Wow, what an afternoon of NFL football! The Texans fought back from a two touchdown deficit, took the lead with under two minutes remaining, yet succumbed to the defending champs in their house 32-30. This one was a little like a kid on Pop Rocks and Christmas candy - hyper active with energy for days and the crash was ugly…for the Texans, unfortunately.
Here are my observations from the Lincoln Financial Field sideline.
1. There are so many emotions after that one. Frustration. Anguish. Yet, more than anything…pride. Watching this offense, down three key receiving threats, on the road, down by 13, yet BALLING. Quarterback Deshaun Watson made one play after another and that entire crowd could feel it coming. Then, he delivered on their fear but, unfortunately, it just wasn't enough on this day. But, man, those three hours plus of game action were mesmerizing and awesome.
2. I've seen every single snap that Deshaun Watson has taken in his two years as a starter but his 3rd and 11 Houdini-like escape is the greatest play I've seen him make. Ever. There are going to be more plays in his arsenal in due time but that one? There isn't a proper descriptive word that fits what he did on that play. In about 20 years, we'll tell everyone that he fought off the entire city of Philadelphia to find Jordan Akins for the 22 yard gain and a key first down.
3. Akins had to climb the ladder to go get that one too. He knew a hit was coming but there was no way he wasn't coming down with that one. Great catch and that part may get lost in the play that Watson made to escape Chris Long, Michael Bennett, Rocky Balboa, Mike Schmidt and Joel Embiid.
4. Now, fast forward three plays and another 3rd down and 11. This time, Deshaun Watson looked for…Vyncint Smith. Yes, Vyncint Smith. No Will Fuller. No Keke Coutee. No Demaryius Thomas. Smith had to step in when Thomas came down injured and he went deep. Talk about ready for the moment. Smith had been inactive for a number of weeks, but with the injuries at that position, the questionable status of DeAndre Hopkins and the recent release of Sammie Coates, he had to step up at a key moment and make a play. Watson found him and Smith capitalized in a major way.
5. The running game must re-emerge and it can, but it needs to happen this week. Running back D'Onta Foreman saw his first action and couldn't muster much of anything on the ground. But, that catch for a touchdown was clutch. Considering that most draft analysts thought he had hands of stone because Texas didn't throw him the ball much while he was as a Longhorn. Actually, it's quite the opposite, but, in the run game, I could see him getting frustrated because he wasn't finding a ton of room to run. Consequently, once the Texans got behind, they went to the air for much of the remainder of the game. Now, the offense has faced some really good fronts and Lamar Miller hasn't played since early in the first quarter in New York last week but it's been a struggle lately. That running game must get cranked up this week against Jacksonville.
6. This was such a roller coaster day for the defense. It turned the Eagles over all day long. Jadeveon Clowney forced the strip sack early in the second quarter. Benardrick McKinney had a pick. Zach Cunningham forced a late fumble by Josh Adams. But, the Eagles' offense executed at every key moment in the game. Nick Foles looked more like Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles than backup Nick Foles. He was brilliant and he had a ton of success on third down. For the second week in a row, the Texans defense struggled to get off the field on third down. Foles and the Eagles were 56% on third down conversions (9-of-16) and 4-of-4 on 4th down. There was a reason why this team won the Super Bowl last year. It's not quite the same, especially in the secondary, but Foles was/is straight money. Really tough day trying to stop all those weapons all the way through.
7. The Texans finished the year 2-2 against the NFC East. It beat the champion Dallas Cowboys yet lost to the division's last place team - the New York Giants. It's that way, though, in the NFL. Last week, I completed a full transitive property NFL win loop, starting with Oakland and ending with Oakland. It's on to the NFC South next year (traveling to Tampa and New Orleans with Carolina and Atlanta coming to Houston).
8. One of the key moments in the second half was just after Benardrick McKinney's interception. The Texans led 16-13 and a touchdown on a sudden change situation would've made life tough on the Eagles at that point. But, the Eagles forced a three and out. On the first play after the stop, Foles hit Jeffery for 52 yards which led to a game tying field goal. That really seemed to get the Eagles offense rolling in the second half.
9. Jadeveon Clowney was an absolute Dude on the day and it's so unfortunate that he got flagged for the 15-yard penalty on the final drive for many reasons. On the way into the locker room pregame, I could see that smile and heard him be-bopping as he was walking in. I knew. I've seen that look before and Philly couldn't block him. The Eagles front tried nearly everything to keep him out of the way and they rarely had success. He finished with eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a tackle for a loss, three quarterback hits, a pass defensed and drew two holding penalties. That's a Dude day, regardless of what happened in the fourth quarter.
10. I'll be honest, I really didn't expect three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins to play. Dr. Harris thought his ankle was pretty bad and I don't know how much he actually practiced this week. He didn't even make it out for pregame warmups, yet when the ball kicked off, he balled out. He finished with nine for 104 and if he's not 1st Team All-Pro (again) there should be an investigation (and I'll lead it). He was tough as nails to just get on the field and then he made one sensational catch after another. The nine receptions give him 103 on the season for 1,425 yards and 11 touchdowns with one hugely important game remaining.
11. There was some rumbling this week that Colts linebacker Darius Leonard should've been a no-doubt Pro Bowler. I didn't disagree, but what I disagreed with was the contention that he should've made it over Benardrick McKinney. I'm telling you that guy is playing like the Pro Bowler that he is. He had the pick in the third quarter and two other passes defensed, including one in the back of the end zone for Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery. He made one tackle in pursuit of Eagles mighty mite Darren Sproles that set up a key third down. Sproles cut back on a run and it looked like he had wide open spaces for a first down. Then, out of nowhere, McKinney ran him down short of the first down.
12. On that note, McKinney's running mate Zach Cunningham was brilliant. He had another forced fumble (second on the season) and led the team with 12 tackles. He arrives at the ball so quickly and has 101 tackles on the season and missed three games (he left the Miami game after like five or six plays, so I count it as a game missed).
13. The secondary had guys playing that had rarely played. Ever. Cornerback Deante Burton played in only one NFL game to this point (ironically it was against Philadelphia in this year's opener for Atlanta) and was forced into action with the injuries to Kareem Jackson and Kayvon Webster. Johnathan Joseph then had to leave the game with a neck injury in the middle of the third quarter. He came back on the final drive, but missed a significant portion of the second half. Then, Demaryius Thomas hurt his Achilles early in the fourth quarter. Yet, with all of that happening, there was a chance to win the division, to win a sixth straight on the road, to beat this team in their building. Somehow, someway. That's pride. That's guts. That's a team that I want in my locker room.
14. By the way, Philadelphia, props, MAJOR props. There wasn't one seat in the crowd available. Not one. At kickoff, the place was packed. What a TREMENDOUS environment. I can only imagine what a Cowboys-Eagles game is like in that building. Other than the gut punch result, it's a great football experience.
15. I'm going to finish with one final reminder of #4. When the Texans fell behind 29-16, I was ticked, but I was intrigued to see what Deshaun could do with five minutes left in the game. Then, he nearly pulled off one of the greatest regular season wins in this organization's history. As such, I got a very 2015 National Championship type feel - he willed Clemson in that game, coming up short 45-41 to Alabama (winning that whole thing the following season). Regardless, on Sunday, he never blinked, never will and it's that unflinching attitude that should give all of us hope. Quite frankly, this organization has never been in better hands.
While we were on the team plane home, we used the in-air wi-fi to follow the Steelers-Saints game. When the Saints recovered the late fumble, there was a silent cheer that reverberated throughout the back of the plane. All it means is we're in the dance and that's a good thing.
But, there's so much more to play for next week against Jacksonville. See y'all next week, everyone!
The Houston Texans took on the Philadelphia Eagles for Week 15 of the 2018 NFL season.