Every win is a good win. No such thing as a bad win. However, the win the Texans EARNED in LA was just a little bit more special. The Texans didn't dig a gargantuan hole in the first half, but they certainly didn't make it easy. In the second half, it was a different story. Completely. Over the last 30 minutes, there were numerous plays that put the Texans in position to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 27-20 in their building. Here are my Harris hits from the City of Angels.
I don't even know where to begin, honestly, but let's start with #4. After last week's win over Jacksonville, Deshaun Watson knew that he didn't play his best game. Then, this game starts with that weird screen/lateral/fumble that led to the Chargers first touchdown. After that, though, Watson went in the phone booth as Clark Kent and emerged with his cape as Super Watson. He was beyond brilliant the rest of the day. 25-of-34 for 351 yards, three touchdowns and… AND he was only sacked twice on the day.
The play that will have the morning shows and the highlight shows buzzing is Watson's final touchdown throw to Jordan Akins. Typically, I stand behind the offensive formation, but the Texans were near midfield so I went down on the other side. I'm telling you when he broke out of the pile, I flashed back to Philly last year. And then he hit Akins, which is exactly what he did in Philly last year. The second year tight end had just run his route and saw Watson break out of the pack. Watson went left as Akins went right. But, that worked out perfectly because the defenders all converged on Watson and he threw back across his body to a wide-open Akins. I started running for the end zone with Akins and then saw Kenny Stills… oh man, Kenny Stills made a HUGE block for Akins at the five-yard line that sprung Akins into the end zone.
I went berserk, which I'm sure surprises no one. I saw the TV copy on the bus to the airport and I was running down the sideline all the way to the end zone. In this soccer stadium I had all kinds of room so I just ran as fast as I could. And I just lost it. I started jumping around, a one-man party on the sidelines. Then, when I finally calmed down, I heard the cheers. Like what the…? There were so many Texans fans in that corner and on our sideline that it felt like a mini-NRG Stadium. It was cool as all get out. And, Akins jumped into the end zone, Lambeau Leap style, to celebrate with the red clad Texans fans.
In fact, on that final Chargers drive, I actually heard a "DEFENSE!! DEFENSE!!" chant. Man, I'm getting chills thinking back to hearing the Battle Red clad fans getting behind their squad, 1,500 miles from home. Just awesome.
I mentioned back in training camp that the one position that was performing at a level above and beyond all camp long was the tight ends. Today, that was exactly what I had seen in August. Three touchdowns for the combination of Darren Fells and Akins. Fells has been a revelation for this offense. He was made available to the Texans because the Cleveland Browns decided to move in a different direction after last season. His blocking has been exactly as advertised, but the way he's caught the ball has made a significant difference for this team. He had five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. On that touchdown, Watson had to pick the ball up off the turf on a low snap. He snatched it, collected himself and threw a freakin' laser to Fells for the touchdown.
Akins just goes about his work as if it's just another day at the office. He had three catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns. He was MOVING on that final touchdown. That was a receiver in a tight end's body looking to get into the end zone. I can't remember the last time the tight ends had three touchdowns in a game. I'm sure it's happened, right? Had to, right? Right?
But, back to Watson, he seemed to flip a switch in the second quarter and that turned this game in the Texans direction. He had 28 passing yards in the first quarter, so that means over the final three quarters he put up 317 yards and three touchdowns. Say what? I found him in the locker room after the game and I didn't even know what to say to him. He was just so brilliant. I couldn't even spit anything out - so I just thanked him. He makes football in Houston must see every single Sunday and covering this team a privilege. Now, one other reason that he had an exceptional day was the quintet in front of him.
The offensive line went through its third different combination in three games but this group was stellar. I said this to Marc Vandermeer on the plane on the way home - "When was the last time that we had a game in which Deshaun was hit less than the opposing quarterback?" I didn't have a game in mind off the top of my head, but it's been a while. When the Texans were warming up, I saw Tytus Howard at right tackle and Max Scharping at left guard. I couldn't help but think about Howard in his first start at tackle having to face Joey Bosa and/or Melvin Ingram. So, how did that go? Combined, the two game-wreckers piled up just 1/2 a sack and 2 quarterback hits on 36 drop backs. That's all and that's phenomenal.
On one key 3rd-and-14 in the third quarter, Ingram stood up as a linebacker a few yards from Scharping. He was planning to rush and was timing the snap count. So, as soon as the ball was snapped, Ingram hit it perfectly. WHAP! Scharping stoned him right at the line of scrimmage. Then, he tried to spin on Max and he went nowhere. I mean, it took my breath away and it allowed Watson to find Hopkins for 15 yards and a first down. Three plays later, Carlos Hyde ran into the end zone to cut the Chargers lead to 17-14.
The thing about the offensive line, though, was how much time it afforded Watson to go through his progressions and find open receivers. All day long, it gave Watson time to find those pass catchers. By the way, Laremy Tunsil is a dude. That ankle wasn't great at all but he found a way to excel on Sunday.
Now, those five will tell you that the run game struggled at times, but it'll get back on track as those five begin to work together week after week.
With a 10-point deficit at the half, Coach O'Brien had the same thought that I did coming out of the locker room: a three-and-out on the first drive of the half would be a really bad thing. Then, the Texans went three-and-out. Ugh. Yet, one of the least talked about/most important aspects of this game was the next Texans defensive series. On first down, Whitney Mercilus tackled Justin Jackson for a loss of six. Then, Bradley Robby tackled Jackson for a two-yard loss. On 3rd-and-18, Rivers went deep and Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph was the closest player to the ball. On the punt return, DeAndre Carter ran it back 23 yards to give the Texans the best field position of the day. Watson led the team down on that drive that ended with the Hyde touchdown. It wasn't right out of the locker room, but that three-and-out the defense forced allowed it to have the same impact.
That, by the way, was PERFECT complementary football. Two tackles for a loss on a three-and-out. An outstanding punt return to set up great field position. A gutty eight-play drive that ended with a touchdown at the most vital of situations. Perfect.
I can't believe that I've gotten this far without mentioning the defensive MVP on the day. J.J. Watt had gone through the first two games without a sack and there was much consternation about that this week on the interwebs, but that changed (again), huh? He lived in the Chargers backfield all day long. He had five quarterback hits, two sacks, two TFLs and five total tackles. He was, well, Watt. Again. Every time, Philip Rivers went back to pass, I got back to that point where I felt like Watt would get in his face every time. I mean, Rivers did all he could to keep the Chargers in this game and he was awesome, but No. 99? He was a Football Playing Dude Maestro on Sunday.
Watt wasn't alone. D.J. Reader is one of the most underrated interior players in the NFL. He's a monster and today he was a man child against both the run and pass. He registered 1.5 sacks on the day. He was angling for another half sack in the locker room after the game, but it didn't really matter because he was as good as he's ever been today.
There were so many big plays in this game, but one MASSIVE play on that final Chargers drive came courtesy of rookie Charles Omenihu. With 30 seconds left, Rivers completed a pass to Mike Williams at the Texans seven-yard line and my heart sank. Then, I saw the flag on the turf. Omenihu, who had left earlier in the game with an injury, came back in the second half and forced that key holding on the Chargers left tackle. Instead of the ball being at the Texans seven-yard line, it was moved back to the Texans 34-yard line. Holding is a 10-yard penalty, but the net on that play was 27 yards, due to Omenihu's key pass rush.
Rivers had gone deep earlier in the series to Travis Benjamin down the right sideline. Bradley Roby was in front and Tashaun Gipson came over the top to help. Benjamin got his hands on it but Gipson made sure that Benjamin didn't hang on for the potential game-tying touchdown. Gipson had two pass breakups and four tackles and played a strong game in only his third game as a Texan.
Former Chargers safety Jahleel Addae also made his impact felt for this Texans defense with a couple of tackles, key tackles for this defense. He also forced a Rivers incompletion with a blitz in the first half. He was cut down, got up and harassed Rivers into an incompletion. Now, he did get a 15-yard penalty at the end of the game for taunting, but I know this one meant something to him after spending the prior six years with the Chargers. His smile lit up the locker room after the game - I was stoked for him, for sure.
The Texans signed punter Bryan Anger this week and it paid immediate dividends. Look, you never want to punt late in a game when the four minute offense can/should run out the clock. But, when the offense got stopped with 4:19 left in the game, Anger came on the field and hit a freakin' MISSILE. Hang time was about a minute. Then, Zach Cunningham made a tremendous open field tackle on the dangerous Desmond King to pin the Chargers at their 16-yard line. I mean, that punt… wow! It did exactly what it should have - the hang time let the cover guys get down and make a key special teams tackle.
Before the game, I was talking to NFL Network lead draft A\analyst and Chargers game analyst Daniel Jeremiah. We, of course, talked about our gigs and such, but when we talked about our teams, one of the first names he brought up was Zach Cunningham. DJ was so complimentary of Zach and noted how underrated he thought Zach was. He was excellent, even though he didn't post huge tackle numbers. He finished with four stops, a tackle for a loss, a fumble recovery and that HUGE special teams stop in the fourth quarter.
One play that won't get discussed much had a significant bearing on the game down the stretch. Down 10, the Chargers faced a 3rd-and-1 on the Texans 24-yard line with 7:19 left in the game. Rivers turned and handed the ball to Derek Watt who ran into a blue wall and lost a yard. Brandon Dunn got credit for the tackle for a loss and he had plenty of help, most of which came in the form of Benardrick McKinney leaping over the top to get a piece of the younger Watt. The Chargers decided to kick the field goal to make it just a seven-point deficit. However, that decision forced them to have to score a touchdown on that final drive, instead of being down only three with options to tie or win on the final drive.
I mentioned Kenny Stills earlier due to the block he made on Jordan Akins 53-yard touchdown. Stills made his impact catching passes throughout the day as well. When the offense bogged down early in the game, Bill O'Brien dialed up the flea flicker and Watson found Stills down the sideline for a 38-yard catch. Two plays later, Watson found Fells to make it 10-7. Stills has made big plays every single game and has been a tremendous fit for this offense. He and his fellow receivers made huge plays throughout the day.
DeAndre Hopkins made two HUGE third down catches. The first one in the third quarter across the middle for 15 yards led to the first touchdown of the half. The second one came on a quick slant that Hop turned into a 34-yard conversion on third down. That one led to the go-ahead Hyde touchdown. Hop's best play of the day, though, was giving Snoop Dogg his IG password so Snoop could do his thing at halftime. More on Snoop in a bit.
Will Fuller V had a key third down conversion on a 3rd-and-1 short route just two plays before Jordan Akins' final touchdown of the day. But, the big one was the 30-yard deep catch he made just two plays after Hop's 34 yard catch-and-run put the Texans in position to pound it in to take the lead.
Hop finished with six catches, Fuller with five, Stills with four, Fells with five and Akins with three. Watson certainly found the open man today. That's balance.
So, this story will be one that I'm telling everyone for as long as I live. Jordan Akins, our player of the game, and I were standing outside the locker room because there just wasn't much room in the locker room to do anything. So, we stepped outside for our 1-on-1 and about halfway through I see Jordan get a smile that lights up a room. Snoop was walking back out of the locker room and as I'm asking my next question, he interrupts (kindly) to give some dap to Akins. I said something like "Snoop Dogg is interrupting our interview" and he goes "I had to, baby" Damn right, you had to and I loved it. Such a good day.
The Texans turned the ball over early and it cost them a 7-0 start to the game. The Chargers turned it over much later in the game and it was a backbreaker. Up 17-14 and driving, Rivers went back to pass on 3rd-and-4. He was sacked by Whitney Mercilus who forced the ball out of Rivers' hands and Zach Cunningham recovered. The Texans drove down on the succeeding drive for the go-ahead touchdown. Man, the pass rush was on point today and Mercilus picked up another sack to give him four on the season through three games. The thing about it is that he also has three forced fumbles on three of his four sacks.
The great thing about Mercilus' sack was that he actually got cut down initial by a blocker. He, then, popped right back up and got to Rivers. He should've never gotten a sack on that play, but did... at the perfect time.
That's about it from Carson. Time to move on to the Carolina Panthers and Week 4. See ya then, everyone!
Houston Texans Fans travel to Los Angeles for the third game of the 2019 NFL season against the Chargers.