This one stung.
For some reason, I'm having more of a hard time going back through this game than others in the past. It's not that the Carolina Panthers didn't deserve to win the game. That's not it at all.
The Panthers came into NRG Stadium without their starting quarterback, starting guard and starting cornerback and left for Charlotte with a win. Regardless, the Texans didn't have it on Sunday and ended the day tied with every team in the AFC South at 2-2. Here are my Harris hits from this tough loss to the Panthers.
-Carolina made every play it needed to make and then some. Receiver Jarius Wright made a humongous catch on a third down that Bradley Roby nearly knocked away. Running back Christian McCaffrey made one of the catches of the year on a third down that kept a fourth quarter drive alive. Quarterback Kyle Allen miraculously avoided a sack by J.J. Watt that allowed the Panthers to run another two minutes and change off the clock late in the fourth quarter.
Now, juxtapose those plays with the two deep shots that could've been long touchdowns. Throw in a key blatant face mask that was somehow missed that resulted in a first down on a fourth quarter drive. Then, there were the self-inflicted wounds like the third down after the non-face mask call that was nearly a magical conversion by running back Carlos Hyde. However, the Texans weren't set at the receiver positions so the catch-and-run for the first down was negated. It was a maddening day for the Texans.
-Linebacker Zach Cunningham was stellar throughout the day. He had 14 tackles and one for a loss. He just seemed to be everywhere, tracking McCaffrey all over the field. Fellow backer Benardrick McKinney had 12 tackles, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery on the Brennan Scarlett forced fumble in the first half. This linebacker duo has been as good as any unit on the field through four games.
-The Texans defense really couldn't have done more. It allowed just a field goal after a punt was tipped/blocked. Following a missed 52-yard field goal attempt, the Panthers had a short field and the Texans stopped them on a three and out. The Panthers started each drive at their 41-yard line and then the 42-yard line and the Texan held them to three combined points. The Panthers touchdown came after an interception returned to the Panthers 46-yard line. When the Panthers started drives inside their own 40-yard line, the drive results were: fumble, fumble, punt, fumble, punt, field goal and punt.
-Watt came up with another strip sack and recovered his own forced fumble. He had some tremendous rushes in the second half, but one he'd like to have back is that third down play in which Allen dipped out of a Watt sack to keep a vital fourth quarter drive alive. I saw it happen live and still had to ask how Allen did it. The escape was, unfortunately, reminiscent of Tony Romo doing the same thing back in 2014 when the Texans played Dallas.
-Whitney Mercilus, again, played another strong game as he created a strip sack for the third game in a row. That gives him five sacks on the season and four forced fumbles. The only sack he's had this year that didn't result in a strip sack was the one on Drew Brees in the opener. Hard to say that anyone's had a better start to the season than Whitney.
-Offensively, there were moments when it looked like it was ready to break out. Hyde and Duke Johnson combined for 114 yards on the ground and had some chunk plays during the game. Kenny Stills made a tremendous catch for a key third down conversion before exiting with a hamstring issue. Eight different Texans caught a pass on the day. But just when it seemed like it was ready to put the hammer down, the offense stubbed its own toe. False start penalties inside the 10-yard line. Sacks. An interception late in the first half.
-I mentioned the two deep shots that just missed. If Watson hits those two plays, just those two, this game goes in a completely different direction. But it didn't happen and it was symbolic of the frustration of the day.
-As another much less mentioned point, this offense seemed to really miss Stills after he went out. He made two big plays for this offense and on the second one, he was ready to turn the corner and burn upfield up the sideline before he was forced to limp out of bounds. Hopefully, he'll be able to get back soon, as he's been superb through four weeks.
-In the playoff game against the Colts, Watson had his face mask pulled badly on a sack and everyone saw it but the officials. It happened Sunday at a key moment in the fourth quarter and no one in black and white stripes saw it... again. If that play is called properly, the Texans have a first down at their 40-yard line and a new set of downs and new life. Instead, it turned into 3rd-and-14 and then the Texans shot themselves in the foot with an illegal shift penalty.
-On that 3rd-and-14, Hyde took a short throw and somehow, some way fought, literally, his way to 17 hard-earned yards and a first down. Unfortunately, it was called back because the Texans receivers weren't set at the line of scrimmage. Great play... negated. It was that kind of day.
-I'd be remiss if I didn't mention D.J. Reader and how well he has played up front. He didn't get any sacks, but his pass rush pressure was huge for this defense. His ability to dominate the Carolina offensive line in the run game was impressive. He finished with six tackles and a TFL. I'm running out of adjectives for the man and how he's played up front this year and in his four year career, really. He's really been brilliant.
-So has safety Justin Reid. The second-year product finished with 10 tackles in a game that he really wanted with his brother on the other side of the field. He was all over the place during this game.
There's not much more to discuss in this one and I'm glad it's over and behind us. We'll have more next week after the Atlanta Falcons come to NRG Stadium to tangle with the Texans.
Houston Texans take on the Carolina Panthers at NRG Stadium for the fourth game of the 2019 NFL season.