Driving on the bus to the airport in Toluca, Mexico, I can't even come up with the right words for what transpired at Estadio Azteca in a 27-20 Texans loss to the 8-2 Oakland Raiders.
Green lasers. Paper airplanes. Blown calls on the Raiders sideline all night long. All of that overshadowed a gritty overall effort by this Texans team, shorthanded and banged up all night. Here are my observations from a wild, wacky, outrageous, frustrating and neurotic night in Mexico City.
- I want to start with the toughness and grit this team displayed on Monday night. It did everything to provide the knockout blow to the explosive Raiders, but fell short. The Texans were already shorthanded headed into this one and then saw a number of players come out of the game with injuries. Yet, an inch stood between the Texans and potentially punching one in to make it 27-20 late in the fourth quarter. No one's in the business of moral victories, especially in this league, which makes it sting that much more.
- The green laser, oh the green laser. The Texans security spent nearly the entire first half trying to find the culprit in the North end zone. There were state and city police in that end zone for most of the rest of the half. I don't know if they ever found anyone, but a green laser at a football game? Again, it made for an odd and strange night to say the least. I saw the images on Twitter after the game and it's just wrong.
- Braxton Miller's touchdown catch was the 2016 Senior Bowl in a nutshell. Down in Mobile last January, defensive backs tried to cover Miller in man coverage and he shook nearly every single one of them. He did that on his touchdown catch, the first in his career. He froze the defensive back David Amerson, then showed his numbers to Brock Osweiler. The Texans gunslinger threw a dart for the touchdown. I talked with Braxton after the game and as down as he was, when I asked him if his performance on Monday night can buoy his confidence that much more. He said definitely and that staying healthy was the major key.
- Brock Osweiler won't tell you that was his best game, but that's the type of throwing performance that this team can go to battle with on a weekly basis. He threw the one pick in the first half, but the defense bailed them out. He spread the wealth throughout the game and should've had a long touchdown on his ledger on the first drive of the game. He made some brilliant throws into small windows. He took what the Raiders gave him. He seemed extremely sure of himself in the pocket throughout the night.
- There was NO cell service or internet service in that stadium on Monday night, so I was a bit surprised when I got a text from my brother in law who lives in Charlotte. It was the only text I got all night and it just said "y'all got jobbed, that should've been six. DeAndre didn't step out of bounds." Start the game with seven instead of three, not fumble on the kickoff later in the half, get a better spot in the fourth quarter to score seven there, pick up the third and one before Nick Novak's second field goal and this could've been a different ballgame. Much, MUCH different.
- Let me just jump to the third and fourth down plays for the Texans with the score tied at 20. First of all, on the toss crack to Lamar Miller, I thought it was a brilliant call and a wonderful open field tackle by Raiders linebacker Malcolm Smith. BUUUUUUT, he was well beyond the yard to gain. I got on Twitter after the game and there were plenty of still shots of Lamar's knee down AT the yard line and the ball well beyond it.
- On fourth down, I saw the video replay on the board in the stadium and they froze it as Akeem Hunt's knee hit the ground and, again, the ball was all the way to the 14-yard line, which would've been a first down. The spot was brutal. That said, the game shouldn't have come down to that moment, in all honesty.
- The Texans kicked a field goal to make it 20-13. The defense, which had gotten rest during that 6:42 drive, finally cracked. They blew a coverage and left Jamize Olawale wide open up the seam. I've got to give credit to Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave though. On that play, he had Amari Cooper align in the backfield. He moved out into the flat and I was convinced that quarterback Derek Carr was going to shoot it out to him just to get Cooper the ball in space, matched on a linebacker. Unfortunately, Carr found Olawale wide open and the former North Texas receiver took off for the end zone with no one in front of him.
- I thought Estadio Azteca was going to come off the hinges at that moment as it was clear that this was a pro-Raiders crowd. It was their home game, but just walking around the city the day of the game, there were a ton of Raiders fans in attendance. But, with how fast the Raiders scored, I knew that the Raiders gassed defense had to go back on the field, still gassed. The Texans chipped away at them until the turnover on downs deep in Raiders territory.
- At halftime, there was a choreographed card stunt in the stadium and it was cool as could be. Buuuuuuut, one little problem. Pieces of card stock in the hands of 76,000 rowdy fans. What could go wrong? They became paper airplane missiles from all over the stadium, raining down on every area of the field. Raiders safety Reggie Nelson got hit right in the back with one just before the snap of a play. It just added to the surreal nature of the night as it was.
- Raiders edge star Khalil Mack had a sack in the first half, but I'll be honest, I don't remember seeing him much in the second half. He was held in check by the Texans game plan, chips and doubles, and right tackle Chris Clark and left tackle Duane Brown. Mack was gassed most of the second half, as was nearly every defender on either side of the field.
- Now, Bruce Irvin? Different story. He was all over the field all night long. That might've been the best game I'd see him play in his five years in the league.
- We joke with Texans left tackle Duane Brown all the time that there's only one thing he hasn't done in his career: score a touchdown. I thought it was about to happen in the first half down on the one yard line, but Osweiler's pass was batted down by Denico Autry. Osweiler caught it and was immediately tackled for a loss. Another penalty sent them backwards even further, but it gave Braxton Miller more room to operate for his touchdown on the next play.
- After I did my postgame hit with Drew Dougherty on the field, I was headed up the ramp to the locker room. Now, let me explain, this wasn't a ramp as much as it was a horrid, uphill trek straight out of Survivor. The ramp had to be at a good 40-45 degree angle and about 100 yards long. As I walked up the tunnel, running back Lamar Miller was a few steps in front of me. That dude is as tough as the day is long. He was outstanding, rushing for 104 yards on 24 carries. He had two other catches for nine yards as well. He took a beating and it showed walking up that tunnel. I was worried he wasn't going to make it. I just hate that he couldn't take that walk up that insane ramp after a win this team more than deserved.
- The Texans picked off an opposing quarterback for the second time in two weeks. On the first play of the second half, the Raiders tried to shoot tight Clive Walford out to the flat, but Whitney Mercilus played it perfectly and Carr had to rethink where he wanted to go with the ball. At that point, Jadeveon Clowney and Mercilus were right in his face. Carr launched deep and A.J. Bouye was waiting for the rock to fall into his hands. That was a huge play in the game.
- The Texans defense couldn't have been better than when it was asked to get on the field after Osweiler's only interception of the night. When Brock threw that pick, the defense went trudging back on the field, but Benardrick McKinney was exhorting his teammates clapping and patting each guy on the back. It was a different mindset after turnovers than it was earlier in the season at New England, in particular. The Texans held the Raiders on down just prior to halftime and that was after holding the Raiders to only three points after the Tyler Ervin kickoff return fumble.
- In fact, the Texans defense was outstanding for most of the night, until that Olawale 75 yard catch and run for a touchdown.
- Heading into the fourth quarter, the Raiders had generated only 187 yards of total offense. In fact, of their first seven drives in the game, five of those drives generated fewer than ten yards. Then, the floodgates opened…unfortunately.
- Jadeveon Clowney announced his presence early in this game, for certain. He shot into the backfield early in the game for a tackle for a loss. He ended up with two on the night and also drew a holding penalty late in the game that helped stop the clock when the Texans were attempting to get the ball back. Reading comments and articles from national writers immediately after the game, it's clear that Clowney has finally gotten the respect he's richly deserved. On the bus ride home, I read a couple of Bay Area columnists' articles lauding Clowney for the game he played.
That's about all from Mexico. There are numerous tales to be sure that I've omitted as they didn't pertain to the game, but from the trip itself. Tune into Texans Radio this week and we'll all share our experiences from a once in a lifetime trip.
See ya next week…or this week, I forgot, it's a short week.
Texans fans showed up to watch their favorite team take on the Raiders in Mexico City.