been in moving the chains. Hopkins is still the best at what he does, the lack of explosive stats be damned.
1. Deshaun Watson
Not sure how many different ways we can keep finding to say that Deshaun Watson is the truth, but here goes — on Sunday, he threw the game winning touchdown while getting kicked in the face....
Step 1: Sense pressure— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 28, 2019
Step 2: Fight through pressure
Step 3: Get *kicked* in the face
Step 4: Break pressure
Step 5: Throw TD while being tackled
Deshaun Watson is incredible.
(????: @thecheckdown) pic.twitter.com/dSP49r3YCm
I mean.... damn. We're lucky to get to watch this up close every week, Houston. Enjoy it.
4. Richie Incognito
If you're making a list of the least likable players in the NFL, Incognito finds himself firmly embedded in the top five or ten, especially here in Houston, where he once tried to blind Antonio Smith by reaching under Smith's facemark and clawing at his eyeballs. Any time you mess with the Ninja, them's fightin' actions, baby! We love the Ninja! So on Sunday, on a day where Antonio Smith, along with 59 other former Texans, were in the building for Homecoming Sunday, it was nice to see Incognito get the one crucial penalty that derailed the Raiders efforts to come away with a win. On the Raiders' final drive, with the Texans playing with a secondary that consisted of Keion Crossen, Garion Conley, and Cornell Armstrong at cornerback, the only thing that was going to doom the Raiders was a boneheaded penalty. Enter Incognito! His hold on 2nd and 10 from the Texans' 45 yard line made it 2nd and 20 from the Oakland 45 yard line. Two plays later, the Raiders were punting, and never got the ball back. Like the Texans did against the Falcons and Chiefs a few weeks ago, they finished off the other team with clock grinding drives to close out. Thank you for being you, Richie!
3. Chris Clark
On the flip side, it would have been nice if Chris Clark were back at NRG Stadium hanging with all the former Texans for homecoming, in a golf shirt, drinking a cold beer. Instead, Clark had a homecoming of his own, re-signing with the Texans last week, and being forced into the starting lineup with injuries to tackles Tytus Howard and Roderick Johnson. It was not pretty, as Clark gave up multiple sacks, and looked severely winded by the second quarter. Tytus Howard, I speak for all of Houston when I say....
2. Opening drives
For the eighth time in eight games, the Texans were an abomination on their opening drive, this time going 19 yards in seven plays, bringing the updated first drive summary to the following — 39 plays, 67 yards, six punts, two turnovers. I have no idea what the issue is for the Texans early in games, but I've been pointing this out since about Week 4, and it's not getting fixed. Kudos to the Texans' coaching staff for making adjustments that are clearly working more often than not, but could you script SOMETHING good for this Sunday? You have a whole transatlantic flight to do so. Make it happen, Bill.
1. J.J. Watt
I don't know what else to say, other than I feel absolutely awful for Watt, who tweeted this out right after the game ended on Sunday:
This game can be beautiful and it can also be brutal. Absolutely gutted that I won’t be able to finish the season with my guys and give the fans what they deserve. I truly love this game and can’t stand letting you guys down. Thank you for all of the thoughts & well-wishes.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) October 28, 2019
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This is now the third time in four seasons that Watt has had a regular season truncated before the halfway point by a season ending injury, all three for different injuries — herniated disc (2016), tibial plateau fracture (2017), and now a torn pectoral muscle. I suppose, if there's any consolation, the rehab for this particular injury is far less grueling than that for a back or a knee. However, there are so many layers to the fallout from Watt's injury that it may need its own post — what does Romeo Crennel do now? What does GM William O'Brien do now? What happens with Watt's contract (two non-guaranteed years left after this season)? How does this affect wedding plans? LOTS OF STUFF, MAN.
So, J.J., like with Tytus Howard, we wish you.....