Walking off the field at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday, I wasn't exactly sure how to feel. The 31-21 loss stung as all losses do for the good guys but I loved the resilience the Texans displayed on Sunday. Down about six players due to injury, including starting QB Tyrod Taylor, the Texans had this thing 24-21 with six minutes left in the game against a team many think is a top five team in the league. Here are my Harris Hits from the sunny afternoon in Cleveland.
Let's talk about the word grit. A couple of years ago, the Texans coaches had t-shirts made for them and the players with the word GRIT printed on the back. On Sunday, what we saw for a full 60 minutes, now that was grit. The Texans lost QB Tyrod Taylor, WR Danny Amendola, TE Antony Auclair, WR Nico Collins, CB Terrance Mitchell and there were plenty of others that needed a quick minute to get back into the game. But, after rookie QB Davis Mills threw his first career TD to Brandin Cooks, the Texans were within three points at 24-21. I just felt really proud with how the Texans battled that Cleveland squad until the final gun.
There's something that happens when you're asked to jump into a game the way that rookie QB Davis Mills did in the second half. It took a second to get his bearings, but when he did, he made a couple of excellent throws. If there's one that he would've liked to have back, outside of the interception, it's the throw he made to WR Brandin Cooks deep down the field heading into the Dawg Pound. He had plenty of time to throw and Cooks had the deep safeties beat and Mills launched. Had he put the ball five feet to the right, Cooks walks into the end zone with a gargantuan TD. But, he just missed. That said, Mills made a couple of key third down throws. The first was the sail route to TE Jordan Akins. There was not much separation between Akins and S Ronnie Harrison Jr. and Mills stuck it in the perfect spot. He made another great throw on third down down the field to Cooks who was tackled for a massive defensive pass interference call. Look, it's far from perfect and he turned the wrong way on a couple of runs and did throw an interception that led to a Browns score, but Mills battled and kept his team in the game.
In the fourth quarter, Mills missed a hot on a blitz and got tagged by S Grant Delpit, but other than that, the pass protection was outstanding throughout the day. The great DE tandem in Cleveland - Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney - combined for just two QB hits, both from Clowney, actually. Both Taylor and Mills had plenty of time to throw as the quintet of blockers on the offensive line did an exceptional job throughout the day.
I'd be remiss, if I didn't mention, the RB and TE that helped with chips and double teams as well. It was certainly a team effort to hold Clowney, Garrett and the talented Browns defensive in check, honestly. RB David Johnson hit Garrett with a chip early on in the game that stunned the star DE and the running backs did that repeatedly for the rest of the game.
I absolutely hated seeing rookie WR Nico Collins get dinged on that first play of the game. He flashed the hands, the speed and the get-up-and-go juice that the Texans knew they were going to get when they traded up to draft him in April. He hit that slant/glance route and was off like a shot and remember he's 6-4, 215 lb. Taylor hit him in stride and the big fella hit the gas for a wonderful start to the game. But, Browns CB Denzel Ward landed on Collins and drove him into the turf, which injured his shoulder and knocked him out of the remainder of the game.
Oh, man, the slip screen to Texans RB Phillip Lindsay that turned into the Texans first TD was so SWEET and such a brilliant call by OC Tim Kelly There are times from my location that I can see clearly how a play is developing, good or bad, and this one developed exquisitely. Browns DE Jadeveon Clowney seemed to have a free run at Taylor, for a reason obviously, then I looked down field and saw three blockers and NO other Browns' defenders anywhere. The ball just had to clear Clowney's outstretched hands. It did and Lindsay had nearly a free run to the end zone to tie it up 7-7. The other aspect to that screen was the different smoke and mirror backfield action that set it up too.
After the Texans second touchdown, I said to Marc Vandermeer during a break "which do you want - the good news or the bad news?" There's no doubt that I love being down on the sideline, but sometimes I see things that sort of ruin a great moment. Tyrod's scramble touchdown was exactly that. He took off for the end zone after he saw an open lane, knowing full well that the Browns were in man coverage. So, once he spied that lane, he took off because all the defensive backs/linebackers downfield had their backs turned to him. Once DE Garrett dove and missed, Taylor essentially walked into the end zone. Unfortunately, I was about to understand why he walked in. As he came off the field, he walked right at me, so I could see in his face that something wasn't right and he was upset. I wasn't totally sure what it was, but I knew there was some bad news (injury) about to happen that came along with the good news (the touchdown). So, when I broke that news to the booth, there was this collective groan amongst all of us. We love Taylor and loved what the offense was doing with Taylor under center. Unfortunately, he was forced to miss the second half after playing six quarters of just sensational football.
Going back to that word grit, the way this team bounced back from the fumble on the opening punt of the game was gritty. The Texans stuffed the Browns on the first drive of the game but Andre Roberts muffed the punt that Browns LB Sione Takitaki snatched up. The Browns then moved down and scored. So, full, raucous crowd, gift turnover, touchdown run for 7-0 lead? Yeah, I was worried. But, Taylor and the offense answered with an eight play, 84 yard drive that ended with that Lindsay touchdown on the slip screen.
The defense then took over from a turnover standpoint and S Justin Reid stepped to the forefront for both takeaways. The hit that Reid put on Browns WR Donovan Peoples-Jones was wicked and I heard it through my headphones. I mean, he stroked him and the ball flew forward six to seven yards right into the hands of LB Christian Kirksey. Then, a little later, Reid came up with an interception, his second of the season, off of Browns QB Baker Mayfield. Unfortunately, on a Mayfield scramble in the third quarter, Reid ran over to help on the tackle and tried to avoid Mayfield once he hit the turf. He leapt over Mayfield and a Texans tackler only to slip on the turf on the sideline. Taylor and Reid were off to such great starts in this game, and this season, only to get banged up in this one. Totally stunk, honestly.
WR Brandin Cooks has been everything and more for this offense. He was targeted 14 times during the game and it was 14 times all over the field. He made difficult catches. He was flipped over in the end zone after his TD catch. He gave the Browns CBs a ton of issues. He had Denzel Ward pleading to the refs in the second half almost every time he Ward covered him. He drew a massive defensive pass interference on the rookie Greg Newsome II on the touchdown drive that made it 24-21. I saw a tweet over the summer pertaining to Fantasy Football as it pertained to Cooks and whether he was a player Fantasy diehards should draft. Paraphrasing as best I can, the tweet essentially said to not draft Cooks. Uh, that tweet/decision was just dumb and Cooks is making them look ignorant with the performances he's put forth the last two weeks.
Things in the second half weren't going well, especially at the start of the half. The offense went three and out, followed by a Browns touchdown. Then, QB Davis Mills threw an interception. The Browns followed up with a field goal to take a ten point lead. Even though the defense held them to a field goal on that drive, I was really worried that it could get out of hand against such a physically talented Browns squad. But, every single time the defense came off the field, LT Laremy Tunsil greeted the defense as if to encourage them to keep their heads up and that they needed to keep fighting. After the defense forced that field goal, Tunsil was nearly 20 yards out onto the field greeting the rest of the defensive guys coming off the field. As tough a time in this game as it was, LT was the leader the team desperately needed. It just stood out to me how much effort Tunsil put forth seemingly to keep his teammates positive and upbeat.
Alright, we're about to land in Houston and I've got some film to watch, so I'll cut it there. Tough afternoon, but there's going to be plenty of good that comes out of this trip to Cleveland. Thursday night will be here in a quick minute. See ya then, everyone!
The Texans will host the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. Kickoff is set for 7:20 p.m. CT on NBC, NFL Network and SportsRadio 610. Click here for tickets.