Throughout my half hour drive home Saturday night in Houston traffic, I tried to think of the right word to describe the those three hours at NRG Stadium. Trust me when I say it was futile, because no descriptive adjective does it justice. The Voice of the Texans may have said it best after Randy Bullock's kick sailed wide right…
If you were in the building, you'll remember that 12-10 win over Cincinnati for a long while. Not for its beauty or quality of play, but the drama that made it all worth it. Well, for those with strong tickers. Here are my observations from a memorable Christmas Eve contest.
- Let's start at the end, the end of the game that is. I was stationed directly underneath the right upright, so I didn't notice the hesitation by Bengals kicker Randy Bullock until I watched the ending as my wife finished wrapping Christmas presents around 2 a.m. He double clutched his approach at the ball. Why? Well, I have a theory and it included DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans called a timeout just prior to the field goal and special teams coordinator Larry Izzo called for Hopkins. I could see Izzo explaining to Hopkins to jump straight up and not land on any Texans or Bengals. But, the Bengals perhaps anticipated Hopkins would leap over the snapper, as has been in vogue in the NFL this year. He didn't, but it appeared that the distraction of Hopkins threw off the timing of the kick and made Randy, essentially, false start his approach.
- Then, when it went to the right, it sailed right over my head and the place went mad. I've never seen NRG Stadium quite like that. For most people, they were just in hysterics so they probably don't remember much. I ran all over the place looking for my postgame interview, which I wouldn't commit to until the game was over. I only interview someone on the field when the Texans win, so I had to find my PR buddy Omar Majzoub to figure it out quickly. Luckily, Omar hooked me up with Alfred Blue.
- As soon as Blue and I popped up on the screen, "BLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUE" reverberated throughout the building, which was as loud as it had ever been.
- Hopkins had three catches on the night, so it wasn't one of his memorable, statistically-dominant nights. But, he showed that he can impact the game on every play, even on a run block. Let me go back one week to the Jaguars game. The Texans ran the ball to the left side and Hopkins was assigned to do one of the most difficult things for a receiver on run plays: dig the safety out. What that means is that the receiver has to try to get inside the safety and "dig" him out of the play from an outside position. Typically, issues arise when a safety gets a dead run read and sprints into the fray before the receiver even has a chance to touch him. Jaguars safety Jonathan Cyprien did just that to Hopkins on a run play in last weekend's game. Cyprien helped on the tackle for a one-yard gain. This time, though, Hopkins got all the way inside Bengals safety Shawne Williams and "dug" him out and opened a hole for Blue to sprint 24 yards to the end zone.
- A blocked extra point by Bengals kick-blocker extraordinaire Margus Hunt only added to the drama and the anxiety at that point.
- The Texans offense struggled with the strength and length of the Bengals pass rush in the first half. Bengals star defensive tackle Geno Atkins is a concrete pillar that can move, and he was a monster throughout most of the game. But, the long and strong edge rushers were a problem for the Texans too, mostly Wallace Gilberry, and it took the first half to adjust. The Texans gave up a coverage sack in the second half and that was it.
- One thing that quarterback Tom Savage did, especially in the second half, was get to his secondary reads. On the very first play of the touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, Savage threw a beautiful comeback route to Will Fuller. That seemed to be his third read on the play. He did that a few times during the night.
- Savage didn't throw any touchdowns, but he didn't turn the ball over and led a come-from-behind touchdown drive for the second straight weekend. Bill O'Brien said earlier this week that the true measure of a quarterback was winning and ability to get his team into the end zone. Savage got the Texans into the end zone when he needed.
- That four-play, 75-yard drive was the proper answer to Brandon LaFell's long catch-and-run touchdown. It was really the first time I can remember the Texans offense putting a stake in the ground and saying "Nope, this is OUR time." Quite frankly, it's the one drive that I'll remember from this season more than any other.
- Let's get to the real story of the night... this Texans defense. It's not possible to eliminate the LaFell touchdown, but minus that 86-yard play, the Bengals put up only 208 yards of total offense. It won the turnover battle again with Quintin Demps' fifth interception on the season. It forced six three-and-outs (or fewer). That's 50 percent of the drives on the night. It forced six straight punts by the Bengals to start the game. What else was there to say on this night?
- Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork continued his run of excellent play in the middle of the formation and the same can be said for his young protégé D.J. Reader. Both made plays sprinting to the football throughout the night, as well as holding the point of attack in run defense.
- Demps had another outstanding performance, racking up seven tackles (second on the team on the night), one interception and a pass defensed. He's locked in right now and the secondary is feeding off of his leadership.
- Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus returned and had two sacks - one against Cedric Ogbuehi and one facing tackle Jake Fisher. Man, what a tremendous pass rusher he's become since he arrived in 2012. He can throw hands. He can sprint past a blocker. He can power through tackles. He has become a stud setting the edge against the run. The combination he's formed with…
- ...Jadeveon Clowney has been amazing to watch. Clowney was voted to his first Pro Bowl and registered the team's other sack when he completely ran right over left tackle Ogbuehi. He had another tackle for a loss and a quarterback hurry, but the play that had everyone buzzing on social media after the game was his near run-down of Bengals LaFell on his 86-yard touchdown. Clowney was well behind the play but when he realized LaFell was clear in the secondary, No. 90 took off down the field. Wow... just wow, he almost caught him and ran past one of the players in the secondary in the process.
- On that catch and run by LaFell, it was a 3rd-and-5 and I was right at the line of scrimmage. I could tell immediately that Eddie Pleasant was offsides. Both the ref and I tried to yell at him to move back but with the din of the crowd, he couldn't hear either of us. When the ball was snapped, the side judge had done all that he could to get Pleasant out of the neutral zone, so he threw the flag. I knew the Bengals had a big first down upcoming, so I was a little late realizing that LaFell was off to the races after the Bengals ran the pick route to perfection. I'd have taken the offsides, instead of an 86-yard house call.
- Inside linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Brian Cushing continued their stellar play, totaling 12 tackles and a tackle for a loss. They get tremendous help from Wilfork, Reader and the defensive ends, but they don't miss often and they bring their big boy pads to keep runners from picking up yards after contact.
- In fact, this is one of the best defenses in the league with missed tackles (110 in 1150 snaps - fifth in the league)
- Cornerback A.J. Bouye was flat out locked in on Saturday night. He had three passes defensed and as he told me after the game, he should've had one of those as an interception. From the first day of OTAs back in May, he's been at a completely different level. His game is so much more refined this year and it's shown in nearly everything he's done.
Well, that'll do it for this one. Hope y'all had a happy holiday season. Here's hoping the Texans added some joy (in some tense moments) to your holidays as well. See ya next week in Nashville as the Texans go for win number ten.
Check out the best gameday photos as the Texans took on the Bengals at NRG Stadium.