All week long, one of the biggest themes leading up to Saturday afternoon's wild card round playoff game between the Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills had been history, specifically the Bills' comeback from being down 35-3 to the Houston Oilers in a playoff game back in early 1993, still the biggest comeback in the history fo the NFL.
That infamous January afternoon tore a big piece of the soul out of Houston football fans, and just a few years later, the Oilers would morph into the Tennessee Titans, and while the franchise was (and is) essentially dead to most Houstonians, the wounds still run pretty deep. So conjecture about this game on Saturday being some sort of opportunity for redemption was, at the very least intriguing. I mean, it's a completely different franchise that coughed up that 32-point lead, but the fans that had to experience that horrific afternoon in 1993, the ones still with us, are likely, mostly Texan fans these days.
I have no idea how to quantify sadness. It would be so much easier to have the conversation that I'm about to suggest if sadness had a score. In other words, it would be good to know if the Bills' comeback in 1993 caused an overall Sadness Rating of, like, 92.3 or something, because here's the thing — the Texans' 22-19 overtime win on Saturday night could not have played out any better to at least SUGGEST that there was some degree of redemption in the way the Texans beat the Bills, by coming back from down 16-0 in the third quarter to win the game.
What I'm saying is, if we only knew that Bills fans had a Sadness Rating equal to or greater than that of Oiler fans in 1993, then redemption is a logical destination. As it is, we can settle for this Texans win being the most memorable in the history of the franchise, a swapping of haymakers and big plays that left every fan at NRG Stadium (the ones wearing Texans gear, at least) having gotten their money's worth.
Now, it's onto Kansas City. Let's do some winners and losers from last night....
4. Taiwan Jones
Up until the Titans game in Week 17, Jones had not had an offensive touch of the football all season. He had a handful of relatively meaningless, but productive, snaps in that Week 17 loss, but for Jones to wind up on the receiving end of the play of the season would have been considered highly unlikely. Let's relive the magic....
Jones was the special teams captain for the Bills last season, so for him to do this against his former employer felt extra special, and he told me as much as my exclusive guest on the Texans postgame show following the win. Taiwan Jones is a great example of the NFL credo of being ready at any time for your number to be called. Great job by him.
3. Duke Johnson
Here's the other thing about that Watson-to-Jones play — it trumped what, up to that point, was going to be the most important play of the night, if the Texans had gone onto score the winning points in some more boring, methodical fashion than Deshaun Watson magically turning into Superman for a play. The Texans were facing a 3rd and 18 from their 19 yard line, which, if they did not convert, would have meant a punt and Buffalo likely only needing a few first downs to kick the winning field goal. Instead, this happened...
On 3rd & 18, @DeshaunWatson to Duke Johnson for the first down! #WeAreTexans— NFL (@NFL) January 5, 2020
????: #BUFvsHOU on ESPN/ABC
????: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/g2IubuwcCg pic.twitter.com/w5HpUxtdGG
Remember the day Farrah Fawcett died, and everyone spent that morning celebrating her life, and then that same afternoon Michael Jackson died, and Fawcett's death got kicked to the news cycle curb? Well, the Watson-to-Jones play basically Farrah-Fawcetted poor Duke Johnson. I won't let that happen!
2. Deshaun Watson
It was not a great first half for Deshaun Watson, or anybody on the Texans, for that matter. Down 13-0 going into the locker room at halftime — the second straight playoff game that saw Watson shut out in the first half, by the way — I was even questioning whether his clutch gene had been extinguished. (More on that in a minute.) Silly me! Watson came out and shredded Buffalo in the second half, including this touchdown run that got the Texans on the board and ignited the crowd, made them believe.... (let's do this one in Spanish!)
¡Touchdown @HoustonTexans! Deshaun Watson no se iba a rendir y con el acarreo de 20 yardas acerca a su equipo en el marcador. ???????????— NFL México (@nflmx) January 4, 2020
16-6 #BUFvsHOU #NFLMX #GoBills #WeAreTexans pic.twitter.com/4ZllNK21u2
1. J.J. Watt
The play, though, that REALLY ignited the crowd came from the returning J.J. Watt. Watt made the miraculous comeback from his torn left pectoral muscle complete this past week, by returning to the active roster on Tuesday. The big questions were (a) how much would the Texans use him, and (b) how would the muscle hold up? His recovery had been around two months, for an injury that normally takes four to six months to heal all the way. Well, Watt was used sporadically throughout the first half, but as the urgency grew in the second half, Watt played more and more. HIs pivotal play came on this third quarter sack, with the Bills driving to take a three score lead, a play that kept the game at a still manageable two score lead of 16-0....
#NFL100 #WildCardWeekend #BUFvsHOU— The Fair Play (@thefairplaybr) January 5, 2020
Final/OT #GoBills 19@22 #Wearetexans
A partir deste sack de JJ Watt, Houston buscou um déficit de 16 pts e se classificou no OT aos Divisionais da AFC!! Buffalo segue sem ganhar no WCR desde 30/12/95.#nflnaespn #NFLBRASIL https://t.co/lhq5N9JdHa
4. Slow starts
Now, as former rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy says, we cannot ignore in victory what we attend to in defeat. The Texans continue to STINK in the first quarter of games. In this particular game, not only did they keep their streak of rather sucky first quarter offensive performances alive, but they allowed an equally crappy offensive team (0.98 points per drive in the first quarter of games, tied with the Texans), the Bills, to drive down the field in six plays and score what wound up being their only touchdown on the first drive of the game. The Texans are headed to Kansas City for the divisional round on Sunday, and on their last trip there, they fell behind 17-3 in the first quarter. They came back on that day in Week Six. This time around, that cannot happen.
3. Josh Allen
Look, Allen does a lot of things that really scare you as an opposing fan. His 42 yard run on the first drive of the game was a thing of beauty, and some of the throws he completed on third down, throwing across his body on the run, are things that maybe he and Patrick Mahomes can do, and that's the entire list. However, until he gets a better presence in the pocket, and until he just flat out becomes more accurate, this will be a beatable Bills team. The Bills are good. Really good, actually, and I think Allen has the potential to be an upper tier quarterback. However, ultimately, it was his second half turnover, and the slew of incomplete passes (22, to be exact) that were the difference in this football game.
2. Me (and my Twitter timeline)
Man, I think I fired Bill O'Brien six times before halftime, and I have the tweets to prove it! If the folks at Freezing Cold Takes (@OldTakesExposed) need any good material, here are a few of my first half takes on the Texans....
Deshaun Watson’s clutch gene and big game flair was one of the most unstoppable forces in sports, when he came into the league.— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) January 4, 2020
Well, it took three seasons, but congrats to Bill O’Brien for extinguishing it. That wasn’t easy.
I didn’t think there was any outcome today that would get O’Brien fired, but this is careening into that area.— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) January 4, 2020
Bill O’Brien wants players who are “smart, tough, dependable.” Fans want same in their coaches. O’Brien is failing.— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) January 4, 2020
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Glad I wound up being wrong, particularly about Watson and his clutch gene being extinguished.
1. Bills Mafia
Again, I repeat, I have no quantitative way to know if this loss on Saturday hurt Bills fans, affectionately known as the Bills Mafia, more or less than the Bills' 1993 comeback win over the Oilers hurt Houstonians. What I do know is that, for the Bills fans that made the trek to Houston for the game, and there were a LOT of them, that's a long, expensive trip home, back to sub-freezing, snowy weather. Also, it continues this fun fact —- the last time the Bills won a playoff game, Jim Kelly was the starting quarterback, and he was facing Dan Marino. That was back in the 1995 season, back when the internet was barely a thing. Sleep tight, and stay warm, Buffalo. Sucks to be you.
The Bills blew a 16-point lead.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 5, 2020
(via hfc__2.0/Instagram) pic.twitter.com/1v4sxSwQLZ