Following the end of every season, my pal Omar Majzoub helps NFL Films put together the annual highlight film. He writes the whole script. He finds all of the radio clips. He does everything but splice, cut and edit the actual tape. Yet, I'm not sure if Omar comes up with the title of the piece, so here's my unsolicited advice…
No Matter What.
No matter what the Texans have faced in this season, they've found a way to get beyond it. Down by three with five minutes left, the Texans mounted a comeback on the broad shoulders of quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Once they made magic, the defense, led by J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Benardrick McKinney, summoned all they had left in the tank to dominate the last two drives of the game. The special teams held Andre Roberts in check while kicker Kaimi Fairbairn was as cool as a Hawaiian sunset in the 40 degree temperatures in New Jersey. When the clock finally hit zeroes, the Texans had a 29-22 win over a gutty New York Jets squad that had Met Life Stadium rocking in the second half.
No matter what, they overcame it and won. For the 10th time in 11 games. For the fifth straight time on the road (only three teams have done that this year - LA Chargers, New Orleans Saints. Houston Texans). For the 31st time in 32 tries with a lead at halftime under Bill O'Brien.
No matter what. Here are my observations from a scintillating, stressful, exhilarating and hard fought win over the Jets.
1. Let's start with the best receiver in the NFL - DeAndre Hopkins. That's just facts. The man has numbers. He has highlights. He is clutch. He is tough as a $2 steak. It's a privilege to watch that man work his craft every single weekend. The Jets made a fatal flaw - they thought someone, anyone on that roster could cover Hopkins alone, with no help. Morris Claiborne may have gotten one pass breakup here or another one there, but with the game in the balance, Hopkins was going to come down with the final pass.
2. Deshaun Watson didn't throw a prettier pass than the game winner. He said to me after the game that he saw cover 1, man-to-man on Hopkins and he knew exactly where he was going with the ball. Hop said that his double move didn't fool Claiborne so he had to box him out. Then, he climbed the ladder, bad ankle and all, to snag Watson's beautiful toss for the game winning score.
3. As soon as Watson let fly and I saw Hopkins, I knew he was coming down with the rock. It was Cincinnati 2015 all over again. That was the first thing I thought of as he secured the catch for the touchdown. I was only slightly perturbed that he caught it on the opposite side of the field. 11 targets. Ten catches. 170 yards. Two touchdowns. Someone, or many someones, won a Fantasy Football championship today and owes Hopkins a thank you. Regardless, the man put on a show yet again for a national television audience.
4. Okay, so that got me thinking…the Texans have been in primetime four times this year. Hopkins in those games…
Dallas - Spin-o-Rama + 9 for 151 yards
Miami - 6 for 82 yards and two touchdowns, not including the non-catch of the year in the NFL
Tennessee - 5 for 74 yards
New York Jets - 10 for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
In prime time in 2018, Hopkins averages 7.5 catches, just under 120 yards and a touchdown.
5. On that clutch drive, Watson stayed in empty formation much of the drive. The touchdown came, though, off of play action to running back Alfred Blue. Regardless, Watson was brilliant, pitching to his main guys on that drive - Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas. DT made a catch right in front of the Texans sideline that was as key as any other offensive play on the night. He snatched the ball inches from the turf for a first down near the red zone.
6. Watson told me that he was just comfortable, even with nobody in the backfield with him, and wanted the ball in his hands down the stretch, even though it had been tough throughout the third quarter, in particular. The Jets threw a number of different looks, blitz-wise and those got home a few times. But, on the final drive, Watson may not have been hit once, that I can remember. On an afternoon/night in which the running game couldn't get going at all, Watson had to carry the offense through the air facing a defense with a one track mind.
7. The biggest play of the game, though, may have been DeAndre Carter's 50-yard catch and run to get the offense going for the first time in the second half. The Texans had three three-and-outs in the third quarter and Houston's lead shrunk to one point 16-15. All the momentum was on that side of the field (Fireman Ed and the J-E-T-S chant was insanity in the third quarter) and the Texans were backed up in their own territory. The Jets brought the nickel and an inside linebacker and Carter read it perfectly. He ran his hot route directly to the spot those two vacated and Watson drilled him with the pass. Carter, then, sped up field with one of the biggest plays in the game. The Texans put up three points on that drive, but it really kick started the offense finally in the second half. After the game in the locker room, I went up to him and told him that was the play that got it all rolling. He already knew.
8. After Hopkins made the catch that put the Texans ahead, I could see the defense on the sideline, basically, saying this one is over. We're done with this nonsense and it's time to impose our will right now. J.J. Watt had another sack. Jadeveon Clowney had a sack. Listen, had the officials called legitimate holding all night, there would've been about eight to ten holdings against Watt, Clowney and Mercilus. Seeing Watt and Clowney sacking Darnold on that final drive as the clock ticked down on fourth down…it was the first time that I took a breath in the second half.
9. Seeing defensive tackle Christian Covington drop into coverage and help force an incompletion and then later make a tackle on 3rd and 17 was flat awesome.
10. Reader was a man child again on the inside against the run, in particular. The Jets ran for 90 yards on 31 carries? That's ridiculous. Furthermore, Reader got pass pressure up in the middle throughout the game as well. I said it on Texans Radio and will say it again, he should get consideration to be a Pro Bowler. He gets little credit nationally or in the media because he's surrounded by some big-time stars, but his teammates all know. So do you.
10. One of the biggest plays of the game is one that no one will mention - Johnathan Joseph's pass breakup on the post route to Jets blazer Robby Anderson. My gut tells me that Joseph took a calculated risk on that play. Here's what I mean. I didn't see the full coverage, but I did see the route. It was the same post route that T.Y. Hilton ran last week. That one went for 60 yards and broke the dam open for the Colts in their win. On the snap, my eyes went to Anderson immediately. I saw him go to the middle and get matched up on safety Justin Reid. I never saw the pass but I saw that matchup and as much as I love Justin, that's a mild advantage for Anderson. Then, out of nowhere, as the ball approached Anderson, Joseph showed up. Immediately, it hit me...rewind to Hilton's catch again. Going back and watching that Hilton catch this week, it was a two man route and no one even threatened Joseph's side of the field. This time, instead of doing exactly what he was asked to do, he knew he could help because no one showed on his side of the field. So, he took off running for the spot and nearly came down with the pick. It's exactly what Coach O'Brien told us on his coach's show - you don't always want players that do exactly what they're coached/told to do or players that never do what they're coached/told to do. My sense is that J-Joe wasn't expected to be in that spot, but he knew what the Jets wanted to do. So, he took a calculated risk that no one would threaten his area and he went and helped on a massive play in the fourth quarter.
11. While I'm thinking about J-Joe, one other play REALLY captured my attention. On a run play early in the game, he absolutely obliterated Robby Anderson who was assigned to block Joseph. No one mentioned it because McKinney destroyed running back Eli McGuire, but I happened to see it perfectly. That's a clinic in how a cornerback or any defensive back should play through a block and make a play.
12. J.J. Watt completely dominated the line of scrimmage on Saturday night. I mean, he manhandled right tackles Brandon Shell and Brent Qvale all night long. Now, it's not a fair fight, seemingly, and they held him nearly every time he rushed Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. I had one of the photographers next to me rewind his shot reel after one of his rushes and Qvale had both 9s in his hands to keep Watt off of Darnold. On the final two drives, he moved inside to rush over the guard as well and Whitney Mercilus rushed from the outside. Either way, Watt was (insert overly apropos and glowing adjective here). Two sacks. Two quarterback hits. Two tackles for a loss. One HUGE forced fumble. Six tackles. Another Dude Night for the Dude of all Dudes.
13. Jadeveon Clowney got it back. He's said that to me over the years, I'll get it back. When he's made a mistake, he finds a way to atone for that mistake. The offsides penalty last week against Indianapolis didn't decide that game, but he was deeply disappointed by it, yet at the end of this one, he came up with the sack that essentially ended the game.
14. In my humble opinion, Benardrick McKinney had his best game as a Texan. When things weren't clicking in the second half, in particular, it was 55 who rallied the troops. He had a couple of big hits on runs, knifing into the backfield on one running play in the third quarter for a tackle for a loss on a three and out drive. He was livid after the Jets' touchdown in the fourth quarter and got a 15-yard penalty for it, but he got it back, too. He made a massive play, playing Tampa 2 on one of the Jets' late drives. He's supposed to run with an inside receiver down the middle of the field. He was step for step with Jermaine Kearse which kept Kearse from making a play on the ball for a big completion. The ball hit McKinney in the helmet and fell harmlessly incomplete to the turf. Overall, his numbers were excellent: nine tackles, two PBU and one TFL, but his impact was that and then some. He wouldn't let the defense lose focus for one second.
15. By the way, any coaches out there that coach defense, put on the film of Whitney Mercilus setting the edge against the run. It's textbook and consistent. Tight ends got away with maulings on him throughout the night, especially in the run game.
16. When I do my postgame interview in the locker room, typically I pick a spot away from the fray to talk to a player. This time, though, I caught up with Deshaun Watson right in the middle of everything. That's a memory I'll have from this one. DW4 taking me through the final drive. Players on a winning high all around us. Chaos and excitement. There was something about this win, I couldn't put my finger on it but it was SWEET. This was not "ho hum, another win", they felt every second of this one and celebrated in kind.
17. Oh man, that deep ball? What a throw! I didn't see who Deshaun was throwing to initially as I was watching the protection around him. When he launched, I turned and saw Hopkins. Instinctively, I yelled into the microphone (I hope I didn't, but I'm worried I did) "HOPKINS!!"
18. The sacks were not pretty on the night, but as many have reiterated, they're not all on the offensive line. It's got to improve as we approach the end of December and hopefully beyond. Part of it was the inability to run the ball effectively. A major part of it, though, was the Jets. It's not statistically a great defense, but in the third quarter when they knew they had a chance and had some confidence, they played as well as I can remember in the last six to eight weeks. Sam Darnold was a dude all night long and will be the savior the Jets fans want him to be. Jamal Adams is the Truth as Bill O'Brien told you all week long. But that front is long, angry and athletic. That group won enough against the Texans to make this a hard fought W.
19. It was great to see cornerback Aaron Colvin make a massively important play for this defense on fourth down late in the game. When Darnold started scrambling out to his left, I was terrified. I had seen it all night. I had seen it for two years at USC. I knew that he would find a way to complete that pass. Colvin made sure that he didn't. It's not been the smoothest ride for Slick due to that injury he suffered back in week four. But, that's the kind of play that can restore some confidence going forward.
20. Running back Buddy Howell hasn't had one carry, hasn't had one reception. Heck, I don't know if he's played on offense all year long, but the rookie has been sensational on special teams units all year long. He had THREE tackles on special teams and, considering there were only five returns all night long, I'd say that's a strong return-to-tackle ratio. Roberts is the leading kickoff return man in the NFL and he saved the game in Buffalo with four outstanding returns. Those four returns averaged over 37 yards a return. Against the Texans? 23.2 yards a kickoff return, in large part due to what Howell and his cover units are doing week in and week out.
21. And, last and certainly not least, John Christian Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'a Fairbairn may have been the Dude of the Night, if not for Hopkins heroics. Heck, even with Hopkins stellar night, Fairbairn could make a case. Another five for five night - 41, 32, 53, 49 and 40. The 53-yarder was right down Main Street and would've been good from 60+. With a ton of close games this year, Fairbairn has been money. That was his second five field goal game and the third four+ field goal game. In those three games (DAL, CLE & NYJ), he was 14 of 15. Great work and more left to do.
That's the theme, really.
More work to do, but as I said earlier...no matter what. Regardless of the opponent, the challenges ahead, the players on the other sideline, this team must find a way and it has through 14 games this year. It's finishing time in the NFL and the Texans must get it done. No matter what. See ya from Philly next week, everyone!
The Traveling Texans represented big at MetLife as the Texans took on the Jets.