It wasn't perfect, as head coach Bill O'Brien said after the game, but the Houston Texans emerged victorious in their Week 4 matchup against Buffalo.
Despite committing costly penalties and a trio of turnovers, the Texans escaped with a 23-17 win over the Buffalo Bills at home. Houston improved to 3-1 on the season for just the third time in franchise history.
"They were very difficult to prepare for and I think you saw that offensively from us today" O'Brien said following the win. "They did a great job and then I think our defense played a whale of a game."
After trailing 10-0 in the second quarter, Houston managed to pull out a victory with several big play moments: DeAndre Hopkins' 80-yard touchdown catch, J.J. Watt's 80-yard interception return, an interception by cornerback Darryl Morris in the final two minutes, and three field goals by Randy Bullock, two of which were for more than 50 yards.
The Texans relied heavily on Ryan Fitzpatrick against his former team, who was 25-of-37 for 268 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
"I think the biggest thing that's got to change is me being a better player, more efficient, making the right decision every time, whether it's throwing the ball away or getting us into a run or getting us into a pass, whatever it is," Fitzpatrick said. "I think a lot of that falls on my shoulders and, for me, that's why I'm really excited going forward here because I know I'm going to put the work in."
Arian Foster returned to the lineup but shared carries with rookie Alfred Blue. Houston rushed for just 15 yards on 17 carries between the two backs. Foster added seven catches for 55 yards.
"We basically tried to split the reps there a little bit and in the fourth quarter, when we felt like we needed to to get him the ball a little bit, we tried to do that," O'Brien said. "I think Arian ran hard, he played hard, he made some plays. As an offense, we've got to all play and coach better."
Andre Johnson led the receivers with 6 catches for 71 yards but headed to the locker room in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury and did not return.
Defenses went to work, keeping both teams scoreless until the second quarter. Houston held both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to under 100 rushing yards on the day and did not allow a rushing touchdown. The Texans defense also had two interceptions on Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel who completed 21-of-44 passes for 225 yards, two touchdowns, and a 59.4 passer rating.
"I think we did a good job," Brian Cushing said. "I'm not sure exactly how many yards they had, but we did better against the run. We emphasized it all week. It's something we are going to need to do the rest of the season."
The Bills struck first with a 31-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter after Manuel and the offense had to burn two time-outs on the 13-play, 67-yard drive.
"It wasn't confusion," Manuel said. "It was simply getting the play call out and, you know, it was extremely loud in there. That's another thing we have to continue to combat on the road. We have to understand it'll be very loud, especially playing indoors."
The Bills offense continued to dominate the time of possession battle following two turnovers on back-to-back Texans offensive series.
Andre Johnson fumbled a catch on the first turnover of the day. Buffalo converted it into points, ending the drive with a 5-yard touchdown catch by rookie Sammy Watkins.
Fitzpatrick's first pass of the following drive, a deep ball intended for DeAndre Hopkins, was intercepted by Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
Houston did not score until its final possession of the first half. Fitzpatrick marched the offense down the field, keeping the drive alive with an 11-yard scramble. He found Hopkins in the endzone for a 35-yard touchdown catch following the eight-play, 80-yard drive to keep the Texans within one score heading into the half.
"I was hoping he would put it up" Hopkins said. "The defensive back had his eyes in the backfield the whole play. Fitz (Fitzpatrick) put it right over his head. It was a great ball."
Houston trailed 10-7 at halftime.
Turnovers mounted for both sides to start the third quarter. Fitzpatrick's first pass of the second half was deflected and intercepted, giving Buffalo possession. It was a short-lived drive, as J.J. Watt picked off Manuel on third down and returned the interception 80 yards for a score. It was Watt's second's touchdown of the season and gave Houston its first lead of the game over Buffalo, 14-10.
Randy Bullock added a pair of field goals to extend the Texans lead. Bullock was 2-for-2 from 41 yards and a career-long 55 yards giving Houston a 20-10 advantage with 9:21 left in the game.
"I think each game I get under my belt, it gets easier and easier," Bullock said. "I have made a lot of strides. I just need to continue to work and continue to get better."
The two-score lead didn't last long. Manuel fired off an 80-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams on first down.
Bullock kicked his third field goal of the day, a 50-yarder, following an eight-play, 32-yard drive. The Texans led 23-17.
On their final possession of the game, Manuel and the Bills moved down the field with 1:42 remaining. After a 5-play, 30-yard start to the drive, cornerback Darryl Morris intercepted Manuel's pass, intended for Robert Woods.
"It was great to end the game with a pick," D.J. Swearinger said. "That's how we always want to do it - end the game with a turnover. It was a great play by 26 (Darryl Morris), great coverage by 25 (Jackson), making E.J. Manuel overthrow the ball and 26 playing the ball hawk. It was a great play."
The Texans (3-1) head to Dallas for Week 5 against the Cowboys.
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