The Houston Texans lost 31-23 to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in a game where both teams battled for their first win of 2020. Trailing by as many as 15 points, the Texans were on their way to a comeback until a last-minute touchdown catch by Will Fuller V was ruled incomplete on Houston's final offensive play of the game.
Deshaun Watson completed 20-of-33 passes for 300 yards, with two touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 110.7 passer rating. Fuller caught a team-high six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Kenny Stills also caught a touchdown pass, his first score of 2020. David Johnson finished with 92 yards from scrimmage (63 rushing, 29 receiving). Whitney Mercilus recorded his first two sacks of the season, as well as four tackles, three quarterback hits and two tackles for loss. Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney finished with a team-high ten tackles each.
"We have to continue to stop the run more consistently," head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien said. "At times, we do it. We give up chunk plays in play action, we've got to do a better job there. We've got to find a running game, a consistent running game. And, you know, I just think that we have to finish drives. Our red area was terrible today, right? I mean, I think we were 0-3. We usually are pretty good in the red area. But give Vikings credit, we just didn't do a good enough job. Two field goals and then nothing there at the end so not going to win many games doing that.
The Texans offense got off to a slow start, punting on the first three possessions. The defense, meanwhile, struggled to contain Dalvin Cook, who scored two touchdowns in the first half and rushed for 130 yards in the game. Minnesota took an early 7-0 lead after Cook's five-yard scoring run in the first quarter.
The Texans defense forced a three-and-out on the Vikings' next possession, but Minnesota regained possession after DeAndre Carter's fumble on the punt return. Minnesota converted the short field to a field goal and took a 10-0 lead with 12:41 left in the second quarter.
"I'm sure he wishes he could have that play back," O'Brien said. "You know, that was a pretty key moment in the game. Obviously, if we had stopped them and we were doing pretty well on offense but, you know, we turned it over."
Ka'imi Fairbairn's two field goals from 50 and 28 yards were the only scoring drives for Houston in the first half. Jordan Akins left the game to be evaluated for a concussion after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit on a 26-yard catch with just over a minute left in the second quarter. Vikings safety Harrison Smith was ejected following the hit.
Trailing 17-6, the Texans defense forced a three-and-out on the Vikings' opening drive of the third quarter. Houston scored on back-to-back possessions. David Johnson rushed for a 15-yard gain on third-and-1 to extend the drive. Watson threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Fuller on the next play to cap off a seven-play, 73-yard scoring drive. Following a 25-yard field goal by Fairbairn on the next possession, the Texans trailed by just one, down 17-16 with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
The Vikings responded with back-to-back touchdown drives of their own after a missed field goal in the third quarter. Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass to Adam Thielen with 0:41 left in the third quarter. On their next drive, Cook left the game with an injury, but Alexander Mattison powered through with a 4-yard score. The Vikings regained a two-score lead, up 31-16 with 10:54 left in the game.
"We have yet to put ourselves in a situation where we have a lead almost at any point so that we put them in tough situations, get them off schedule and give ourselves a chance to get after the quarterback," defensiv end J.J. Watt said. "And that starts with us. We have to stop the run. We have to get them uncomfortable. We have to put him in situations where they have to throw the ball and we can get after them and right now we're not doing that."
With less than five minutes remaining, Watson led the offense on two thrilling, fourth-quarter drives. On 4th-and-10, Watson threw a perfect pass to Stills for a touchdown after a nine-play, 82-yard scoring drive. The next series nearly ended in the same way, on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Fuller to give Houston a 31-29 lead before the two-point conversion attempt. After review, the call was overturned and ruled incomplete.
"The ruling on the field was that of a touchdown," NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Al Riveron said. "When we looked at it, the receiver is going to the ground. And if he is ruled as going to the ground, he must maintain control of the football after hitting the ground. And what he does is, the minute the football touches the ground, he loses control of the football. He does not maintain control. Therefore, we overturned it to an incomplete pass."
"Yeah, we thought Will had his hand underneath," Watson said. "And, of course, the ball moved a little bit, but we didn't think that the whole ball was touching the ground. We knew that if he had control, at least with one hand, the tip of the ball can hit the ground. But New York made their call and that's what they made it."
The Texans fall to 0-4 on the season and will host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, October 11.