With the injured bodies piling up on both sides of the football, with the wide receiving corps down to DeAndre Hopkins and a bunch of young castoffs and injured hammies, and with the Texans' recent complete inability to both run the football and stop teams through the air, the reality heading to the NFL playoffs is clear — the Texans will go as far as Deshaun Watson can carry them.
For another Sunday afternoon, an afternoon in which the Texans clinched a playoff spot by watching the New Orleans Saints complete a fourth quarter comeback against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Texans' second year quarterback pulled off more magic, coming back from down 13 with five minutes to go to take a 30-29 lead, only this time, like the losses to the Patriots and Seahawks in 2017, the defense couldn't close things out.
The Philadelphia Eagles, on a last second field goal by Jake Elliott, beat the Texans 32-30 on Sunday afternoon, setting up a Week 17 game in which the Texans must beat the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in order to clinch the AFC South. If they lose, then barring a tie between the Titans and Colts in Nashville, the winner of that game will be the division champ, and the Texans will fall to the sixth seed in the AFC, a precipitous drop considering they were the 2-seed heading into yesterday's game in Philly.
Let's discuss some winners and losers from yesterday's loss...
4. Deshaun Watson
By the fourth quarter of the game on Sunday, Watson was operating with an offensive line that could barely protect him and couldn't run block to save their lives, and a receiving corps in which Vyncint Smith was the number two wideout and Demaryius Thomas was done for the year. Still, he managed to bring his team all the way back to take a lead with two minutes to go, including some highlight reel escapes and downfield throws. Right about now, as the Texans leak oil down the stretch, the one thing they have going for them is number 4, and with him under center, they're never out of a game.
#Texans QB @DeshaunWatson is the first quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns and rush for 40 yards and two touchdowns in a single game since Eagles QB Michael Vick in Week 10 of the 2010 season #HOUvsPHI pic.twitter.com/xJCIj0eule— Texans PR (@TexansPR) December 23, 2018
3. Zach Ertz
I had speculated last Friday in my preview for this game that, perhaps, Nick Foles' starting for the injured Carson Wentz for Philly meant good things for the Texans, at least in terms of how often that Ertz, a Wentz favorite, would be targeted. The Texans entered Sunday's game 29th in the league in defending tight ends, according to Football Outsiders. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong, and the Texans likely are now even lower in those tight end defense rankings, as Ertz riddled the Texans all day with 12 catches for 110 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
2. New England Patriots
Well, that was fun. The Texans seized control of the 2-seed in the AFC for exactly one week, on the heels of the Steelers beating the Patriots last weekend. Unfortunately, the Patriots' final two games of the season are home games against the Bills and the Jets, so the Texans couldn't afford to give back any games. Now, the chalk scenario is that, instead of the Texans' getting a week off before hosting the Patriots in the divisional round, the Texans will be traveling to New England for the divisional round, assuming they're fortunate enough to win a wild card round game. This loss was a massive, massive swing game.
1. Nick Foles
Speaking of the Patriots, now we know how they felt as Foles buried them in a sea of passing yardage in last year's Super Bowl. Sunday, Foles dismantled the Texans' secondary and linebacking corps with 471 yards passing, and several huge plays downfield, including a game-swinging 83 yard bomb to Nelson Agholor to regain the lead in the third quarter. Foles has a $20 million team option for 2019, and while we all know that Wentz will likely be the future in Philly, I'm guessing that a big portion of the fickle Eagle fan base would like to see the Eagles' brass pivot to Foles. Either way, he's easily worked his way to the top of the offseason free agency target list for QB-starved teams.
4. Bill O'Brien's conservativeness
While, by the grace of God, Deshaun Watson, and Josh Adams' fumbling, the game ended up coming down to the final few possessions, the Texans had an opportunity to take this game by the throat early in the second half. On the Eagles' first possession of the third quarter, inside linebacker Bernardrick McKinney intercepted a Foles pass near midfield. The Texans were up 16-13 with 1st and 10 at the Eagles 46 yard line, and O'Brien called for two conservative plays that each went for -1 yard, and then called a screen on 3rd and 12. On 4th and 5 at the Eagles 41, he chose to punt. On the Texans next possession, O'Brien chose to punt on 4th and 2 at the 50 yard line. By the time this sequence was over, the Eagles went from down 16-13 to up 23-16. Meanwhile, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson went for it on 4th down four times, and converted all four times. O'Brien needs to realize that his defense isn't what it was when they were (a) healthy and (b) playing a parade of crappy quarterbacks. He has Deshaun Watson. Trust Deshaun.
3. Texans' rushing "attack"
For the third straight week, Deshaun Watson led the Texans in rushing, this time with eight carries for 49 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Alfred Blue and D'Onta Foreman combined for 13 yards on 11 carries. I'm so disgusted by this, let's just move along. And get healthy, Lamar Miller.
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2. Demaryius Thomas
In watching the replay of Demaryius Thomas' non-contact injury on Sunday, immediately the visiual of Arian Foster's Achilles tear in 2015 went through my head. Like Foster, Thomas didn't pivot or twist awkwardly, there was no torque on his leg that would twist or tear a ligament. He just went down like a sniper shot him in the leg from the upper deck. I hate this for Thomas, who in my opinion, was working his way into a role for 2019 on some sort of team-friendly reworking of his contract. Now, his career as a Texan (and maybe as an NFL player) is probably over. It's a shame, as Thomas had become one of the respected veteran voices on this team in just a short period of time in the Houston locker room.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
With their 31-28 loss to the Saints, not only did the Steelers help the Texans clinch a spot on the postseason, but they put themselves in a position to where they need the Browns to beat the Ravens in order to get into the playoffs as the AFC North winners. (The Steelers cannot qualify as a wild card team.) I'll let Steeler legend Rocky Bleier sum up the Steeler feelings in one of the most bizarre rants I've ever seen, complete with Robert Frost quotes....
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.