The week leading up to the first matchup with the Tennessee Titans in November was filled with noise. Everywhere there was noise about this team, the staff, the organization, whatever you name it. But, little did we know that day was the start of a turnaround that would see the Texans win the AFC South nearly two months to the day later.
Each Tuesday night, I do a radio show called Texans Replay where I look back at the Ultimate 11 plays of the previously played game. So, I decided to highlight the Ultimate 11 plays or moments from that November date with Tennessee through the Jacksonville finale that were keyed a run to an AFC South championship.
11. Whitney Mercilus' 3.5 sacks versus Tennessee in the teams' first matchup of 2015
With Jadeveon Clowney sidelined with an injury, Mercilus opened a can of you know what on the Titans offensive line. What he was able to do that day gave him and the defense confidence that it was THAT good and it would show that over the next two months.
10. A.J. Bouye interception put the final dagger into the Colts in Indianapolis
It was just the cherry on the sundae but it was one pretty cherry, no? Some of these plays I remember more for Marc's radio call. When Bouye slid on the turf, holding the ball aloft, Marc just yelled out "THE TEXANS ARE GOING TO DO IT...THEY FINALLY CAUGHT THEIR WHITE WHALE!"
9. Brandon Weeden's scramble for a touchdown
Weeden got the start in Nashville as Brian Hoyer sat out with a concussion for the second straight week. In the second quarter, just prior to halftime, Weeden dropped back to pass and found nary a Texan pass catcher open. So, he ran, like Forrest Gump, he ran...and kept running and kept running. On the sideline, I kept thinking, he'll get tackled at some point. Right? RIGHT?!? Wait a second...is he going to score??? I was stunned on the other sideline as I saw the refs arms shoot in the air to signal a touchdown. That scramble touchdown gave the Texans a 17-0 lead and more importantly a three score lead heading into halftime.
8. Cecil Shorts razzle dazzle double pass to Alfred Blue to beat Jets
During practice that week, I saw the Texans working on this play and I thought it looked familiar. Then, the Texans pulled it out in the second half heading into the South end zone and I KNEW exactly where I'd seen that play before. In the 2014 finale against the Texans, Jacksonville used the same play...with the same guy pulling the trigger - Shorts. This time, Shorts threw to Blue for the go-ahead touchdown versus the Jets.
7. Kareem Jackson's INT of Drew Brees to keep the Saints out of the end zone
The Saints had scored a TD in every game since Sean Payton took over in the Big Easy. Until the 2015 Texans defense got a hold of them. Jackson, in his first game back in weeks, played underneath a Brandin Cooks' seam route and made a diving interception to end the Saints best and last TD threat. That afternoon I noticed most national pundits paying more attention to the Texans defense, in particular, and with good reason.
6. Merciwatt's domination of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the season finale
What JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus did to the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line during the regular season finale bordered on abuse. It was downright unfair to see those guys rush Blake Bortles in the AFC South Championship clinching game. Watt hit nearly every stat column on the stat sheet (except for the INT column) and Mercilus was credited with 3.5 sacks on the day, the second time he accomplished that feat this season. The Jaguars offense was the hottest in the NFL heading into the finale, but the Texans held them without a TD, the fifth time they held a team out of the end zone this season.
5. Quintin Demps' forced fumble sealed the win on MNFI'm not sure that I took a breath after the only touchdown scored that night for the rest of the game. There was a reason for that and Bengals Andy Dalton and company started a drive to potentially win the game and stay undefeated as the clock clicked under two minutes. But, after a completion from Dalton to AJ Green for a first down, Demps flew in from his safety position, knocked the ball out of the Pro Bowl wideout's hands, dove over the top of Green and recovered the fumble that set the sideline on fire.
4. DeAndre Hopkins plants his flag on Revis Island
Sure, Hopkins had gotten a ton of attention for his circus TD catch against Cincinnati, but this was against Darrelle Revis, long considered the best in the game. Hopkins already had a one hander on the sideline earlier in the game, but when he beat Revis deep for 61 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, the social media world caught on fire. Statement sent.
3. Johnathan Joseph forced fumble at Indianapolis
Shortly after the Texans took a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter, the Colts drove into Texans territory. Matt Hasselbeck threw a crossing route to Griff Whalen for what seemed like a first down gain, but Joseph put his shoulder right into Whalen, knocked the ball loose and set the city of Houston afire when Kareem Jackson picked up the rock and headed for the end zone.
2. Hopkins' touchdown catch against the Cincinnati Bengals
I stood about five yards away from Hop when the ball was in the air. I knew with the coverage the Bengals were playing that T.J. Yates was going to throw it Hopkins' way. He did. Hop pinned the ball with one hand to his body, clicked his feet inside the sideline and it set off bedlam. There's a picture of me standing in the background and when I showed Hop, he said "it looks like you were in awe." I sort of was. But, what I'll remember most about this play was Marc's radio call. "YOU CAN'T WRITE THIS!!" I mean, seriously, he was dead on.
1. Jaelen Strong's touchdown versus Indianapolis
Weeden entered the game after Yates tore his ACL late in the 2nd quarter. Strong was in the game because Cecil Shorts III was injured midway through the game. At the end of a 90-yard TD drive, Weeden hit Strong out in the flat on a little bootleg and Strong sprinted into the end zone for the game winning score. That touchdown helped win the AFC South. That touchdown ended a 13-year nightmare. That touchdown allowed this team to play more football in January. Weeden to Strong. To put this touchdown in perspective, the night the Texans beat Cincinnati on November 16, Strong was inactive and Weeden was a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Just over a month later, these two combined on the most important moment of the 2015 season and No. 1 in this Ultimate 11.
Texans players celebrated winning the AFC South Championship.