Sometimes, the football gods smile on you, and after the Houston Texans escaped Denver with a 19-17 win on Sunday, thanks to a Brandon McManus miss on a 51-yard potentially game winning field goal, it certainly feels like we are in the midst of such a time here in Houston.
The win was the sixth straight for the Texans, who are now all the way back and then some from the 0-3 abyss that they dove into headfirst to start the season. Right now, the only thing that can stop the Texans from winning each week is a bye, which they happen to have this coming weekend, and while it would seem now is the time that you'd want to keep riding the momentum each week, this team badly needs a week off to get some guys healthy.
At 6-3 on the season, the Texans now sit atop a division in which none of the other teams has more than three wins. They have seven games remaining this season, and there is only one game in which they're sure to be an underdog, Week 16 at Philadelphia. Other than that, the schedule is full of a bunch of sub-.500 sludge, including four home games in which they should be favored by at least a touchdown.
These are good times. Let's take a look at yesterday's game, and see who the winners and losers were...
4. Kareem Jackson
Jackson has consistently rated among the highest defensive backs in the league all season long, but Sunday he was playing at a different level, with his four tackles all of the open field variety, and his two pass breakups feeling like a number where he was shortchanged on a couple other pass plays. The signature play was probably a pass breakup on a Case Keenum toss to Philip Lindsey, in which Jackson splattered the running back out in the flat. Jackson has almost singlehandedly masked the spate of injuries the Texans have suffered at cornerback, by sliding over to corner from the safety spot the team had moved him to in training camp.
3. Jeff Heuerman
With the Texans doing a nice job, not surprisingly, of shutting down the Broncos' running game, Case Keenum and company instead used the short passing game to move the football, and with inside linebacker Zach Cunningham out with a knee injury, the Texans had an awful time handling Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman, who tallied 10 catches for 83 yards and scored a touchdown on a thread-the-needle throw by Keenum in the red zone. On the Broncos' first TD drive, Heuerman had two catches that picked up first downs and moved the chains.
2. Case Keenum
Much was made all week long about the excerpt from Keenum's autobiography in which he recounted the way in which he was cut from the Texans at the end of training carp in 2014, to the point where it felt like the football media were trying to create a Wrestlemania main event between Keenum and Bill O'Brien. Both sides downplayed it during the week, instead expressing mutual respect. In the end, Keenum had a solid game, throwing for 290 yards, including a huge 4th and 8 conversion to set up McManus' field goal attempt at the end of regulation. Most importantly, for the first time all season, Case Keenum didn't throw one to the opposition. He put the Broncos in position to win the game, but unfortunately, McManus couldn't close the deal.
1. DeAndre Hopkins
Early in the game, Watson was connecting nicely with the newly acquired Demaryius Thomas, including two catches for 49 yards on the first drive of the game. The remainder of the game, Thomas served as a capable distraction to help allow Hopkins to have another big game, 10 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Hopkins is the best receiver in football, and the best football player on the Houston Texans. I'm anxious to see seven full games of two stylistically similar receivers like Hopkins and Thomas teamed up, and see how they can help each other over the remainder of the season.
4. Ryan Griffin
Don't get me wrong, I am glad that Ryan Griffin is over whatever the illness was that kept him out the last two games. I never wish illness on anybody... well, not on GOOD people, at least, and Griffin is good people! That said, I think it's time to turn the tight end position over to the two rookies, Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins. For whatever reason, there is no connection going on right now between Griffin and Watson, as the 27 targets for the veteran tight end have yielded just 11 catches.
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3. Running on first down
Bill O'Brien has made it clear that it doesn't matter who the Texans trot out there at quarterback, whether it's a franchise guy like Deshaun Watson or a scrub like Brock Osweiler, he wants to run the football. However, on Sunday, it felt like O'Brien was maybe overly patient, bordering on stubborn, trying to run the football. For the game, the Texans finished with 98 yards on 33 carries, but when you take Watson's scrambles out of the math, it was 60 yards on 27 carries for Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. Particularly impeding to success were the runs on first down. Blue or Miller ran the ball on first down 16 times for 31 yards. Six of those runs were for no gain or negative yardage, so the Texans started six series of downs at or behind the chains on second down thanks to poor running (and blocking). For the game, the Texans had four series that went three and out, and each was started by a no gain/negative run by Lamar Miller on first down. Those numbers are ALL hideous, but they graduate to somewhat maddening considering the alternative, allowing Watson to throw the football — on first down Sunday, Watson was 7 of 8 for 104 yards, 13 yards per attempt, a 118.75 passer rating.
2. Brandon McManus
Look, in a game that came down to a potential game-winning kick, a kick that McManus normally makes, no less, he must be included under the "losers" here because of the miss. However, truth be told, McManus was put in a rough spot, both at the end of half and regulation, by.....
1. Vance Joseph
....the Broncos head coach. I'm not sure Joseph could have botched the end of half and end of game scenarios much worse than he did. First, at the end of the half, he decided to have McManus try a 62 yard field goal with 24 seconds left in the half. McManus missed badly, and that left Deshaun Watson with 18 seconds to maneuver the Texans from the Bronco 48 yard line to the Bronco 28 yard line, which led to a Ka'imi Fairbairm 46 yard field goal to close out the half. So Joseph handed the Texans three points in what ended up being a two point game. At the end of regulation, Joseph had a chance to attack the Texans and put the game-winning field goal attempt closer than the 51 yard attempt he ended up settling for. I would imagine that Joseph's probably one more loss away from getting whacked, although with the bye week here for Denver, too, this might be the right time to pull the trigger.
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