When you cover an NFL team that goes 315 days without a win, along the course of all those losing Sundays, you begin to wonder "How will it feel when this team finally wins again? What will be my prevailing emotion?" Exhilaration, happiness, relief — these were all at the top of the board when envisioning this monumental occasion.
Well, the Texans won a football game yesterday, and it was their first win in 315 days, spanning nine NFL games, the longest active losing streak in the league until Ka'imi Fairbairn sent a 37-yard field goal sailing through the uprights as overtime expired at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, giving the Texans a 37-34 win, their first of the season.
So what were my prevailing emotions?
Yeah, I was happy, to be sure, but mostly I felt bewilderment and confusion. I mean, I'd spent most of the fourth quarter and overtime listing all the reasons the Texans are lacking as an NFL team, anticipating the Colts' coming all the way back from down 18 points and winning that game, and instead, thanks to one of the oddest decisions I've ever seen from an NFL head coach, the Texans escaped with their first win of the season.
Maybe it was his disdain for the game ending in a tie, or maybe it was some sort of karmic give-back for the time he ruined football for us here as a Bills quarterback in 1993, but Colts head coach Frank Reich's ill-fated choice to try to convert 4th and 4 in his own territory with under a minute to go in overtime will likely fuel talk radio in Indy for the next four days. (NOTE: The Colts play the Patriots on Thursday night this week.)
As for the Texans, if callers to our postgame show are any indication, the win over the Colts was a gift from the gods, a gift that bought no coaching cred points to Bill O'Brien. In short, while it's nice to get a win, it didn't mask the serious issues still plaguing this team. They can now, at the very least, though, try to fix these problems amidst the satisfaction that comes with a win.
Let's look at some winners and losers, shall we?
4. Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney was a focal point of media conjecture during the week leading up to this game, when he steadfastly claimed that he was perfectly healthy coming in to the preseason and training camp, despite the team clearly handling him like a player who was having, at the very least, minor recovery issues. Thankfully, Clowney had a game on Sunday that will render the team's handling of him a moot point, stuffing the stat sheet with two sacks, four tackles for loss, and a touchdown on a fumble recovery. His sack of Andrew Luck in overtime on 2nd and 11 set up the chain of events that led to Reich's fateful decision to try to convert fourth and four.
3. Andrew Luck
Coming into Sunday's game. Luck was 31st in yards per attempt among NFL passers, and Reich had kept the play calling largely confined to the ten-yard space near the line of scrimmage. On Sunday, though, Luck looked largely like pre-shoulder injury Luck, peppering the Texans' defense with a slew of short and medium routes with the occasional downfield strike. Furthermore, he did it with his favorite target, T.Y. Hilton, missing large chunks of the game with rib and hamstring injuries. I'm not gonna lie, while having a rejuvenated Luck back is scary for the Texans' prospects in the coming seasons, having some more Watson vs Luck matchups in the future certainly brings some old school juice back to this divisional rivalry.
2. Keke Coutee
For the first time this season, we got a look at the rookie slot receiver out of Texas Tech, and if this is what the slot position is going to produce going forward, then please join me in a virtual chest bump. Coutee had about as productive a debut as you could hope for, with 11 catches for 109 yards. Bill O'Brien was not bashful about involving Coutee in the motion game behind the line of scrimmage, either, which was great to see. Oh, that reminds me....
1. Bill O'Brien's reading glasses
Maybe it's the fresh reading glasses he decided to sport while calling plays, but O'Brien's play calling in this game was, for the most part, better than we've seen in any of the previous three games, and that's because it looked a lot more like the play calling from when Watson took over as the starter in Week 2 last season — fair amounts of run-pass option, designed runs for Watson, and midsection to help protect Watson...
Just rewatched the 2017 Texans-Pats game just to confirm what I thought… it’s like they were using a different playbook in that game. TON of RPO’s, backfield motion, and designed runs for Watson. Not sure what this is they’re doing this season, but it’s not that. #Texans— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) September 26, 2018
Of course, despite best efforts, Watson wasn't always well protected.....
4. Deshaun Watson's anatomy
.... like when he was sacked seven times and hit 11 other times. Unfortunately, those numbers are about standard fare for Watson in 2018. At this rate, Deshaun Watson will look like a used piñata when the bye week rolls around in early November.
3. Will Fuller's hamstring
Fuller continued his streak of success with Watson as his quarterback, scoring a touchdown for the seventh straight game that the two have played together. It cannot be overstated how far Fuller's game has come over the offseason, but it also cannot be overstated how worrisome this hamstring issue has become. On Sunday, Fuller missed most of the second half and overtime nursing the hamstring. O'Brien said after the game that Fuller probably could have played, and that they were being cautious, but man, it's frustrating. (SIDE BAR: How is that literally every Texans wide receiver has suffered a hamstring injury this season? Yo, Luke Richesson, I thought the new cafeteria was supposed to fix this kind of stuff?)
2. Third down defense
We cannot ignore in victory what we would point out in defeat, and the fact of the matter is that the Texans couldn't cover anybody all afternoon. Chester Rogers, Ryan Grant, Zach Pascal.... I had no idea who any of these guys were before Sunday, and yet, Luck was finding all of them constantly all day Sunday. Even more concerning, the Colts were 10 of 17 on third down conversions, including the following conversions of third with double digit yardage to go:
3rd and 11
3rd and 11 (penalty)
3rd and 13
3rd and 10
3rd and 10
3rd and 14
3rd and 10
Aaron Colvin leaving the building on crutches doesn't make me feel any better about the Texans' chances of drastically improving this area of their game.
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SHOW ME HOW
1. Frank Reich
Two thoughts on this quote from Reich — first, as uninspiring as ties might be, the decision was fairly reckless to go for it there. If the Colts miss the playoffs by a half a game (hey, who knows?), then the blood is on his hands. Second, if O'Brien did the same thing as Reich did on Sunday, the entire city would be waiting on the tarmac at Intercontinental to put O'Brien's head on a spike.
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.