The Texans two game winning streak ended in beautiful Santa Clara, CA on Sunday but for about 48 minutes, it was a 50-50 proposition with the San Francisco 49ers. However, the Texans ran out of steam as the 49ers found their Bay legs, if you will, and put up 13 fourth quarter points to end the Texans win streak to keep their playoff hopes alive. Here are my Harris Hits from a Sunday spent in the Bay Area.
I'm going to start with a guy who was playing about 50 miles from where he starred in high school - WR Brandin Cooks. The veteran pass catcher missed the previous week's game due to being on the COVID reserve list, but he came back with a vengeance on Sunday playing near his hometown. The 49ers just had no answer for Cooks unless they devoted multiple resources to #13 on his pass routes. On the Texans scoring drive, he lined up in the slot against man coverage and OC Tim Kelly called a slot fade. That means Cooks, essentially, runs a go route from an inside slot receiver position. From that spot, Cooks has more room to work the route and it gives QB Davis Mills more square area with which to drop the ball into the bucket. He did and Cooks made the outstanding catch.
A few plays later, just prior to his touchdown catch, Marc Vandermeer threw down to me on the sideline wondering what I might do with the third down opportunity at the San Francisco eight yard line. I immediately said "think players, not plays." Then, I said to think STRONGLY about Cooks; just put him in the slot and let him go to work again. That he did. He ran a little stick nod in the middle of the field and Mills threw to his backshoulder to move the ball away from All-Pro LB Fred Warner. Cooks adjusted his body and made the excellent catch to give the Texans a 7-0 lead with just under two minutes remaining in the half.
The 49ers had no answer for A.J. Brown the week before and they certainly couldn't stick with Cooks either. He finished with seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown, but tack on 53 yards in pass interference calls that he drew and that would've made it: nine impact plays, 129 yards and a touchdown. That gives his day more context and shows that he was, arguably, the best player on that field.
There was a two play stretch in the fourth quarter where rookie DL Michael Dwumfour looked darn near unblockable. He powered right through the 49ers guards on two consecutive run plays that resulted in zero yards on two carries. The first one he wasn't able to make the tackle but impacted the play, helping turn it into just a two yard gain. The second one he did the exact same thing, blowing up the 49ers left guard and nearly using said guard to help tackle fellow rookie RB Elijah Mitchell for a two yard loss. Two plays, zero yards - Dwumfour is highly intriguing heading into the finale and into the future for the Texans.
This Texans defense couldn't have played better for the majority of this game. The 49ers first seven drives went - punt, downs, punt, INT, punt, field goal and downs. The defense, unfortunately, was holding onto the inner tube out on the lake as the boat was making a wide turn and finally lost a proverbial grip in the fourth quarter. With a 7-3 lead, Mills threw his first pick in a couple of weeks and the 49ers decided to go up top down the field. CB Terrance Mitchell was in perfect position and went up for the pass. When the ball landed two yards beyond the three man mosh pit, I started to celebrate, internally, before three seconds or more evaporated, then a flag came out. I saw the replay and it was 50/50 at best whether it was a flag, but the fact that it came out so late was what got under my skin. Defensive pass interference was questionable at best, then a long wait and then a flag. That call came after the forward progress on the interception-turned fumble-turned down-by-forward-progress-being-stopped situation.
I'll say just this on that Marcell Harris interception. When a player's forward progress is stopped, he won't, then, fall forward after a strip attempt. That's the epitome of falling forward. Here's the thing too, on the field, the players usually know. There wasn't one 49ers defender that left that field thinking the ball wasn't going back to the Texans after Rex Burkhead recovered it. Not one. That unit was as surprised as everyone in the stadium.
NOW, that was a rough two play sequence in the game but it didn't cost the Texans a win. I didn't agree with the calls, but the Texans had a ton of other opportunities to come out of this game with a win. The defense gave up a three before half in which the 49ers were allowed to go out of bounds twice inside :21 seconds with no timeouts left in the half. The Texans missed a game tying field goal in the fourth quarter. The offense could've capitalized down in the red zone when they had to settle for a field goal attempt and, overall, the offense could've found more consistency throughout the day. So, key, pivotal moments in the game? Yes. The reason the Texans left California with an L? Nah.
When DB Desmond King moved out to perimeter CB earlier this season, I was a bit worried as he hadn't played a ton from that spot during his career in the NFL. But, he's made some tremendous plays from that spot. His interception in the first half was as brilliant as any we've seen this year. He just was in the right spot, making the right play at the right time. His return was just as good, but it was called back for a couple of penalties. He also came through with a pass breakup on fourth down deep in Texans territory on a drive that I was certain was going to result in 49ers points. I've always said how much I admire King as a true baller and he continued to show those qualities on Sunday.
By the way, that was the 17th interception of the 2021 season. Again, THREE all of 2020. 17 this year. Unreal performance taking the ball away.
Fellow DB Justin Reid went out of the game late in the fourth quarter, but he was a stalwart on run defense, in particular, throughout the contest. He put a hit on 49ers rookie QB Trey Lance that shook Lance's dentals up a bit. He also finished with two tackles for a loss, which isn't often seen from a safety. He came up from the secondary to fit the run defense with ferocity. He and fellow DB Eric Murray arrived in a bad mood in the run defense all day long. They tag teamed on a stop on Lance in the first quarter, keeping the rookie QB short of a first down. They did it on a key pass play in the game too. On King's pass break up on fourth down in the third quarter, it was Reid who harassed Lance and Murray who took away Lance's first option in the flat - 49ers TE George Kittle. Lance then decided to throw down the field and King broke that up.
This may have been the best game I've seen rookie DL Roy Lopez Jr. play. When I spend the day saying a name to Marc during the game, it's pretty clear how well said player is performing. He finished with five tackles to lead the defensive line in his first game back after being on COVID's reserve list last week. He flew down the line of scrimmage making plays on wide zone runs and stuffed ball carriers inside as well. He and Dwumfour, as rookies, have really got me excited for what this D Line can do in the future.
Well, there's not much more from Santa Clara and it's late Sunday…well, actually, early Monday morning, so I'll end it right there. One more left on Sunday and it's against the Titans to finish the regular season at home for the third straight season. Find tickets here. See ya then, everyone!
Check out the best photos from the Houston Texans Week 17 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers.