With a 23-0 halftime lead, the Texans cruised to a 29-13 win over the Cleveland Browns, the ninth in a row.
From nine losses in a row (six to end last year, three to start this year) to nine wins in a row. Trust me, that has never happened and I'm not sure it will ever happen again. Then again, this amazing season has been just that. The Texans have won their last three home games by 19 (Dolphins), 17 (Titans) and 16 (Browns) with one game left in this three game home stand. We'll have plenty of time to discuss the Colts this week, but let's look back at this win.
Here are my observations from Sunday's win over Cleveland.
1. When Zach Cunningham left the Miami game after a handful of plays, I was terrified that this defense would have go on without him for a while. Luckily, It wasn't for any longer than two games and Cunningham's return against the Titans was a huge shot in the arm. He had that fourth and one stop on the goal line, but saved his best for the Browns on Sunday. His one hand snag for an interception was the catch of the day. Then, the fun began. He nearly got tackled by his own teammate Benardrick McKinney but stayed on his feet, headed for the end zone.
2.One thing that stood out on his return, though, was that Cunningham switched the ball to his outside arm like a running back. I asked him after the game if he had running back in his history. He said "absolutely, I used to play running back in high school." Then, as he dove for the pylon he could use his inside arm to absorb the blow and reach the ball for the goal line. What a play that was!
3. Okay, watching the game back again and seeing that pick again...WHAT A CATCH! Wow!
4. That was the play of the game, but safety Justin Reid's hustle hit/forced fumble is 1b to Cunningham's 1a. When Browns receiver Antonio Callaway caught the ball and broke away from the first hit, I just turned my back to the play and looked up at the video board. I just didn't want to see him score a few plays after he had a deep one called back. Yet, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen, then Reid sprinted out of nowhere and knocked the ball out of Callaway's hands near the goal line. Aaron Colvin picked up the ball and the scoring threat had again been averted. How do you explain that play? Here's the fastest player on the field with the ball in his hand and a sure touchdown in his sights. Yet, Reid never gave up on the play and it saved seven huge points.
5. Running back Lamar Miller had another strong day on the ground. 103 yards on 19 carries. That moved him into the top six in the league in rushing yards by the end of the weekend. Most importantly, though, he seems to be getting stronger as the year moves on. Andre Ware noted during our broadcast that he looks like a different runner since an injury kept him out of the Dallas game. Since that night, he's had four 100 yard games. In the span of six days, he ran for 265 yards and a touchdown.
6. He's now fourth in the league in rushing yards per game behind only Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon. That's highly impressive given the injuries and changes the offensive line has gone through this season. Man, he's been really good.
7. The Browns got called for holding throughout the day on both sides of the ball. Left tackle Greg Robinson could've been called a handful of more times as well but I digress. After 11 sacks in the past two weeks, the Texans pass rush didn't generate a sack, but the threat of the pass rush led to three massive interceptions in the first half. In fact on Cunningham's pick six, Robinson was called for holding on Jadeveon Clowney, which is why I missed Zach making the pick. I saw the holding and waited to see whether the ref would make the call. He did, yet it didn't matter.
8. In fact, the Texans defense held the Browns to 74 total yards in the first half. On the flip side, the Texans offense generated 262 yards of total offense. Furthermore, the Texans really eliminated Nick Chubb from the game plan. He finished with just 72 all purpose yards but that's what a lead in the game helps do. Yet, think about it: Zeke Elliott, Phillip Lindsay, Adrian Peterson and Nick Chubb - all top 15 in the league in rushing - held to well under their average. Elliott averages 95.8 yards rushing - held to 54 yards. Lindsay averages 70.9 yards per game - held to 60 yards. Peterson averages 68.9 yards per game - held to 51 yards. Chubb averages 60.8 yards per game - held to 31 on the ground. This run defense doesn't get a ton of credit for the success, but just look at those numbers. It tells a significant story of this season.
9. Furthermore, that unit held rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield to a 9.3 rating in the first half. NINE. POINT. THREE. Here was a guy who had posted a 151.2 rating against the Falcons and a 143.9 rating against the Bengals. In the first half, he was five of 13 for only 46 yards and three interceptions. Defense couldn't have done it any better.
10. Man, DeAndre Carter is one explosive dude. That punt return was just unreal, but he's got to hang onto the football. He knows that, but I love getting him the ball in space. He's going to take a return to the house at some point in the last four weeks of the year and it'll be in a HUGE spot, hopefully.
11. Tight end Jordan Thomas caught his fourth touchdown of the season on the second drive of the game. Browns safety Jabrill Peppers latched onto him like a vice grip for about three or four yards up the field. Finally, Thomas had enough and just tossed Peppers aside and snagged Deshaun Watson's pass for a touchdown to give the Texans a 10-0 lead. He finished with three catches and that touchdown.
12. DeAndre Hopkins was mauled all day long by Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie. I mean, every single play. Hopkins finished with seven catches for 91 yards and two holding penalties on Carrie. It's interesting, I've seen a ton of media members/team accounts pumping up their guys for the Pro Bowl. I just saw a couple of defensive backs getting some love on social media and Hopkins torched those guys too. He's the best in the league, bar none, and I can't really fault the Browns for taking that tact against him.
13. The Texans offense put up some solid numbers but couldn't punch it in the end zone often throughout the day. But, kicker Kaimi Fairbairn was nails all day long. He hit five field goals and his 53-yarder was a rocket shot. I was behind the uprights as usual and that ball went well over my head. It would've been good from 60. #7 (and the kicking operation) had a fantastic day when the Texans needed it.
14. Coach O'Brien told me at halftime that he thought the Texans were capable of so much more. The Texans were up 23-0 at the half and seemingly dominating the game, yet he wasn't comfortable. You know what, he's right too and that can be scary for teams down the road. I felt the same way when this one was over. It was a 16-point win and I don't want to take away from that aspect, especially against a really good, athletic and young team. But, Coach was right, there were some points and yards left on the field that the Texans will need this week against the Indianapolis Colts.
At that point, let's end it here and get ready for the Colts. It's a massive game for the Texans on Sunday and they'll need a raucous NRG Stadium crowd to help stop Andrew Luck. We'll see you then, everyone!
The Houston Texans defeated the Cleveland Browns in Week 13 of the NFL season.