Late last year, many of the Texans were seen around the building wearing t-shirts with the word GRIT emblazoned on the back. There's no win that I can remember that epitomized GRIT more than the Texans win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night. Think about it…rookie quarterback starting for the first time, all three tight ends out of the game, no starting guard, two wide receivers out as well, starting inside linebacker out, yet the Texans found a way to GRIT out a 13-9 win over the Bengals.
Here are my observations.
- In three consecutive games against the Bengals, the Texans have scored, 10, 12 and 13 points and won all three. Suffice to say, they haven't been pretty wins but hugely important wins.
- Defensive back Kareem Jackson may have played the best game of his entire career on Thursday night. He put a vicious hit on Bengals rookie receiver John Ross to force a fumble. He had a sack on the first drive of the game when he flew over running back Giovani Bernard and got enough of quarterback Andy Dalton to knock him down. He led the team in tackles. He played inside. He played outside when Kevin Johnson and Johnathan Joseph both went out of the game. He was outstanding, no matter where he was asked to play.
- Benardrick McKinney? Beast. He had two sacks on the night, but what I saw from him most was leadership. He had all ten other guys locked into what he was saying. He wouldn't let this defense get down or get frustrated, no matter the situation. He was all over the place, as usual, and had to help a pair of rookie linebackers next to him all night. Speaking of..
- …let's talk about Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole. With the Bengals firepower at running back, I was ultra-concerned that Andy Dalton would throw to them all night long and have success doing it. One play I remember distinctly was when the Bengals tried to run a pick route, essentially, in the second half. Wide receiver Alex Erickson took a bee line for Cunningham, who was responsible for the back out of the backfield. The Texans rookie linebacker didn't get the best jump on the route and then ran into Erickson, but once he got clear, he FLEW to the ball carrier and held the gain to two yards. He did that earlier in the game as well on a throw to Joe Mixon. That's a long gain if Cunningham isn't in out on the field at that moment. Cole finished with three tackles, including a tackle and an assist on special teams. He saved a touchdown on a punt return early in the game. In fact, Cole walked down Adam Jones from behind, which was amazing to see.
- Let's get to the man who celebrated his 22nd birthday on this evening - Deshaun Watson. It wasn't a perfect game, but he didn't throw any interceptions or turn the ball over. His touchdown run was, wow. It was the longest run by any quarterback in the history of the organization and not even close; my research seconded by Marc Vandermeer. But, what I think I'll remember most from this one was the fourth quarter drive where he made a number of key throws on a 13 play, 66-yard drive.
- 1st-and-10, backed up to 10-yard line - 11-yard throw to DeAndre Hopkins
- 2nd-and-20, HOU 11-yard line - found Hopkins open down the seam with no safety help - Bengals Adam Jones pass interference
- 3rd-and-7, HOU 28 - found Hopkins for nine yards and a first down
- 3rd-and-16, HOU 37 - scrambled for 11 yards to set up closer field goal attempt.
- He was in shotgun on 11 of those plays too. With the game on the line, Bill O'Brien put the ball in his hands and Watson delivered on a key drive.
- Two plays prior to his 49-yard touchdown run, Watson was absolutely blasted by Geno Atkins. The Bengals star interior defender didn't so much as sacked him as much as he de-cleated the rookie quarterback. So, how did Watson respond? The longest run of his short career for the only touchdown on the night.
- A tip of the cap to Atkins. That man is a bad mother, well, you know. He's as powerful a interior defensive lineman as the Texans will face all year long. The Texans short yardage troubles on the night were a direct result of his presence and power.
- By the way, there were a few key blocks thrown on Watson's run. Jay Prosch locked up one of the corners as Watson sped past, then Braxton Miller spun Bengals safety George Iloka right around at the five yard line which allowed Watson to cruise into the end zone.
- When Watson returned to the sideline, he was greeted by a bevy of defensive players that loved that touchdown run. A good half dozen of them; as a former coach, I LOVED seeing that.
- The offensive line didn't have an A night, but want to talk about some GRIT, say hello to this group. It was far from a masterpiece, but the Texans offense knew that it was going to have to ground and pound all night and did it. The Texans ran for 168 yards on the ground and gave up no sacks in the second half. The short yardage blocking MUST improve and the overall protection game must as well, but with no tight ends to help, forcing two rookies - Julien Davenport and Kyle Fuller - to pick up a ton of reps as 6th and 7th linemen, this group did an admirable job, for certain.
- Watching DeAndre Hopkins do his work on the sideline is one of the great joys of my job. That fourth quarter drive, in particular, he just went to work. The beautiful toe drag to get both of his feet in? I mean, wow. The offense needed its best player to step up tonight and he did in a big way.
- Man, Jadeveon Clowney was mo-ving with that fumble recovery in the first half. He caught that thing on the fly and whooo, he was flying. Apparently, the Next Gen stats on ball carriers had him as the fourth fastest ball carrier on the night. Unreal!
- Lamar Miller piled up a few late game carries that lowered his average as the Texans were trying to run out the clock but he was a dude all night long. He and D'Onta Foreman did yeoman's work on the ground (30 carries in total) and Miller tacked on three catches for another 26 yards. He nearly broke a long one on the field goal drive in the fourth quarter, just a shoelace tackle away from putting one in the end zone from 50 yards away.
- I hadn't thought about it quite this way but, after the game, I got a direct message from my pal Dustin on Tyler Ervin's third down catch in the second quarter. On third down, Watson found Ervin across the middle for just enough to pick up a first down. The Bengals decided to review the play and Marc, Andre and myself were mixed as to whether it would get overturned. The call stood but was not confirmed, thankfully, though, that was enough to keep the drive alive. If that play was overturned, the Texans would've had to punt and who knows whether the offense could've gotten the ball back before the end of the half.
- Late in the third quarter on another key third down play, the Bengals spread out the Texans, with trips into the Texans sideline and running back Gio Bernard the number one receiver (closest to the sideline). The Texans put safety Marcus Gilchrist on Bernard. Prior to the ball being snapped, secondary coach John Butler got Gilchrist's attention to move him inside a bit more as he expected the Bengals to throw the slant to Bernard. The Bengals threw the slant to Bernard. Gilchrist broke up the pass and helped get the Texans defense off the field with a big-time assist from his secondary coach.
- J.J. Watt didn't pile up massive numbers, in fact, he's still looking for his first sack of the year, but don't confuse lack of numbers for impact. He was consistently in the Bengals backfield and when the Bengals couldn't block him, they tripped him. Fittingly, he came up with the hit of the night, drilling center Russell Bodine after a game of hully-gully broke out on the final play of the game. Overall, though, he frustrated the Bengals offensive line like he's done to so many offensive lines in the past.
- Back in 2015, there was a fan that gave me the business coming back on the field at halftime for whatever reason. When that game was over, I did a postgame video right where he was standing. Surprisingly (not really), he didn't have much to say once it was over. So, who was giving me the business again at halftime? SAME guy. I just smiled and wondered whether he remembered how it went for him two years prior. Surprisingly (not really), he was nowhere to be found after this one was over.
A few final nuggets…
- The Texans nine starting quarterbacks under Bill O'Brien are now 8-1 in their first start.
- The Texans won their first ever Thursday night road game.
- The Texans hadn't won on Thursday since 2012 Thanksgiving game…until last night.
- The Texans won on Thursday night for the first time since 2007 (against Broncos at NRG Stadium)
- Deshaun Watson became only the third rookie to start and win his first start (David Carr in 2002, T.J. Yates 2011)
- Watson's 49-yard run is a Texans record for a quarterback run.
- The Texans had NINE rookies active on Thursday night. Now, I can't find particular stats on rookies active in a regular season game, but I can't imagine any time in recent memory that nine rookies were active.
There's probably more I'm leaving on the cutting room floor, but I'll cut it there. It was a long, yet satisfying, night in the Queen City. In the end, though, the Texans left with a much needed Thursday night win. See ya next week, everyone. Enjoy the weekend!
The Texans faced the Bengals in Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football.