The Houston Texans needed a game like this one. On a short week, an emotional week with the passing of Bob McNair just nine days ago, the Texans needed a game where they choked out their opponent early, and kept them at arm's length for most of the afternoon.
On Sunday, the Texans dominated time of possession in the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns by a nearly five to one margin, dominated the turnover margin in the second quarter by a three to none margin, and by the time the Browns could even catch their breath from all that, they went into the locker room at halftime trailing 23-0.
For the rest of the game, the Texans were playing against the clock as much as they were opposing the Browns, and the home team cruised to a 29-13 win that moved them to 9-3 on the season, extending their franchise-record winning streak to nine games. There were winners and losers on Sunday, so let's go through and find them...
4. Ka'imi Fairbairn fantasy owners
In some ways, this was the Texans' most dominant and balanced offensive performance of the season. They dominated time of possession to the tune of 37:35 to 22:25. They rushed for 187 yards on 39 carries, and threw for 197 yards. Their first eight drives all went at least seven plays, allowing them to possess the football and grind clock. The only thing they did poorly, unfortunately, was put the ball in the end zone, as their only offensive touchdown was Jordan Thomas' TD catch in the first quarter. The beneficiary of the offense's bogging down in Browns territory was anybody who owns Fairbairn in fantasy, as he knocked through five field goals on the afternoon, including a 53-yarder.
3. Justin Reid
Once again, as he has in seemingly every game during this winning streak, Justin Reid made a highlight reel play, this time preventing the Browns from cutting the Texans lead to 26-14 in the third quarter when he chased down Browns rookie WR Antonio Callaway from behind, forcing a fumble at the Texans' one yard line, which cornerback Aaron Colvin fell on in the end zone. This kept the score at a comfortable 26-7 for the Texans. Reid should be getting some Defensive Rookie of the Year love right about now, and if he'd been drafted higher than the third round, he probably would be.
2. Lamar Miller
For the second straight week, Lamar Miller was a difference maker in the run game, tallying 103 yards on 19 carries, and allowing the Texans to control the clock. Miller is now on pace for 1,194 yards rushing, and don't look now, but he should find himself squarely in the middle of the Pro Bowl conversation. With injuries to Melvin Gordon and a ban from the game for Kareem Hunt, two of the four AFC rushers ahead of Miller right now in rushing yardage, Miller has a great shot at becoming one of the three AFC tailbacks that are selected for the league's All-Star game after the season.
1. Romeo Crennel
Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield came into Sunday's game playing really good football. Over the previous five games, he'd compiled 13 touchdown passes and two interceptions, and in his last two games, he had passer ratings of 143.9 and 151.3. None of that mattered to Crennel, who put together a great defensive game plan, doing very little blitzing, and instead forcing Mayfield into making decisions. This led to the three picks in the second quarter and several throws into heavy coverage by Mayfield. In fact, let's do a deeper dive into Mayfield's afternoon...
4. Baker Mayfield
Mayfield wound up with 397 yards passing, but a huge chunk of that, 197 yards, to be exact, came in the final 12 minutes of the game with the Texans in a heavy prevent defense mode. In other words, the first 48 minutes probably felt like a real NFL game, while the last 12 minutes probably felt more like the Big XII from whence Mayfield came into the league. One other stat worth noting — the ultra-mobile Mayfield had ZERO rushing attempts in the game. When the pocket broke down, the Texans were very mindful of making sure that Mayfield didn't have room to scramble.
3. Antonio Callaway
It bears pointing out again, the biggest play of the game was this fumble by Callaway, which squashed any chance the Browns had of making a comeback....
Justin Reid with the forced fumble on Callaway saving a TD! Love the hustle! pic.twitter.com/xYAIWxhFe7— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) December 2, 2018
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The painful part of this for the Browns is that just two plays earlier Callaway had scored on a long pass play, only to see the touchdown called back because of a holding penalty.
2. Mike McCarthy
Rejoice, Packer fans. Your long nightmare is finally over. Mike McCarthy was fired after yesterday's 20-17 loss to the abysmal Arizona Cardinals. What's left of Aaron Rodgers' prime — he is 35 years old — will hopefully, for your sake, be maximized by a head coach with some more advanced offensive concepts than the super conservative McCarthy, who probably lost his team for good a couple weeks ago when he punted the ball on fourth and short late in a 27-24 loss to Seattle. To give you some perspective on how long McCarthy's been in his job with Green Bay, he was hired the same offseason in which Bob McNair hired Gary Kubiak.
1. Indianapolis Colts
This weekend was all supposed to set up an epic matchup with huge ramifications next Sunday — all that was needed was for the Texans to beat the Browns, and the Colts to defeat the Jaguars, and this coming Sunday would have serious ramifications on the AFC South race, with the 9-3 Texans hosting the 7-5 Colts. Well, the Texans took care of their end, but the Colts went into Jacksonville yesterday, and lost in a completely repugnant, disgusting 6-0 loss. Now, this coming Sunday sets up as a chance for the Texans to eliminate the Colts from the AFC South race, and severely damage any chance at Indy has at the postseason.
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.