If you're looking for an indicator of where we are in the trajectory of the Houston Texans as an NFL franchise, there's probably no better gauge than the prevailing emotions after winning an AFC South title. Back in 2011, when they did it for the first time, with rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback, there were hundreds of fans waiting for the team at the airport.
I wasn't at the airport last night, following the Texans' 23-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, but my guess is that the airport was quiet. Expectations have risen, and for a lot of the fan base, the AFC South is a check mark on the way to what should be bigger things with Deshaun Watson as the quarterback. In fact, I posed this question to Texan fans earlier this week:
TEXAN FANS — if the Texans clinch the AFC South this wkd, that will be SIX division title in the decade of 2010’s. In the ENTIRE NFL, only the New England Patriots will have more division titles in the 2010’s than the Houston Texans.— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) December 18, 2019
When you read that, your gut emotion is...
So, the Texans win the division again, and it may have actually angered 62 percent of their fan base, which is kind of funny. Hey, expectations are a good thing, if they're reasonable. Reasonably, I'm not sure how far we can expect this team to go in the postseason.
Let's dig into this win on Saturday.....
4. Jason Pierre-Paul
Man, it's crazy to think that Pierre-Paul is just a few years removed from nearly blowing his hand off the end of his arm in a Fourth of July fireworks accident. As it is, he is operating down a digit and change, and he is still bringing a big league pass rush. The Buccaneers put a lot of heat on Watson throughout the afternoon, and Pierre-Paul was at the center of it with three sacks. Deshaun Watson on the run all afternoon, and a Laremy Tunsil injury toward the end of the game only made it a scarier Saturday afternoon going forward.
3. DeAndre Carter
Just a few weeks ago, it was looking like Carter might be on the outs as the return specialist for the Texans, with O'Brien questioning some of the decisions the return specialist was making in the return game. Now, with Keke Coutee on the inactive list once again, and with Will Fuller and Kenny Stills banged up, Carter is going to be seeing significant snaps at slot receiver heading down the stretch of the regular season. On Saturday, he had the most important offensive play for the Texans in the second half, a 39 yard deep shot that set up the field goal that ultimately provided the winning margin.
2. J.J. Watt possibilities
The Texans are having an abysmal time generating a pass rush, so this bit of news from Ian Rapoport on Saturday morning was quite welcome....
The potential return of Watt deserves its own post. At this point, Watt with one working arm might be better than anything else the Texans are trotting out there, when it comes to generating a pass rush.
1. T-shirts and ball caps
Hey look, at the end of the day, despite all the injuries, the turnovers, the mind numbing proclivity of this team to let inferior squads hang around, the Texans clinched the AFC South. Some of the teams they've beaten this season have been playing their best football of the year coming into those games — the Patriots were 10-1 on the season, the Titans were 6-1 in their previous seven games, and the Bucs were on a four-game winning streak going into yesterday. There will be a lot of hand wringing over the WAY the Texans won this football game — some of it coming up in the next set of paragraphs — but let's not lose sight of the good that's happened this seasons, as well.
OK, now the positivity is over, here we go. Losers....
4. Will Fuller's soft tissue
Stop me if you've heard this before — Will Fuller left the game in the first half with a soft tissue injury, this time a groin. I don't know what to say or think at this point with Fuller, who seems to miss games routinely with nagging injuries. It's been this way for four seasons. For what it's worth, O'Brien sounded like he is at his wit's end as well, when asked about Fuller in the post game press conference, saying he was a great guy, and a hard worker, but he just can't stay healthy. At this point, Fuller is a metaphor for this whole team in that he just can't be fully trusted.
3. Texan opening drives
As promised, if the Houston Texans do not score a touchdown, their anemic opening drive offense will be a "loser" in this space. (And no, Bradley Roby getting a pick six on the second play of the game does not count as an opening drive touchdown.) So here goes...
Forgot to do this during the game… but here it is — Houston Texans first drive blues update, Week 16 —— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) December 21, 2019
15 opening drives
93 plays, 254 yards
6 points (two FG's)
And on and on....
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I don't even know what to say anymore.
2. Bill O'Brien end of game management
Bill O'Brien's game management skills have improved over the last couple seasons, despite what Texan fans may want to believe. However, he continues to confound at least once every couple weeks, and on Saturday, he once again allowed an opposing team to unnecessarily hang around for an extra set of downs. Up three, and getting the ball with 1:27 left and the Bucs only having one timeout, three simple Deshaun Watson kneel downs would have burned off the one timeout and the entire clock. Inexplicably, O'Brien decided to call for a handoff on first down (out of shotgun, no less!) to Carlos Hyde, which exposed the Texans to a possible fumble and/or a holding penalty, the latter of which actually occurred, stopped the clock, and gave the Buccaneers enough time to get the ball back unnecessarily at the end of the game. These are such simple things, how does everybody on the Texans sideline miss that?!?
1. Bucs fans' tickers
If you're a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan and you're reading this, God bless you. I have no idea how you handle the Jameis Winston Experience, a roller coaster ride so crazy and vomit-inducing that you get to watch a guy throw for 400 yards on the regular, but in doing so, he is fully capable of tossing four interceptions, including two in the first four minutes of the game. Buccaneers fans, get that life insurance updated, because word is the team is ready to make a long term commitment to Jameis, which is like marrying the craziest, most promiscuous person in the town. Want to make money? Get a psychology degree, move to Tampa, and open a therapy office.