There's not an adjective strong enough to describe the ending of the Texans 26-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. I was standing right down at the two yard line when the Texans second down snap went awry and I, like many in the sections behind me, were stunned. I shouldn't say this so Marc hears it, but I just needed to throw something so I flipped my mic on to the tarp behind me as I used to with my play card on the sideline when I coached. I couldn't even bring myself to watch the final kneel downs as I yanked my headphones off and trudged up the stairs, hoping against hope that somehow what we all saw was a nightmare and the real game would start when I woke up. Alas, reality was squarely in front of us, or behind me in my situation. Here are my Harris Hits from an indescribable, football gut punch loss to the Colts.
Given the sadness, anger, frustration or whatever negative emotion you felt when Anthony Walker Jr. fell on that fumble, this was about as proud as I've been of this team all season long. It played without three receivers, for various reasons, that were supposed to be key figures for the 2020 offense. One starting cornerback was placed on a six game suspension earlier this week, while another projected starting cornerback who hasn't been on the field all year long underwent surgery for the second time in a calendar year. Yet, the offense put up 20 first half points, outgained the Colts by 27 yards, averaged nearly a yard more per play, produced a higher average yards per rush and produced not one, but two 100 yard receivers that I promise you weren't on but 2%, if that, of Fantasy Football teams over the weekend. Quarterback Deshaun Watson (more on DW4 in a bit) threw for 341 yards through the air and ran for an 11-yard touchdown. Defensively, the Texans didn't give up a second half point. Furthermore, it held the Colts to a 27% third down conversion rate (three for 11) and made a massive stop on 4th and one to end a Colts drive on the Texans five yard line. This would've been one of the most memorable wins in the history of the franchise with the way EVERYONE stepped up throughout the day. I think that's why it stung the way that it did.
Two yards away...again. Think of this one this way. In week six, the Texans were two yards away from sealing a win on the road with a two point conversion at Tennessee. Brandin Cooks broke WIDE OPEN, but Titans star Jeffery Simmons got two fingers on the Deshaun Watson pass which left open the opportunity for Tennessee to tie the game and win in overtime. We all know how that one ended. Sunday, the Texans were two yards away from punching one in to potentially beat the Colts. So, watch this...win those two games, and again, think of how close the Texans had actually been to winning each game...here's what happens - the Titans would be 7-5, tied with the Colts at 7-5, with the Texans at 6-6, but with wins against both of the two teams in front of them. Look at the standings now and the Titans and Colts are 8-4 with the Texans 4-8; however, four yards, four very makeable yards, stood in the way of the Texans being right in the mix of this thing in the middle of December.
Marc and I often talk about games with names. Rosencopter. 2010 win over the Colts - The Arian Game. 2015 loss to the Colts - Hasselbeck in a Diaper game. 2019 win over the Raiders - Eye Kick. 2018 win over the Cowboys - HopSpins. You get it - games with names and this one was bound to be The Chad and Keke Game, obviously until the end (I'm not even going to come up with a moniker for this one, hurts too much). Receivers Chad Hansen and Keke Coutee both registered 100+ yards receiving in the same game. How rare was that? Well, it was the first time that neither DeAndre Hopkins or Andre Johnson were involved in the 100/100 feat in nine years. In a 25-20 loss to the Raiders in 2011, my pal Joel Dreeseen and Arian Foster each reached the century mark. It was the Chad and Keke game, until it wasn't.
I've been a fan of Hansen for a long time. I had him at No. 88 in my 2017 Harris 100 after a sensational finish to his college career.
88. Chad Hansen, WR, Cal
Combine: Hansen ran a 4.53 40-yard dash, a solid, if unspectacular time, but his change of direction drill times were strong. He ran a 6.74 3-cone and a 4.13 short shuttle as well. He caught it well during this on the field drills. He didn't wow the scouts with his athleticism but did have a satisfactory Combine weekend.
Overall: The name may not ring a bell but his game speaks for itself. He didn't make much of a dent at Cal in 2015 after transferring from Idaho State and sitting out 2014. Now, he was behind an experienced crew of pass catchers that starred for former No. 1 pick quarterback Jared Goff. When Hansen finally got the stage to himself, he blew the roof off the place. He piled up 14 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns down in Australia against Hawai'i in the opener and he was off and running. He's acrobatic with the ball in the air, making a few of the best toe drag catches I saw on film studying all these receivers. He can separate from defensive backs quickly and was once a sprinter in high school. It shows. Just go look at his second touchdown on the tunnel screen against Hawai'i. Wow, he took off like he was shot out of a cannon. He doesn't have a ton of experience but his skills translate to the next level without question.
After bouncing around the AFC East and then landing on a few practice squads, the former Cal star landed in Houston on its practice squad in 2019. In 2020, Hansen had a brilliant training camp and I went back to see what I wrote each and every day and this was one of my first notes on day two.
"I asked about some players that had made an impression since the players had arrived back on campus, if you will, and one of the names was receiver Chad Hansen. Going back to Hansen's days at Cal, I was a big fan of his game. He was fluid and could get separation with excellent routes. He caught everything and had tremendous body control. He worked with Deshaun Watson this offseason a bunch and on Saturday, they connected a number of times as a few receivers were still held out of practice. Looking back on my notes, I have "NICE (insert route, catch, hands)" written three different times. He just kept getting open and making catches. Oh yeah, it sounds simple, but he's making it look even easier. I don't know what the future holds for Hansen with the number of vets in that receiving corps already but, on Saturday, he made sure he made an impact on this team and offense."
Here was day six (I think)
"Receiver Chad Hansen has been a beneficiary of some receivers missing full practices as they ramp up to the 2020 season. He has caught nearly everything thrown his way and the work he did with Deshaun Watson this offseason seems to be paying off."
The overall point was that Hansen's performance on Sunday was not as "flukey" as some might have you believe. He created a partnership with Deshaun Watson every time the two took the field, whether that was in a workout in California, a training camp practice or against the Colts in December. It just appeared as if Hansen knew that THIS was his shot and, like Hamilton, he was going to take his shot. He finished with five catches (seven targets) for 101 yards, a 20.2 average.
Chad's other half on this day was third year dynamo Keke Coutee. Heading into this matchup with the Colts, Coutee had 67 career catches in just 19 games (regular season and playoffs). Of those 67 catches, 25 came against the Colts in three matchups (two in 2018 and one in 2019). So, it shouldn't have come as too big a surprise that he lit up the Colts again, registering eight catches for 141 yards on Sunday. So, in four career matchups against the Colts, Keke has 33 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns, not to mention, his only rushing touchdown came against the Colts too. So, if he played a full year, 16 games, against the Colts, he would register 132 receptions for 1,540 yards, eight receiving touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns. He'd be overall league MVP at that rate.
All in all, Coutee's confidence has grown and grown the past few weeks. With no Fuller, Cobb or Stills in the lineup, Coutee has gained the confidence of everyone in the organization. The most important person to have confidence in Coutee is Keke Coutee himself. He seems to understand how important he is to this offense and is making one huge play after the other each and every time out. He worked himself free down the field for the longest play of the day, a 64 yard catch and run that set up the Texans first touchdown. He snatched a catch out in front of him that had no business being caught. Everyone asked all week how the Texans could even have a chance without those three receivers mentioned above and two guys that got an opportunity made said opportunity pay off in spades.
With the score 24-20 midway through the fourth quarter, the Colts sat 36 inches or less away from a first down that could easily have led to a 31-20 lead. Best case, the Colts would bang home a field goal to take a 27-20 lead. So, when Philip Rivers turned to hand off to Nyheim Hines, I held my breath a bit. Then, as if it were pre-planned, the Texans two inside linebackers Tyrell Adams and Zach Cunningham blasted into the gap and nailed Hines well short of the first down. The crowd erupted and it was actually loud in my ear for the first time in a long time, even with the reduced crowd. I closed my eyes during the following break and envisioned a full NRG Stadium going berserk on a stop like that. Man, I've got chills thinking about it.
Since the New England Patriots game, Justin Reid, Jon Greenard and A.J. Moore each came up with the first sack in his career. When Moore is on the field, great things happen and he was able to find his way to Philip Rivers on a perfectly constructed and timely blitz call by defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver.
Speaking of the defense...here's the drive chart for the second half: punt, punt, punt, downs, punt and end of game. It gave up just one drive of more than 39 yards and that 63 yard drive ended at the Texans five yard line as noted above.
J.J. Watt had another vintage performance with four TFL and one sack, his 101st in an outstanding career. He was as good against the run as he's been all year. So, in the last three games - four passes batted down against New England, a pick six against Detroit and four TFL/one sack v. Indianapolis. The Colts knew where he was on every single play, doubling him a ton on the way to the quarterback, yet Watt was as dominant as he was the last time he faced the Colts in 2019 up at Lucas Oil Stadium. He didn't singlehandedly keep the Texans in this game but he sure played like he was doing it. What more is there to say about him? In a non-COVID world, I'd dap him up and tell him "thank you" It's been an incredible joy to watch
My last note is on Deshaun Watson. When I was driving home from NRG Stadium on Sunday, I was thinking about what I was going to write about him, his performance, his leadership, everything about him. Then, I thought back to that final play and the Colts celebrating on the other side of the field. They had already internalized a loss that Watson had ripped from them. As the Horseshoe helmeted Colts ran around the field, Deshaun sat on the turf internalizing the loss, inconsolable until Brandin Cooks helped him off the field. Here was a guy that's had a limited rushing game all year. He's lost three of his top four receivers from the start of the year (Fuller V, Stills and Cobb). During THIS game, he even lost Brandin Cooks for a while in the third and fourth quarters too. He was threading the needle to two guys (Hansen and Coutee) that had combined to be active for all of three games in the 2020 season prior to this game. Take away the top three weapons, and any run game success, for other quarterbacks in the NFL and how many would have led their teams to within 72 inches of a seemingly improbable win? One? Two? Deshaun Watson had every reason to mail it in, throw in the towel, focus on 2021. However, not only did he NOT do either, he gave the Texans a shot to win a game that no one thought they could win prior to the matchup. We are lucky. We are witnesses.
Alright, that'll do it for this one. I didn't sit down to write for four or five hours after the game because this one stung. Yet, I was super proud of Watson, Watt, Hansen, Coutee and many others for the way they competed on this, and many other, Sunday(s). See ya next week from Chicago!