The Texans have played some amazing football games this year. They came back from behind to win in Kansas City. They rallied in the fourth quarter for a win against Oakland. They handled New England for most of a memorable Sunday night win. All that said, Saturday's contest against Tampa Bay may not remembered for the game itself, but the win encapsulated what this team is all about. Resilience. Grit. Staying together now. The offense struggled a bit, so the defense and special teams picked it up and that's what a TEAM does - pick each other up. That's what I'll remember about this win more than anything else. Here are my Harris Hits from the 23-20 win over the Buccaneers.
Two plays in, Texans cornerback Bradley Roby showed every cornerback on the face of the earth how to make a play on a speed out. Dadgum clinic tape stuff. He was in off coverage on second-and-9, saw the speed out route by Bucs receiver Justin Watson and made a tremendous break on the football. I mean, it was a textbook break on the football and the rest (catch and run for six) was pretty easy.
Roby's catch was fairly simple, but safety Justin Reid's catch the very next series was far from easy. He was patrolling the middle of the Texans defense as Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston looked for a crossing route at the first down marker. Reid darted in front and did his best DeAndre Hopkins impression, snagging the ball high out of the air, yards away from any receiver in the area. He then wound through myriad jerseys and chaos for the touchdown. A blindside block (an unnecessary blindside block, unfortunately) overturned the touchdown that would've been Reid's second in his two years in the league. Regardless, two Bucs drives into the game and the Texans had two interceptions.
All week long we talked about the potential for Winston to have a polarizing afternoon. His performance was the epitome of polarizing. He threw for 335 yards, a bit above his season average, but far below what he had done the previous two weekends. He threw just one touchdown and four interceptions to four different Texans. And, as reverberated throughout the media room as I packed up my stuff and prepared to leave, it could've been as many as seven on the day. He kept the Bucs in it. He led them back. Ultimately, though, his mistakes kept them from winning. It ended up being a dead-on Winston type of day.
The interceptions were one thing, but one of the key plays on the day was a fumble forced by Texans linebacker Tyrell Adams who replaced Benardrick McKinney on the day. Near the start of the second quarter, Bucs running back Peyton Barber started to burst through a hole in the defensive line but Adams hit Barber right on the ball. The pigskin popped out and right into the arms of Justin Reid. After a six-play drive that took the ball down to the one-yard line, running back Carlos Hyde burst through the interior of the line for a one-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead.
That sequence to start the second quarter was WILD. On the second play of the second quarter, Texans running back Duke Johnson fumbled to the Bucs. On the very next play, Johnathan Joseph intercepted Winston, the third on the day, and the veteran's 17th of his career as a Texan (Joseph became the Texans all-time interception leader with that interception). Unfortunately, the Texans went three-and-out and had to punt. Yet, on the first play of the next series, Adams forced Barber's fumble. That was an, um, interesting sequence to say the least.
Joseph's interception was on par with Bradley Roby's earlier in the game as a teaching tape moment. I focused in on that 1-on-1 matchup, thinking that the Bucs may try to dial one up down the field at that moment. But, Joseph read Perriman's route and actually, as we say in the business, ran the route for the Bucs receiver. Joseph then out-fought the 6-2, 215 lb. receiver for the ball. Just a brilliant play by the 14-year veteran.
Man, what a season this has been for safety Jahleel Addae. In Week 3, he returned with the Texans to face the only team he had known in this league - the Los Angeles Chargers. He was as emotional that day as I've seen him all year after playing for them for the first six years of his career. And, he played a key role in that win over the Chargers. Then, on Saturday, he returned to his hometown - Tampa, FL, playing in the very stadium where he had first made his appearance as a youth football player. He then came up with the fourth, and final, interception of Winston to essentially seal the win. He's been such a valuable piece on this defense with all that he's been able to do for that unit and I'm glad that he's here.
Angelo Blackson?! More like Angelo Blockson, am I right?! Two straight weeks on the road, last week's AFC Special Teams Player of the Week blocked another field goal, this time of rookie kicker Matt Gay. He didn't just get that block, either. He, Brandon Dunn, D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins were excellent shutting down the run all day long. The Bucs picked up 49 yards on one run (one in which the Texans only had 10 men on the field) yet gained just 57 yards on 20 other runs.
It was great to see outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus pick up a pair of sacks on the day. He's gone without some sacks recently, but he's strung together some excellent rushes that got him close, just never to the sack promised land, if you will. But, he got one on a scramble from Winston. The Bucs signal caller attempted to scramble out to the left of the formation, but Whit ran him down and gently escorted him out of bounds for one sack. Then, on the first play after the two minute warning, Mercilus sacked Winston again. Two plays later, Jahleel Addae intercepted Winston on third-and-1.
The special teams were just brilliant, yet again. I mentioned the Angelo Blackson field goal block earlier, but that was one moment on a day with pristine special teams play. The Bucs had 12 drives following a punt or a kickoff. On those drives, the Bucs starting field position was the Tampa 17.6 yard line. I mean, that's just amazing work by the cover teams. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn's kickoffs were perfectly placed. He induced five returns from the Bucs and the starting position on those returns was never better than the 20-yard line, five yards behind the touchback line of the 25-yard line. Punter Bryan Anger punted six times and four of those pinned the Bucs inside the 20-yard line: twice at their 10-yard line, once at the 19-yard line and the final punt of the day at the four-yard line. On the two punts that didn't pin the Bucs inside the 20, Anger's hangtime allowed the coverage to limit the returner to a one-yard return and a three-yard return. Those two punts had a net average of 53 yards. Wow.
Perhaps the most important play of the game came with 9:31 left in the fourth quarter. After the defense came up with a four-and-out stop (first down on first play, three-and-out after that), the Texans got the ball back after a Bradley Pinion punt. On third-and-6, DeAndre Carter got matched up down the field on a Buccaneers linebacker. Deshaun Watson lofted a pass down the field to an open Carter, who picked up 39 yards and a key first down. A few plays later, Ka'imi Fairbairn knocked home his third field goal on the day to take a 23-20 lead.
That throw to Carter was Watson's best of the day and it was the definition of clutch. It wasn't a perfect day for DW4, but when the Texans faced a "gotta have it" situation, Watson made that hugely important touch throw.
Here's something to think about as well. This didn't really hit me until we got on the plane. The Texans had two straight games on the road. These two games were just six days apart and they were against two teams that had won four in a row and five of their previous six. Both Tennessee and Tampa Bay were smoking hot and over the course of six days, the Texans went on the road twice to beat them both. It's one thing to travel and get a win, but to then do it again the next week, on a short week, with an early afternoon game to boot… that's an amazing feat that not many teams have pulled off or could pull off. The Texans did that to take the division for the fourth time in five years.
Not much will be said about what I thought was the key drive of the game, but in the only Bucs drive in the third quarter was a 16-play, 57-yard drive that ended in a field goal. Sixteen-play drives don't typically end in three points, but it was imperative that the Texans hold strong to keep the game tied, at most. In fact, the third quarter was nothing but two drives - a 14-play, 73-yarder for a field goal for the Texans and this 16-play, 57-yarder for the Bucs.
The Bucs drive chart is, like, just... wow. Here goes: INT, INT, blocked field goal, INT, fumble, punt... then a turn left... TD, TD, field goal... then another turn the other direction... punt, downs, INT, end of game. Um, that's about as unique as it gets on a drive chart - UP, down, UP (again).
One final note, the Texans made it four AFC South championships in five years after the win. That's a tremendous accomplishment, no matter what. Now, please understand, WE ALL want more. Ownership. Players. Coaches. Staff. Fans. EVERYONE does. But, take a second to step back and appreciate what happened. Yes, it was far from pretty as a singular win on a singular day in time. But, it was win number 10 in another long NFL season. It gets the Texans in the dance and gives them a chance to do what we all want them to do. Can't earn any more hats and t-shirts without winning the first one. Happy holidays to all and enjoy the end of 2019 with your family, friends and acquaintances... and do it with another divisional championship in tow.
Houston Texans take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium for the fifteenth game of the 2019 NFL season.