I've stared at my computer since, well, the end of today's proceedings at NRG Stadium, hoping against hope that I could find the most adequate adjective to describe what we all saw Sunday afternoon.
It's not happening. There just isn't one perfect, apropos word to describe how I felt when I walked out of NRG Stadium after the Texans vanquished the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 39-37, scoring with six seconds remaining for win number four on the 2023 season.
Sigh of relief.
Those are all proper adjectives to use, but it was BEYOND that. Down four with :46 seconds left, two timeouts. Six lost players to injury during the game. A RB kicked the only Texans field goal of the day. Potential game ending fumble in a Texans' defender's hands only to be knocked out and recovered by the Bucs. A comeback wasted on a Bucs/Cade Otton TD. If only…just one time…man, what I wouldn't give for one fantastic finish for the good guys.
And, then it happened. Pure magic. THE ending that we all HOPED could happen…did! Rookie to rookie for two back-to-back memorable plays before time ran out. An indescribable ending that gave the Texans a win that could define this young, hungry and scrappy squad. Let's dive into my Harris HIts from Sunday's afternoon's win over Tampa Bay.
View the best photos from the Week 9 matchup between the Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There's no way to start my Harris Hits than to discuss the greatness that was C.J. Stroud on Sunday. His final numbers tell an amazing story. 470 yards - NFL Rookie record for passing yardage in a game. Five touchdowns to four different receivers. Last minute drive, game winning touchdown with six seconds left. What more could the young man have done on this day? Imagine if he had thrown a deep route to Tank Dell early in the game three yards inside the sideline. That could have been 85-90 additional yards to the house. That would've been a third TD to Dell. What if Dell had held on to two passes early in the game? That could've been another 30 yards or so. My gosh, C.J. could've easily gone over 500 yards with absolutely NO running game. But, 470 worked just fine.
There were so many memorable throws on the day. The last two of the day will be the throws that EVERYONE thinks about in this game. After spiking the ball at the 41-yard line with :16 seconds, Stroud dropped a DIME on Dell on the Bucs sideline at the 15-yard line. The Bucs were in half field coverage on that play, so Dell tucked himself into the cover two hole behind Bucs CB Zyon McCollum and underneath S Dee Delaney. Stroud then put the ball into a one foot space over McCollum and into the hands of Dell. Toe Tap…first down, clock stopped, ten seconds remaining.
The next throw, Stroud's last throw of the day, was to Dell again. This time the Bucs played a four across quarters coverage. Noah Brown took the S away from the middle of the field on his route and Dell ran a post route right into that void. I was standing in the end zone, hoping for a minor miracle. When Dell broke to the post, I could see Stroud cocking his arm and I said to Marc "TANK'S OPEN!" Stroud threw a seed and Dell made a much easier catch than the one prior. Stroud made it happen all day but that last drive was just sublime. Five for six and his only incompletion was a spike, 75 yards in 46 seconds and a TD for the ages.
Dell had a two touchdown day for the first time in his professional career. He dropped a couple of passes earlier in the game and I've learned that Tank makes up for his mistakes in a quick minute. On his first touchdown, he threw a sick stutter-and-go route on Bucs Pro Bowl CB Carlton Davis III and made the touchdown catch in the far corner of the North end zone. Then, he made that toe tapper on the final drive just before he made the TD catch to give the Texans a win. Six catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
In fact, Dell was one of THREE pass catchers to register 100+ yards receiving. I can't remember that happening in any game I've ever seen at NRG Stadium or otherwise. Dell finished with 114 yards and two touchdowns. Dalton Schultz had ten catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. The third was Noah Brown, who has done nothing but make impact plays since he's returned from injury. Brown finished with the most yards on the day - 153 yards on six catches and a touchdown.
That Noah Brown TD gave me assurance that Stroud was okay after a shaky start. I just didn't think Noah was going to take it to the house. I saw Brown catch the ball after Stroud's fastball hit him right in stride. But, what I couldn't see was Tank Dell throwing his body into Zyon McCollum, pinning him inside and allowing Brown to get to the sideline. Once at the sideline, Noah hit the GAS and took OFF for the end zone. He then hit Davis III with a stiff arm at the five yard line and ran into the end zone. That touchdown cut the Bucs lead to 20-16 and signaled that it was on.
The Texans missed the two point conversion and as we discussed that miss, I remember saying to the radio crew "It's okay, we're scoring three or four more times. We'll be okay." That did happen, but Tampa Bay made it more than interesting scoring a couple of times too.
I got a chance to talk to Texans TE Dalton Schultz after the game and it was his best game in a Texans jersey. He was fantastic. The touchdown on fourth down was a play that Dalton told me that it wasn't one that they ran much, but that he had worked with C.J. on Friday in practice. The play that really put it over the top happened in the third quarter. The Texans faced a third and eleven play down by seven. Stroud went back to pass and couldn't find a soul open. So, he kept dancing and working the pocket. He played keepaway from the Bucs DL but there was no one open. Finally, Schultz slipped upfield after staying in to block for his rookie QB. About four yards downfield, Stroud just flipped one to Schultz as if to say, here, see what you can do, I'm tired of scrambling. As soon as Schultz turned upfield, Bucs star LB Lavonte David hit Schultz. David doesn't EVER miss but Schultz shook him off immediately and there was a ton of room to run. He picked up the first down and charged downfield where he ran right the you-know-what over the Bucs loquacious LB Devin White at the Bucs 30-yard line. On the next play, Stroud hit Tank in the back of the end zone to draw within one point.
At some point in the second quarter, I noticed that I couldn't find Ka'imi Fairbairn on the sideline. Typically, he kicks into the net to get ready for field goal attempts near Cam Johnston and Jon Weeks. But, he wasn't there. Then, I saw Cam talking to RB Dare Ogunbowale. It hit me then, uh oh, something's wrong with Kaimi. I knew that Dare was a soccer player and I saw him juggle a soccer ball during training camp this summer relatively easily. Putting two and two together, I figured that Dare would need to kick at some point. When the second half started and Kaimi didn't come out of the tunnel, Dare was putting the ball on the tee for the kickoff. But, when DeMeco Ryans eschewed kicking extra points after the first two touchdowns in the second half, I thought all Dare would do was kickoff.
Then, it happened. With the score tied at 30, the Texans bogged down at the Tampa Bay 11-yard line, Ryans called for the field goal attempt from Frank Ross' field goal unit. Oh my god, has Dare even practiced kicking with a snap and a hold? Can this really happen? Dare took his steps and nailed it right through to give the Texans a 33-30 lead. I wanted that to be the winning points, but in a two point win, the Texans don't win without that field goal. The last time a non kicker made a field goal in a game was former Texans assistant coach Wes Welker in 2004. Of course, when I congratulated Dare in the locker room, the first thing he said was "I could've made those extra point kicks too!" Gotta love the confidence, that's for sure.
I mean, at the beginning of the year, who would've thought that Andrew Beck would have a kickoff return TD and Dare would kick a field goal to unlock a tie in the 4th quarter in two key wins? HUGE moments, man.
When Tank caught his first touchdown, I couldn't help but take in the scene in NRG Stadium. This past offseason, I remember talking to a few players who had been here for a few years, telling them that this Stadium could really ROCK! They're response was more like "REALLY?!? I can't wait for that to happen." Well, that DID happen on Sunday. When Dell caught that TD, the place finally rocked. I couldn't hear Marc and Andre in my headset. The fans stayed at a fever pitch for the rest of the game. On Khalil Davis' sack? Oh my, it was raucous! The players and coaches recognized it too. They fed off of it and they discussed the fans' impact after the game in the locker room.
Man, I've got to say it, Khalil Davis is like found money in your pocket doing the laundry. When he came into training camp, there wasn't one person who thought "oh yeah, that's the guy who'll be a key rotational piece for this defense in games in November." Yet, Davis continues to make one key play after another. On his sack, he got up off the ground and instead of some sack dance or some "look at me" celebration, he went right over to DE Will Anderson Jr. and hugged/high fived him for helping Davis get the pressure that pushed Baker toward Davis for the sack.
The defense will not put this effort up on the mantle as one of their best of the season but there were still a number of heroes on this day.
Tavierre Thomas NEARLY made one of the plays of the year on the Bucs final offensive drive. On third down late in the game, under a minute, he was in coverage on Bucs WR Trey Palmer when Palmer made a catch across the middle. Tav punched the ball out beautifully and it bounced around the NRG Stadium turf. It hit a couple of Texans' hands and for a split second, it appeared newly signed safety DeAndre Houston-Carson had the ball in his hands. However, Bucs WR Mike Evans did a masterful job of getting the ball out and then falling on it to give the Bucs a shot at a win. Tav also had a HUGE hit on first down on a swing route after the Tank's first touchdown in the third quarter.
LB Denzel Perryman laid the wood all day long, my goodness. On the play right after Tav's big hit, Perryman dropped the HAMMER on a screen to Bucs WR Chris Godwin to keep a play with possibilities to no gain. Denzel was so FAST to the football and when the NRG Stadium crowd amped up the noise, he was demonstrative with his teammates to make sure they had the proper call on defense in a key spot.
The guy who really may have found himself again, though, was LB Christian Harris. In the first half, he was responsible for RB Rachaad White on a pass route and slipped, leaving White a huge open running lane downfield. But, Christian bounced back in a huge way. He had one heck of a hit on a swing pass like Tavierre Thomas' hit noted above. He had a pass breakup. He ran down Baker Mayfield on a play for no gain. He just LOOKED like himself. He had confidence. He was communicating well alongside his fellow linebackers, DL and secondary.
LB Blake Cashman finished with ten tackles to lead the defense and had 2.0 TFL to lead the defense as well. Those ten tackles gave Cashman a season career high of 47. Also, those two TFL gave him eight on the season, which is more than he had registered in his four year career. Suffice to say, Cash is playing at a completely different level and he's relatively healthy for the first time since early in his rookie career.
Well, that's about it for this one but it'll be one we'll be talking about for a few days, then it's on to Cincinnati. Wait, I feel like I've heard that one before. Either way, thanks for reading and see you in the Queen City next Sunday.