Down NINE starters in the second half.
Minus one of the greatest defensive players to ever play the game.
Trailing most of the day.
There was every reason in the book for this Texans team to mail it in and take the L. But Bill O'Brien's bunch strung together one gritty drive after another on both sides of the ball and eventually came out on top 27-24. Here are my Harris Hits after the win over Oakland.
Right before the game, during our last break before kickoff, I remember saying to our crew, "Buckle in for the next three hours, it's going to be a crazy ride." It was that...and then some. I just can't say enough about the job that O'Brien and his staff did grinding through the second half to a win. That was the key word to me: toughness. The Texans took the Raiders best shot all day long yet found a way to come from behind to win.
There were so many key moments, but who will ever forget Deshaun Watson working his magic with just under four minutes left? On 1st-and-goal in the fourth quarter, down by four, Watson went back to pass and had Raiders defensive end Arden Key draped all over him. Somehow, Watson shook him off, but when he did, Key swung around and kicked Watson in the helmet/face. Watson adjusted his facemask, dashed a bit to his right, but then had a Raider defender grab his leg. Just before he hit the ground, Watson lofted one to Darren Fells for the tight end's second touchdown of the day. I've seen every single one of Watson's plays since he arrived and I'm not sure there's one that compares to that play. I mean, given the time and the situation... I still don't believe what I saw. I've seen him do it, but I never want to ever take him, or that, for granted.
A couple of my favorite items from this game were the two big throws Watson made when Raiders safety Karl Joseph came screaming off the edge on the safety blitz. One of those came with just over three minutes to play in the game and the Texans up by three. Joseph came off the left edge free (brought six with five to block) and Watson threw a laser to DeAndre Hopkins for a first down.
Watson wasn't alone in putting together memorable gritty moments as Hopkins not only had one of his best performances but he was as tough as the day was long. Hopkins became the third-youngest player to reach 8,000 receiving yards in his career. The only two that did it younger than Hopkins are two names most should know: Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald. Like those two, Hopkins made one clutch catch after another on the day.
Down by eight halfway through the third quarter, the Texans faced a 2nd-and-18 after a loss and a penalty. Hopkins caught a pass and powered through for 15 yards to set up a 3rd-and-3. On that third down, Watson looked up Hopkins again for seven yards to keep the drive alive. 2nd-and-1 on the go-ahead drive, Watson went to Hopkins for three huge yards and another first down. After taking the lead, inside four minutes remaining, the Texans faced a 2nd-and-9 and Watson, staring down the barrel of a safety blitz, fired to Hopkins for 10 yards and another first down. Hopkins was just brilliant on a day when he really needed to be and not only that, he fought for yards after the catch as if he were Carlos Hyde or Duke Johnson.
Speaking of Johnson, I loved the play to get him a touchdown in the first half. It looked similar to the one the Texans just missed earlier at home against Carolina. That time, Watson couldn't get a good angle on the throw to Johnson and couldn't connect with him. This time, Watson lasered one to Johnson who had a step on the Raiders linebacker. The other thing that hit me as Johnson scored and then got tagged by safety Erik Harris was how strong Johnson's hands must be. In Kansas City, he caught a Watson pass and took off for the end zone. He dove for the pylon and held on to the ball with one hand as he flew through the air. On Sunday, he reached the ball over the goal line with one hand and got plastered. Yet, the ball never left that vice grip of a right hand as he scored his second touchdown of the season.
Man, Carlos Hyde ran angry on Sunday and that was GREAT to see. The Raiders possess one of the best run defenses in the NFL and there were times on Sunday when that defense showed why. Yet, Hyde averaged over 4.4 yards per carry on 19 carries. Now, he almost fumbled one away at the exact worst time, but he somehow got the rock back at the bottom of the pile. Either way, he gashed and sliced and pounded his way for some of the hardest yards he's run for all season long.
Speaking of run defense, Raiders rookie star running back Josh Jacobs ran for 123 yards and 124 yards in consecutive weeks, but the Texans defense held him to 66 yards on 15 carries. He had 23 on one run, which means that the Texans held him to 43 yards on the other 14 carries, That works out to just over three yards per carry. That was exactly what the defense had to do to get a win on Sunday.
The Texans defense gave up 24 points, but considering that in the second half, there were five starters out, it was an impressive performance overall. The Texans had lost J.J. Watt and Lonnie Johnson Jr. on the same drive with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter. For the remainder of the game, the Texans only gave up 10 points. The Raiders finished two long drives with long pass plays - one to Hunter Renfrow for 65 yards and one to Tyrell Williams for 46 yards. Minus those plays, they only threw for 169 yards. Raiders head coach/play caller Jon Gruden had an excellent plan but the Texans defense came through when it mattered the most.
One of the most important plays in this game was a holding drawn by D.J. Reader. Earlier in the game, I saw the Raiders two interior players completely tackle D.J. on a pass down the field. I mean, he was just tackled. On the Raiders final drive of the game, Jacobs appeared to pick up 12 yards on a run up the middle. That would've moved the sticks and given the Raiders a first down at the Texans 33-yard line, certainly in the range for a game-tying field goal. But Reader drew a holding that moved the ball back to the Oakland 45-yard line instead. Two plays later, recent acquisition Gareon Conley forced an incompletion on a throw to Tyrell Williams on 3rd-and-16. The Raiders decided to punt and the Texans ran out the next four minutes of game action.
Asked before the game how much newly acquired Conley would play, I had no clue. I know I didn't anticipate 55 of a possible 56 defensive snaps. After losing Phillip Gaines last week, with starters Bradley Roby and Johnathan Joseph inactive due to injuries, the secondary was ultra-thin and an injury to Lonnie Johnson Jr. stretched the secondary to its limits. The only cornerbacks left on the roster were Conley, Keion Crossen and Cornell Armstrong. Crossen and Conley both made massive plays on Williams down the field on throws that Williams had his hands on.
From that perspective, this one reminded me of last year's game against Miami when the Texans were down to just two linebackers and a bunch of safeties in the secondary. This Raiders offense, though, was 10 notches above that Miami unit and made life difficult all day long, yet the Texans defense responded.
One of my keys to the game heading into this one was to get the tight ends involved in the passing game as much as could be allowed. Fells heeded that call, making one superb catch after another, including the game-winning touchdown. That one everyone will remember given what Watson did on that play as well, but Fells went up and snatched another rebound over the linebacker's head for the touchdown. Through eight games, Fells has 23 catches for 244 yards and five touchdowns. Those are career highs in receptions and touchdowns... at the season's midpoint. In fact, he's just five catches shy of matching his total for the past two seasons combined.
The one Fells catch that shouldn't be forgotten is the one he made just prior to the two minute warning. On 2nd-and-7, Watson faked to Hyde and booted hard toward the Raiders sideline with Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby hot in pursuit. Watson saw Fells adjust his route back inside to get to an open spot and he threw it for his big tight end. Fells reached out his big left paw and snatched it one handed for the first down that essentially ended the game.
I didn't want to write what I'm about to but Watt will be out for the year due to an injury. He knifed past hulking Raiders right tackle Trent Brown to tackle Jacobs for a loss. When he got back up, he got ready for the next play. There was a stop in the action and Watt walked off the field knowing something wasn't right. I can't put into words what he meant to this year's defense. The Colts were so concerned that he was wrecking the game on nearly every play. He didn't even have a sack that day, but they couldn't block him. He was the most doubled defender on pass rushes throughout the NFL. He's the one guy the defense could ill afford to lose. However, on this day, after he left the game, the defense showed some serious grit to hold the Raiders to 10 points. But, this injury is going to sting to say the least. Guys will step into the void and many will return from injury, but Watt won't this year and that's crushing.
Watt's injury is the obvious bittersweet moment on what has been one of the best sports weekends the city of Houston has ever seen. The Rockets beat the Pelicans at home on Saturday night. The Astros won three straight in Washington D.C. to take a 3-2 World Series lead. The Texans came from behind to beat a much improved Raiders squad at home. The season ending loss of Watt sullies the weekend a bit, unfortunately.
I'll end it there as it's time to get ready for a trip to London to face the resurgent Jaguars. See ya next week, everyone!
Houston Texans take on the Oakland Raiders at NRG Stadium for the eighth game of the 2019 NFL season.