Flat out speechless. That 19-17 win over Denver was far from pretty but again, when they start ranking wins based on “pretty-ness” and it matters in the standings, I’ll worry about it. Until then, I, along with my fellow Texans, will soak in another road win in an ultra difficult place to win.
Here are my observations from a sixth win in a row before the much needed bye week.
1. I’m going to start with my guy Kareem Jackson. I have one word for him: brilliant. Jackson was just that. He hit anything that moved. He covered like a glove. His hit on Phillip Lindsay to lodge the ball loose for a pass breakup was as wicked a legal hit as we’ve seen all year long. He has always done what Romeo Crennel and secondary coach Anthony Midget ask of him. Play safety. Play nickel. Blitz the edge. Make tackles in run support. Play corner. There are multiple reasons why the Texans won this game, but one major reason was the play of Kareem.
2. Think about it, the Texans had FOUR defensive backs inactive - Andre Hal, Johnathan Joseph, Aaron Colvin and Deante Burton (newly acquired last week) so the depth was certainly stretched in the back end to say the least. It was imperative that Jackson, in particular, held it down at cornerback. There were only two others at the position - Shareece Wright (who’s still playing through some stuff) and Natrell Jamerson - so Kareem needed to be solid and he went above and beyond that all day long.
3. Watching the game back on the bus on the way home, one thing that stood out was his open field tackling. The game book said he only had four tackles, but it FELT like more because of the type of tackles he made. He made at least three open field stops that were huge because it was the ball carrier and him and a lot of green grass after that. He blasted one of the Broncos running backs on a run with such force that Jadeveon Clowney went nuts, so much so that Marc credited Clowney with the stop. He was just pumped after seeing Kareem pop the Broncos running back. It was on our sideline so I saw it cleanly and it was a textbook, physical hit and tackle. He did that all day long and actually, he’s done it throughout his career. He’s playing his best football at the time the Texans needed it the most.
4. The Broncos game ending missed field goal miss set off unbridled joy. I was standing underneath the right upright, just a tad outside of it, so I saw the kick the whole way. I started yelling at Marc “WIDE RIGHT, WIDE RIGHT”, then I looked behind me as if to confirm that he had indeed missed it. When I looked back to the field, I saw players, coaches, staff, you name it, storming the field. It. Was. AWESOME.
5. Later in a quiet moment on the bus to the airport, I thought about what it was. Why did they get so excited after this one? I think it was a few reasons. It was another win in the win streak. It was in a really tough place to play. It was Demaryius Thomas’ homecoming. It was right before a bye week. It was a homecoming of sorts for a number of different Texans’ staff members. It was a grueling game that required grit and toughness and just a little bit of luck. It was all of the above. Furthermore, it was also another log on the fire of those that counted this group out at 0-3.
6. The first two drives of the game were beauties. The Texans lost the toss and started on offense. 75 yards later, rookie tight end Jordan Thomas made another deft catch in the end zone, matched on a linebacker, for the opening score. The Texans defense physically took over, forcing a quick three and out to get the ball back for the offense.
8. Deshaun Watson finished the game with 213 yards passing and two touchdowns and another game with no interceptions. So, that’s 16 games for Watson - 4,088 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. I did some research before the game, and here are some other great quarterbacks first 16 NFL games…
Peyton Manning, 3,739 yards, 26 TD and 28 INT
Drew Brees 3,284 yards, 17 TD and 16 INT
Tom Brady 2,843 yards 18 TD and 12 INT
Carson Wentz 3,782 yards, 16 TD and 14 INT
Dan Marino 3,737 yards, 35 TD and 9 INT
Kurt Warner 4,353 yards, 41 TD and 13 INT (the only player in NFL history with more passing touchdowns in first 16 games than Watson…for now).
9. Those are some of the best in history and some of the best in our game currently and Deshaun’s numbers rank higher than most. Consequently, the biggest number for the past three games has been zero. As in, no interceptions. Watson last threw an interception against Buffalo on a tipped pass (Lorenzo Alexander) in the third quarter of that win three weeks ago. That’s helped more than anything.
10. As an aside, but an important one, the Texans have not turned over the ball in three games. 13 straight quarters of no turnovers is outstanding.
11. On that first drive, he found his newest toy/target - Demaryius Thomas. That drive really got going on the tunnel screen to Thomas. He got a great block on the play from right tackle Kendall Lamm and sprinted up the right sideline for a 31-yard gain.
12. Then on the very next play, Watson looked for Demaryius again across the middle. He threw a laser that Thomas snagged before a big hit from two Broncos defenders for another first down. He finished the first half with three catches for 61 yards. Not bad for a guy that got to Houston on Wednesday morning.
13. There were certainly a few moments when Demaryius wasn’t exactly sure what he had on his plate, but he put in a yeoman’s effort on Sunday learning on the fly. Receivers coach John Perry had to put in similar work without Will Fuller V and Keke Coutee, then he had to get Demaryius up to speed as quickly as possible. Now, they’ve all got some time to brush up on everything before heading back out on the road in two weeks for a matchup with NFC East leading Washington.
14. When the Texans started the game, Demaryius and Jordan Thomas made early impressions, but DeAndre Hopkins was a little quiet. Then, he exploded. Chris Harris Jr., the Broncos star cornerback shadowed Hopkins throughout the game, not all the time, but a significant amount of time. Hopkins finished with 10 catches on 12 targets for 105 yards and another touchdown.
15. The touchdown catch was seemingly a head scratcher...for Denver. It left the Broncos secondary pointing fingers at each other as Hopkins crossed the formation from left to right and was WIDE open in the end zone. I couldn’t figure out how the Broncos could leave the league’s number one wide receiver that wide open. But, they did and Watson threw a dime to Hopkins to give the Texans a 13-3 lead in the first half.
16. After the touchdown, he and Demaryius celebrated with The Bow that he does with Will Fuller V. Then, they slid in front of the camera for one of the best “Squad” photos that I can remember seeing. There needs to be more of those in the near future.
17. I’m riffing now and the next thing off the top of my head is the play of the special teams. Man, the punt cover units are just crushing it. The Broncos had six punt returns for a total of 17 yards. A.J. Moore came up with a huge stop on one punt that pinned the Broncos deep in their own territory. He finished with two special teams tackles. Brennan Scarlett had one on a punt return (not to mention a pass defensed and a tackle for a loss on defense). Buddy Howell also had one special teams stop as did Josh Keyes. Rookie punter Trevor Daniel’s net average for the day was a whopping 48.3 yards per punt. It’s hard to say whether the Texans win this game without such an excellent afternoon/evening from the punt unit.
18. Man, did Jadeveon Clowney come up with a huge sack! Man, did J.J. Watt come up with a huge sack! Each star got one on Broncos quarterback Case Keenum in the fourth quarter at a key time. Clowney beat starting guard Max Garcia clean on the inside and blasted Keenum before he could even set to throw. Watt looped inside on his sack and beat the Broncos other guard for a sack on Keenum. The timing of each sack, though, was what was so key.
19. The offensive play of the night may not have been a touchdown or 31-yard big play. It happened in the fourth quarter with the Texans backed up to their own five yard line - 1st and 15. Watson got some pressure from his right side, so he started to duck out of it from his own end zone. But, as he did, linebacker Todd Davis showed up in Watson’s face on the left side. Quickly, Watson just dumped the ball over Davis’ head to Lamar Miller, who sprinted forward for 16 yards and a first down. The Texans didn’t score on that drive, but they were able to run nearly four minutes off the clock and get out from the shadow of their own end zone. A Trevor Daniel punt then pinned the Broncos inside their 15. They went from starting on their own five to flipping the field to the Broncos 14-yard line, in large part due to that Watson improvisation flip to Miller.
20. The offensive line knew it was going to be seriously challenged against Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, but the biggest opponent, so to speak, was health. Kendall Lamm left the game for a spell and Senio Kelemete did as well. The fourth quarter was more about survival than anything else. Yet, they held up against one of the best pass rush defenses in the league, for the most part. Yes, they did give up four sacks but a couple of those sacks appeared to happen due to the coverage down the field. When you consider that Demarcus Lawrence, Cameron Wake, Yannick Ngakoue, Bradley Chubb and Von Miller combined for two sacks against the OL, that’s not bad work overall.
21. The Broncos ran the ball for 75 yards on twenty carries; Denver had averaged over 133 yards per game. Rookie Phillip Lindsay saw additional work against Arizona and Kansas City and was expected to be the bell cow back against the Texans. The defense held him to 60 yards on 17 carries and one of those was for 22 yards. So, going a step deeper, the Texans held Lindsay to 38 yards on 16 carries, which was wildly impressive.
22. The one play that won’t get talked about much was the play just before the Brandon McManus field goal attempt. The Broncos had just completed a pass to Heuerman for five yards to move the ball to the 32-yard line and with one time out, they wanted to save it for the field goal. They hustled up to the line and handed to Lindsay. Texans defensive tackle Christian Covington knifed through the line and stuffed Lindsay for a one yard loss. So, instead of Lindsay popping through a hole for five or six yards to make it a 43/44 yard field goal attempt, Covington shut it down and helped force a 51-yard attempt. It won’t get a ton of attention, but that stop was massive in that situation.
23. Another key play that involved a defensive lineman was Brandon Dunn’s forced fumble in the second quarter. Initially, the statisticians gave a forced fumble to Justin Reid, but it was Dunn who forced the only turnover on the day. The Broncos set up a slip screen to Devontae Booker on the left side and it appeared from my vantage point that he had plenty of room to run. But, Kareem Jackson defeated one block outside, Justin Reid hustled up from his safety position and Dunn read it the whole way and rumbled from his inside position to tackle to Booker. Reid and Jackson slowed up the Broncos running back and Dunn chopped at the ball to get it out. The ball landed on the turf and Reid picked it up and returned it to the Denver 22-yard line. Three plays later, Watson hit Hopkins for six to make it 13-3.
24. Kicker Kaimi Fairbairn had to deal with some really tough conditions. At one point, the wind was swirling so bad down on the field in the second half that his kicking net fell over and drilled me right in the back. It was really rough, the wind, not the hit from his kicking net. But, he nailed that 46-yarder right before the half and with the wind doing its tricks, he drilled home a 37-yarder to give the Texans a 19-17 lead they would not relinquish. Yes, he missed an extra point, but those field goals were huge, to say the least.
25. That six point swing at the end of the first half told the story of this game. McManus missed from 62 yards out with 0:18 seconds left in the half while the Texans still had one time out. Watson went to Griffin on the sideline for 13 yards which stopped the clock. Then, Watson drilled one to Hopkins for seven yards to get into field goal range. The Broncos iced Fairbairn on the first kick which he missed but on the next one, he knocked it true to give the Texans a 16-10 lead at the break. What could’ve been 13-13 remained a Texans six point lead.
26. Why was that key? The Texans were 26-1 now in games under Bill O’Brien in which they’ve led at the half. Now, they’re 27-1.
Now, it’s time for some rest and relaxation. As Bill O’Brien said to me after the game “we can’t ever forget where we were to get to where we want to go.”
We’re heading to Washington...in a couple of weeks, so all of us get to enjoy a week off and prepare. Until then, enjoy it and we'll see you from the nation's capital.