When the 2016 Texans schedule was released in April, it was highly evident what was going to be the most difficult stretch of the entire season. Starting with the Jacksonville game after the bye week and finishing with the Colts in Indianapolis, the five-game stretch that included four road trips was daunting. Suffice to say, that stretch of games has been as difficult as any over the past few seasons for the Texans. Not many teams in the league face Derek Carr, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers in consecutive games, but the Texans did and have come up on the short end in winnable/"getable" games against them. Sunday at snowy Lambeau Field was the definition of winnable; alas, it didn't end with a Texans win. Here are my observations from Sunday's 21-13 loss to Green Bay.
- Fourth and one. Ball on the Packers six-yard line. Down seven to nothing midway through the third quarter. Bill O'Brien eschewed the field goal attempt for a shot at the first down. The Texans were stopped earlier in the game near midfield, but the Texans offense had finally found some solid footing, literally and figuratively. So, O'Brien decided to take the calculated risk. They didn't get the first down. They got the touchdown. When Ryan Griffin snatched Brock Osweiler's throw out the air as it headed for the back corner of the end zone, I thought that was it: the moment when the Texans took over the game. I was even more convinced as Griffin leapt into the Lambeau Field end zone bleachers into a group of insane Texans fans.
- Over the past three weeks, the Texans defense has had moments of brilliance facing Carr, Rivers and Rodgers. There were moments on Sunday when Rodgers couldn't find receivers with only four rushers and all day to throw. However, Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer for a reason and he dropped two gems in the arms of his star receiver Jordy Nelson in the fourth quarter. The first one to Nelson was a bit of a gift from Mother Nature as Charles James slipped down as Nelson ran into the end zone wide open. Rodgers made the play by avoiding pressure upfield, leaking to his left and launching deep downfield.
- Rodgers' second throw to Nelson was an even better toss and Nelson made a stellar catch. Ahead 14-7, the Packers faced third down and six at the 50-yard line. Kareem Jackson was all over Nelson as the ball left Rodgers hands. Nelson wrested the ball away from Jackson and the 28-yard gain gave the Packers a key first down with a little over five minutes left in the game. Two plays later, Aaron Ripkowski, a former Dayton (TX) HS Bronco, powered over with the Packers final score of the game.
- With Jadeveon Clowney out for this game with a myriad of injuries, Whitney Mercilus was the Texan in the crosshairs for the Packers offensive line all day long. However, he was outstanding, yet again. He had the team's only sack of Rodgers, two tackles for a loss, a quarterback hit and a fumble recovery. He tacked on four tackles for good measure. He completely worked his technique on left tackle David Bahktiari for his sack on Rodgers. He got upfield, then swatted Bahktiari's hands down, ripped underneath him and cleared the way to Rodgers.
- Safety Quintin Demps had another strong game for the Texans. He led the Texans with seven tackles and since he's been back after his calf injury, he's been outstanding, minus the one touchdown on the double move against San Diego last week. With all of the moving pieces in the secondary due to Andre Hal's illness and Johnathan Joseph's injury in the third quarter, Demps' consistency has not only been welcomed, it's been necessary.
- The snow came down throughout the game and really impacted the footing in the first half. Watching Nelson trying to run a speed out and J-Jo trying to match his cut was like watching a couple of guys in sneakers running on ice. But, in the second half, the offenses had much more success handling the slick Lambeau turf.
- The Packers defense was the best in the NFL against the run for about seven weeks of the season and still remained in the top seven in the league heading into this game. The Texans, though, found a way to run for 123 yards. 20 of those yards came out early in the game on Osweiler's scrambles, but as the game wore on, Grimes and Alfred Blue chipped away at the Packers front six/seven. The two combined for 81 yards on ten carries. Blue had success in the power game in the third and fourth quarter, including a run where he plowed right over Packers cornerback Damarious Randall.
- Grimes registered three first downs out of his five carries and one reception. One run on third and six went for five yards to set up the fourth and one touchdown pass to Griffin. His other carry in the first quarter on second and long set up a manageable third and four. Grimes consistently finds a way to pick up key yards when the Texans need it most and he did that throughout the game on Sunday.
- After Griffin's touchdown that tied the game at seven, the Texans defense came up with another massive stop. On fourth and two from the Texans 48-yard line, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for it and called on Ripkowski to pick up the two yards. He only got one as "Big Daddy" Vince Wilfork swallowed up the interior of the Packers and Ripkowski had no seam to exploit to get the two yards for the first down. The Texans were stopped on fourth and one earlier in the game and the defense returned the favor midway through the third quarter. The momentum meter was pegged toward the Texans at that moment. Back to my "this game was winnable" comment…this was the exact moment I truly felt that the Texans would win this all-important game.
- Three plays after the fourth and one stop, Grimes picked up 14 yards on a draw on third and 12. The sideline was ecstatic. Two plays later, the Texans faced second and five.
- That play, the second and five, will be the one all Texans coaches, players, staff and fans remember more than any other. Osweiler and DeAndre Hopkins couldn't connect on the slant route over the middle and the game flipped right there. The game just didn't know it until a few plays later.
- There are 125 plus plays in any game and winning or losing doesn't fall on one play; however, the momentum of the game can change instantly. It seemed to after that incompletion.
- After Don Jones downed Shane Lechler's punt at the Packers two-yard line, it didn't feel like the game had potentially flipped, but it had, although the first play of the Packers drive could've changed it the other way. Rodgers dropped to throw from his end zone and got a ton of pressure at his feet. He launched a bomb deep down the field, toward the Texans sideline. No Packers receiver was within 20 yards of the throw. As Rodgers threw from the pocket and not outside the tackle box, there was a discussion as to whether Rodgers intentionally grounded the throw. Since it took place in the end zone, an intentional grounding from the end zone would've been a safety. Watching the routes develop, it appeared that Davante Adams had just run the wrong route, but I've seen that called grounding in games before. Gene Steratore and his officiating crew came together to discuss after the incompletion and it was only then that I thought a safety could be a possibility. Steratore more than likely made the right call but one that the Texans could've used at that particular moment.
- On third down, Packers running-receiver-back Ty Montgomery burst up the right side for 13 yards and the Packers were out from the shadow of their own goalpost, not to mention it was J-Jo's last play of the game. But, a 10-yard completion from Rodgers to Jared Cook on third down, followed up by a 17-yard catch and run by Davante Adams on the first play of the fourth quarter turned the momentum meter back in the Packers direction. A few plays later a less than healthy Rodgers found Nelson wide open for the 14-7 lead. It was like a boxing match that turned near the end of a round dominated by the Texans. A couple of lethal jabs and a left-right combination won the all-too-important 11th round. The Texans weren't completely knocked out at that moment, but the Packers had bloodied the undermanned Texans.
- The Texans fans that made the trip to Lambeau seemed to enjoy their trip, especially the guys that got front row seats in the Northeast corner of the field, i.e where Griffin did his Lambeau leap, Texans edition. There was a group of perhaps a dozen Texans fans in that area and they welcomed Griffin with open arms. One in particular stood out. No shirt. Wrapped in the state of Texas flag. Dude was high on football, that's for sure.
- Before the game, I was face-timing with my daughter back in Houston to show her the snow that was coming down. As I had my phone in my hand, those same guys were going berserk, waving the flag, raising a beverage to the sky and being raving fans. They didn't know my daughter was on the other end of the phone, but it didn't matter they were ready to go, so when Griffin scored, those guys were on cloud nine and Griffin found them.
- I'll tell you this, though, that ball Osweiler threw to Griffin…man, that thing seemed to hang in the air for an hour. I wasn't totally sure Griffin could get to it. But, Brock threw it to the one and only spot that made sense and was effective for the touchdown.
- From my view, I thought that was one of Brian Cushing's best games. He had six tackles and made a number of key stops throughout the day. He may not get credit for the tackle on the fourth and two stop as Big Daddy truly clogged the running lanes on that play. But, as it appeared Ripkowski might be able to wiggle free and extend the ball out for the first down, Cushing was right there to pull his arms back in and pulled him back away from the first down.
It was cold. It was wet. It could've been an all-timer; a play here, a play there and it could've been. It wasn't, so it's time to move on to Indianapolis. All I know is if it's wet in Indianapolis, someone's got a roof leak to fix. Time to finish and it starts in Lucas Oil next week.
The Texans faced the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 13.