Sean Pendergast

Patriots 25, Texans 22 — How To Lose A Game In Ten Plays

David Culley had a rough one on Sunday, and was a key reason the Texans lost the game.
David Culley had a rough one on Sunday, and was a key reason the Texans lost the game. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Even off to a slow start at 1-3, and coming off literally the worst loss, by point margin, in the history of the franchise, the Houston Texans' game this past Sunday against the New England Patriots had a certain amount of "sauce" to it. Maybe it was all the former Patriot faces dotting the Texans' org chart, or maybe it was the Pavlovian reaction to seeing Bill Belichick's face, but for me, for a game between two 1-3 teams, there was a bit of a tingle to the game.

The fact that it ended with some controversial (perhaps, one might say INCOMPETENT) coaching decisions made by Texans head coach David Culley did make the outcome, a 25-22 Texans loss, a tad depressing, but at least there was enough nuance with this game (unlike the previous three Texans losses, which all ended in double figure margins) to where we could analyze what went wrong with a straight face, and discerning eye.

When you know the outcome of a game could swing on changing the proverbial "play here, or a play there," then at least some interesting discussion ensues. Someday, I'll need actual wins, but at this stage in the Texans' rebuild, I'll take interesting discussion. That's what you've reduced me to, Cal McNair!

So, as far as Sunday's loss to New England, the razor thin final margin does allow us to dust off the old "How To Lose a Game in Ten Plays" gimmick. In a game where the Texans led 22-9 five minutes into the third quarter, they were outscored 16-0 the rest of the way. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Well, I'll tell ya! Here were the ten most crucial plays that lost Sunday's game for the Houston Texans:

10. Ka'imi Fairbarn's two missed extra points
(4:54 - 1st) Ka'imi Fairbairn, PAT failed
(12:56 - 2nd) Ka'imi Fairbairn, PAT failed

Let's combo these two into one "single play" bundle, Fairbairn's two missed extra points. Somehow, the Texans found a way to take early momentum generated by two touchdowns — a 10 minute drive to open the game, and the longest touchdown play of the year on their second drive —- and extract a negative from both drives. Fairbairn is the third highest paid kicker in the league. Right now, he is a candidate to be cut this offseason.

9. NEW ENGLAND BALL — 1st & 10 at NE 41
(0:51 - 2nd) (Shotgun) M.Jones pass incomplete deep middle to H.Henry (Ju.Reid).

Here was one of two more plays that were, in retrospect, big ones in the first half. On this incomplete pass, Justin Reid made what, under most circumstances, would be considered a stellar pass break up. The only problem is that the person he knocked the ball away from was teammate Lonnie Johnson, who was ready to make a room service interception, that would have (a) probably been returned deep into Patriots' territory, and (b) prevented the other key play just before halftime....

8. NEW ENGLAND BALL — 4th & 1 at HOU 34
(0:02 - 2nd) Nick Folk 52 Yd Field Goal

.... this field goal. The Texans would go into the half with a 15-9 lead, but that was three very preventable points they allowed, in a game where the final margin was ... THREE POINTS.

Now, onto the second half....

7. HOUSTON BALL — 4th & 2 at HOU 36
(10:26 - 3rd) C.Johnston punts 0 yards to HST 36, Center-J.Weeks, out of bounds.

This was the turning point in the game. Up 22-9, the Texans try to get cute with the one head coach who will NEVER get fooled on special teams, feigning a possible fake punt and then winding up discombobulated at the snap, with the end result being Johnston punting the football into the back of a teammates head, and the ball squirting out of bounds. (That sentence feels as ridiculous to type as the play was to watch.) Three plays later, the Patriots kicked another 52 yard field goal.

6. HOUSTON BALL — 1st & 10 at HOU 38
(7:46 - 3rd) (Shotgun) M.Ingram right guard to NE 49 for 13 yards (J.Jackson). PENALTY on HST-M.Scharping, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at HST 39.
The Texans would get the ball back, still up ten points, 22-12, and looking to recapture some momentum from their flea flicker TD to open the half. Starting at their own 23 yard line, Davis Mills hit Pharaoh Brown for a 15-yard gain and a first down. On the next play, Mark Ingram sprang a 13-yard run, and the Texans were cooking. Or were they? Wait, FLAG ON THE PLAY. Holding on Max Scharping, 1st and 10 becomes 1st and 19, back at the Texans' 29 yard line. Three plays later, the Texans are, once again, punting the football.

5. HOUSTON BALL — 4th & 4 at NE 38
(13:29 - 4th) K.Fairbairn 56-yard field goal is No Good, Wide Right, Center-J.Weeks, Holder-C.Johnston.
This was the first of David Culley's two very controversial (and let's face it, ill advised) decisions. With the Texans having converted three fourth downs on Davis Mills' arm throughout the game to that point, and with Fairbairn having his worst day as a pro, Culley made the least sensible decision (NOTE: PUNTING again would have made more sense here), and sent Fairbairn out to try a 56 yard field goal, which he missed by a mile. Even worse, Culley, burned a timeout to arrive at this decision. Awful. The Patriots wound up with the ball near midfield, down just 22-15, and moments later.....

4. NEW ENGLAND BALL — 3rd & 6 at HOU 13
(9:31 - 4th) Hunter Henry Pass From Mac Jones for 13 Yrds N.Folk extra point is GOOD, Center-J.Cardona, Holder-J.Bailey.
.... yeah. This happened.

3. HOUSTON BALL — 2nd & 8 at HOU 27
(8:51 - 4th) (Shotgun) D.Mills sacked at HST 19 for -8 yards (J.Collins).
So now the game is tied, and it's incumbent upon the offense to pick up the slack for a beleaguered defense and woeful special teams. Instead, Jamie Collins, back for his third stunt as a Patriot, gets a sack and short circuits a Texans drive. Three and out, and the ball goes back to New England for the long, slow kill shot.

2. NEW ENGLAND BALL — 3rd & 18 at NE 29
(5:18 - 4th) (Shotgun) M.Jones pass incomplete deep middle to N.Harry. PENALTY on HST-M.Collins, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at NE 29 - No Play.
Actually, the Texans had a chance to get off the field, forcing the Patriots behind the chains with a holding penalty and a Jon Greenard sack. However, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, whose sole purpose on this team seems to be drawing ill advised roughing the passer penalties, roughed the passer on a 3rd an 18 incompletion. The drive stayed alive, and the Patriots methodically drove the ball down the field, to where eventually.....

1. NEW ENGLAND BALL — 2nd & Goal at HOU 4
(1:56 - 4th) R.Stevenson right guard for 4 yards, TOUCHDOWN NULLIFIED by Penalty. PENALTY on NE, Illegal Shift, 5 yards, enforced at HST 4 - No Play.
.... eventually, it made more sense for the Texans to allow the Patriots to score a touchdown, because the Texans had burned all their timeouts, and the Patriots could, theoretically, run the clock down to near zero and kick a game winning field goal. Amazingly, the Patriots did the Texans the service of scoring a TD with 1:52 to go in the game. The Texans would have trailed 29-22, but at least they'd have had the ball with a chance to score a tying touchdown. The Patriots, however, were called for an illegal shift on the touchdown. No problem. David Culley just needed to decline the penalty, allow the touchdown, and take the ball to try to salvage a comeback. Culley, instead, accepts the penalty, and with no timeouts for the Texans, and two downs to burn the clock to near zero, Belichick did just that. Field goal, good. Game over.

And THAT is how you lose a game in ten plays.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast