Vikings 31, Texans 13, the Autopsy: How to Lose a Game in Ten Plays

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Ever wonder what the narration of an avalanche would sound like? Well, when translated into "football language," it would sound a lot like the play-by-play of the first 24 minutes of the Texans' 31-13 loss to the Vikings on Sunday, a natural disaster in every sense of the football version of that word, in which the Vikings figuratively snowed the Texans under a pile of points, yards and their own mistakes.

Some plays, though, stood out as more cataclysmic and self-mutilating than others. If you want to drill it down to a basic list, I am here to do that for you, as a dutiful Houston Texans fan. So without further ado, if you're up for reading an autopsy report, here is how, on Sunday, the Texans lost a game in ten plays: 

1st quarter, 14:53 to go
MINNESOTA 2nd and 10, MIN 16 yard line
PLAY: Jadeveon Clowney, five-yard offsides penalty negating one yard loss

In a game where a) a fast start was MANDATORY, and b) with an opposing quarterback you absolutely wanted to put in unfavorable down and distance situations, this jump by Clowney to try to get off the edge fast was a subtle early body blow to the Texans's opening defensive series, as it turned a Christian Covington one-yard tackle for loss on 2nd down, which would have made it 3rd and 11, into a very comfortable 2nd and 5. Bradford promptly picked up the first down on an easy pitch and catch with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson on the next play. Eventually, the drive ended with...

* 1st quarter, 11:29 to go
MINNESOTA 2nd and 11, HOU 36 yard line
PLAY: Adam Thielen 36-yard touchdown catch

As I said in my post on this game Monday, I didn't even know Adam Thielen was a real person until this game, but make no mistake — I, as well as Johnathan Joseph, was well aware after this opening drive of his corporal substance. Thielen scorched Joseph for this touchdown on a double move (nice subtle pump fake by Bradford to freeze Joseph, by the way) just a few plays after a 23-yard pick-up earlier in the drive. On the opening drive, Joseph was targeted by Bradford three times, giving up three catches for 66 yards and the touchdown. Joseph would leave the game later in the quarter with a concussion.

* 1st quarter, 8:28 to go
MINNESOTA 3rd and 6, HOU 38 yard line
PLAY: Matt Asiata 23-yard catch and run for a first down

This was the first third down that the Vikings' offense faced on Sunday, and they obviously had been watching the Texans cover running backs out of the backfield on film this season (an Achilles heel, to be sure). On this play, safety Eddie Pleasant jumped inside to help cover tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was running a slant pattern, and linebacker John Simon was late to get outside and cover Asiata in the left flat. By the time both Texans defenders turned around, they were nearly bumping into each other, giving Asiata extra time and room to scoot down the left sideline for an additional 23 yards after the catch. Then, on the very next play...

* 1st quarter, 8:02 to go
MINNESOTA 1st and 10, HOU 15 yard line
PLAY:  Texans whistled for having too many men on field, five-yard penalty

... Bradford gets to the line quickly, snaps the ball and the Texans have too many men on the field. There's no penalty that manifests confusion, nerves, apathy, whatever more than guys getting off the field sheepishly and/or not knowing if they should be out there in the first place. 

* 1st quarter, 6:53 to go
MINNESOTA 2nd and goal, HOU 1 yard line
PLAY: Jadeveon Clowney, face mask penalty negating goal line stop, automatic first down

In a spot where holding the Vikings to three points was practically necessary early in the game, the Texans were able to get a stop from the two yard line on first down, and from the one yard line on second down — until a frustrated Jadeveon Clowney decided to grab the face mask of Nick Easton after the second down play. Now, instead of the Texans' needing just one more stop on this down, a deflated jumbo group once again needed three stops in order to get off the field and hold the Vikings to three points. Unfortunately, the Vikings needed just one play from there to punch it in after Clowney's second gaffe of what was an otherwise stellar game for the 2014 No. 1 overall pick. 

* 1st quarter, 2:52 to go
MINNESOTA 4th and 17, MIN 1 yard line
PLAY: Vikings punt, missed opportunity to insert Fuller

Following a Whitney Mercilus/Antonio Smith combo sack that nearly got the Texans on the scoreboard with a safety, the Vikings were left punting from the shadows of their own goalposts. Here, my criticism (and reason for inclusion here) is somewhat minor, but worth mentioning — I would have used Will Fuller in punt return here, not Tyler Ervin. If part of the decision as to when to use Fuller in the return role is keeping him out of harm's way health-wise, this would have been an ideal spot to use him considering that a) the Vikings' punter was probably going to just try to boom it as hard and far (and thus, low) as he could to improve field position, likely resulting in room to run (which it did, for Ervin) and b) the Vikings's coverage team was going to be in tight to prevent a blocked punt in the end zone, and thus running down a fraction of a second later on coverage, I think Fuller could have broken one, especially when you consider that Tyler Ervin managed 18 yards on the return. Does someone with Fuller's extra gear beat the next wave of defenders? Maybe. I'd have given it a try. 

* 1st quarter, 1:27 to go
HOUSTON 3rd and 5, MIN 33 yard line
PLAY: Brock Osweiler misses wide open Ryan Griffin on third down

Brock Osweiler faced plenty of pressure from the Vikings pass rush on Sunday; however, he also missed on some easy throws on plays where he was seemingly looking rushed and nervous, feeling pressure that wasn't really there. This particular play was a bad one, as the Texans finally had some decent field position following Ervin's punt return, and Osweiler bounced a third down pass to a wide-open Griffin in the left flat while having an imperfect-but-clean-enough pocket to throw from. A completion here would have given the Texans their first first down of the day, kept the chains moving and gathered a little momentum. Instead, the Texans were left with a 51-yard field goal attempt that Nick Novak missed badly. 

* 1st quarter, 0:09 to go
MINNESOTA 3rd and 6, MIN 45 yard line
PLAY: Jarius Wright ten-yard catch against Charles James

This was an impressive play by Sam Bradford, as he had a sprinting Whitney Mercilus planting a helmet in his chest as he released the ball to a crossing Wright, who was able to easily get free from Charles James. This was the first of three third down passes given up by James, two on this drive. James, unfortunately, was forced into nickel corner duty with injuries to Kareem Jackson (hamstring) and Joseph (concussion), and it hurt the Texans. 

* 2nd quarter, 10:51 to go
MINNESOTA 2nd and goal, HOU 16 yard line
PLAY: Cordarrelle Patterson 15-yard catch and run to the 1 yard line

Following one of Clowney's four tackles for loss on the day, the Texans promptly gave up a 15-yard bubble screen to Patterson, who nearly scored on the play. The Vikings actually ended up settling for a field goal — mercifully, Norv Turner went with a pass to fullback Zach Line at the one yard line that fell incomplete, forcing the field goal attempt — but this play epitomized just how there really was no such thing as bad down and distance situations for the Vikings in the first half of this game. They converted 2nd and 12, 3rd and 6, 2nd and 10 and 3rd and 7 for first downs, all in the first 20 minutes of the game. 

PHANTOM PLAY — Harrison Smith's drop on a sure pick six on the Texans's subsequent first down after the Vikings went up 17-0... I mean, if he hangs onto that ball, then we don't get this...

* 2nd quarter, 9:05 to go
HOUSTON 4th and 9, HOU 22 yard line
PLAY: Marcus Sherels 79-yard punt return for a touchdown

On this play, all of the Texans's supposed special teams stalwarts — Brian Peters, Max Bullough, Charles James — missed tackles on Sherels, who wasn't terribly secretive with his intentions. He just basically went north-south and nobody got a hand on him.

That made it Vikings 24, Texans 0. Game over.

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.  

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