On Sunday afternoon, the Houston Texans ran their franchise record-tying winning streak to seven games by defeating the Washington Redskins, 23-21. It was yet another game that came down to a field goal attempt on the final play of the game (well, virtually, the final play — the Texans took one more knee to burn off the final three seconds of clock).
It was one big cocktail of angst and fun, but it didn't have to be this way. Unfortunately, the sanity and stress levels of fans here in Houston were once again tested amidst a sea of Texan turnovers and a general inability to move the football in the second half offensively. Twice in the first half, the Texans had a chance to create a larger margin in between themselves and the Redskins, and they couldn't do so. They allowed the Redskins to hang around.
First, up 10-0 late in the first quarter, and with the Redskins facing a 3rd and 10 at the Houston 34, a Tyrann Mathieu holding penalty negated a J.J. Watt sack that would have forced a punt. The Redskins would get an automatic first down, and go on to score five plays later to make it 10-7. Then, late in the first half, up 17-7, Texans linebacker Brennan Scarlett intercepted an Alex Smith pass in Redskin territory. Even a field goal would have been huge, but instead, the Houston offense went backwards, and on 4th and 14, Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a 44-yard field goal.
The second half saw the Texans tack on just six points offensively, and defensively, they allowed backup Colt McCoy to bring Washington within dangerous proximity of an upset win. But I suppose that's the key — the Redskins didn't win. The Texans, once again, found a way, and maybe this is just who they are. A flawed team with a great defense and a quarterback who will shoot you into and out of any game, and as we saw yesterday, sometimes he'll do both in the SAME game.
On Sunday, there were winners and losers. Let's examine things....
4. Justin Reid
One staple of this seven game winning streak has been an uncanny ability of the Texans' defense to force turnovers at the perfect time. Of all the Texans defensive players, the most opportunistic has probably been their youngest — safety Justin Reid. Reid has notched interceptions in enemy territory against the Cowboys and Dolphins, recovered a fumble against the Jaguars deep in enemy territory, and on Sunday, he came up with the biggest play of the game, a 101-yard pick six, as the Redskins were driving for a 14-10 lead. Instead, Reid's big play gave the Texans a 10-point halftime lead at 17-7. Reid is a third round rookie who's been playing like a high first round pick, not bad for Brian Gaine's first pick as GM.
3. Brennan Scarlett
The other Texans turnover late in the first half came from the versatile Scarlett, who's supplemented his Pro Bowl level special teams play with some crucial snaps at inside linebacker the last couple games, with Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole both down with injuries. On Sunday, Scarlett's interception set the Texans up for what should have been at least three more points heading into the half (that Fairbairn missed field goal, unfortunately), and on top of that, he added two pass break ups and a QB hit. Scarlett's been an underrated, crucial piece of the Texans' fabric this season.
2. Lamar Miller
The Texans did not do much well offensively on Sunday, at least not consistently, but Miller did give them some juice in the running game, with 81 yards on 17 carries. With the Texans' offensive line still a work in progress, and on Sunday, with the line a bit of a M*A*S*H unit with both guards going out in the first half with injuries for the remainder of the game, MIller's decisive running style and ability to find small creases kept the chains moving just enough to win the game. His catch and run on 3rd and 7 on the Texans final drive kept the drive alive. They would eventually miss another field goal that would have put them up by five, but at least whittled the clock to under a minute and forced the Redskins to burn their timeouts in the process.
1. AFC South standings
The other relevant game for the AFC South standings on Sunday took place in Indianapolis, a 38-10 blowout of the Tennessee Titans at the hands of the Colts. In the process, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was once again knocked out of a game with an injury, a hand this time. This means a couple things — first, the Colts and Titans are now both 5-5 and both sit two games behind the Texans. Second, the Texans might be facing Blaine Gabbert for the second time this season on Monday night at home. Hopefully, for the Texans, it goes better than the last time they went up against Gabbert, an atrocious Week 2 loss in Nashville.
4. Demaryius Thomas targets
After a modest three catches for 61 yards in his Texans debut, and two weeks to immerse himself in the playbook, Demaryius Thomas was shut out in his second start as a Houston Texan. In fact, he was only targeted once by Deshaun Watson all afternoon. With the Texans only throwing the ball between 20 and 25 times a game, in this new post-Watson lung injury world, there aren't many targets to go around, period, but I would hope that the Texans mix in a few plays for Thomas next Monday against Tennessee.
3. Deshaun Watson
After going nearly a month and a half without a turnover — the last Texans turnover was in the third quarter of the Week 6 win over the Bills — Deshaun Watson had a game that was a throwback to his inconsistent first month of the season, with two bad picks, one an up for grabs interception near midfield and the other a tipped screen pass that was hauled in by Redskins linebacker Preston Smith.Watson had a few other passes that could have easily been intercepted, so you hope this was just "one of those games," and not any sort of big picture regression, as Watson's avoidance of turnovers was a staple to the Texans' beginning to feel more good than lucky over the last few weeks.
2. Alex Smith
Under the weight of a Kareem Jackson blitz and J.J. Watt arriving a second later, Alex Smith's right leg snapped in two (actually, it snapped in four, since it was his tibia AND his fibula), and with it likely went the Redskins' playoff chances, although Colt McCoy did fill in admirably for Smith on Sunday, nearly pulling out the win after coming into the game, down 17-7. Ironically, Smith's broken leg came on the 33-year anniversary of the most famous broken leg in Redskins' history, Lawrence Taylor's snapping Joe Theismann's shin in half on Monday Night Football. Theismann weighed in on today's injury...
Alex’s leg is exactly like mine 33 yrs ago— Joe Theismann (@Theismann7) November 18, 2018
I feel so bad for him.— Joe Theismann (@Theismann7) November 18, 2018
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1. Jacksonville Jaguars
For a brief period on Sunday afternoon, we got to feel what it's like to be a Jacksonville Jaguars fan, as any Texans fan hoping to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC standings was rooting for the Jags to pull off the upset of the Steelers, who led the Texans by half a game in the standings. Wow, what a crappy feeling that is, rooting for the Jags. Yuck. The Jags were up 16-0 late in the third quarter, and found a way to lose the game, 20-16. Here is what the Jags' drive chart looked like, once they were up 16-0:
Jacksonville drives after going up 16-0:— Ben DuBose (@BenDuBose) November 18, 2018
3 plays, 6 yards, punt
3 plays, -14 yards, punt
3 plays, -1 yard, punt
3 plays, 6 yards, punt
Bortles gonna Bortles. #Texans stay as the No. 4 seed, though they've tied NE and have a weaker upcoming schedule. Still half-game back of PIT.
Must be pure football hell having to work around your inept QB, even when you're up by two scores. Jacksonville's passing on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson with the fourth pick of the 2017 draft, so they could stick with Blake Bortles, will go down as one of the great NFL Draft gaffes of all time.
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.