That was seriously stressful. It was hot; it had to be 90+ degrees down on the field. Humid as all get out. Close game that FINALLY turned into a win.
It's been two hundred eighty-seven days since the Texans last won on December 26th, 2021 over the Chargers. The Texans had their chances to get that win in all four games prior to this trip to Jacksonville. But, it just didn't happen. But, it DID happen, though, in Duval County for the fourth straight season (five if you imagine London as East Duval County) and no better time - heading into the bye, road divisional game, no win to that point. Here are my Harris Hits from the sultry afternoon in Jacksonville.
There were so many KEY moments in this game but there's seemingly only one starting point - The Run. It's certainly the greatest run I've seen from a Texans RB since I've been on the sidelines. Arian Foster had his share of runs that were made for the Highlight Reel. Lamar Miller had a 97-yard sprint that was the perfect run/moment on a night when the Texans celebrated the life of Bob McNair. But, there hasn't been a Houston-defining, tackle breaking, soul snatching and sideline lifting run quite like that Pierce run. Houston's defined by its toughness and grit and RB Dameon Pierce's run was Houston in a nutshell. I saw him start to the left side and I could see there was a little room. He broke that first tackle near the line of scrimmage as a defensive lineman was on a block and just threw an arm out there. When he got to the second level, it got really fun when former college foe Tyson Campbell tried to jump on his back and Pierce shook him like a big brother throwing his kid brother off him in a game of piggyback. That's the exact point when I yelled in Marc's ears - "HE'S GOING TO SCORE!" I was so jacked and that was just half of it. He continued to move his way through every other teal colored defender that tried to stop him from scoring. Eventually, they did get Pierce to the ground at the one-yard line. I erupted. The sideline erupted. Texans fans in the stands went absolutely mad. As we got on the bus after the game, I tried to think of Texans moments I've seen up close from the sideline and that Pierce run will rank right up with Hopspins, the Catch at Cincinnati on MNF in 2015, Miller's long run and Fuller deep catch at Seattle in 2017. You and I will remember this one for a while.
One thing that I loved so much about Pierce and his touchdown was after the touchdown. Immediately after he scored, he made a beeline for Lake City, FL's own Laremy Tunsil. The Texans star left tackle grew up about 45 minutes away from Jacksonville. Pierce handed him the rock to allow the big fella to get a power spike to celebrate the touchdown. I thought Laremy punctured the football with that spike. Very cool moment.
Pierce's touchdown was the culmination of a drive that had multiple memorable plays. Nico Collins' catch on the sideline was just ridiculous to keep the third down alive. The Texans have been trying to get Nico isolated in one-on-one situations throughout the year. This one wasn't perfect because QB Davis Mills couldn't get off a clean deep throw, but he got just enough on it for Collins to react back to the ball to make the incredible catch.
That was the first third down conversion on that touchdown drive. The next one came courtesy of the 2022 #1 overall draft pick Travon Walker. On a 3rd and 20, the three of us on the broadcast lamented our fate. Andre said "there isn't a play sheet anywhere that has a 3rd and 20 play section." He's right. But, that's what the Texans were facing. Then, Walker jumped offside and then, for some inexplicable reason, he threw Davis Mills to the ground, which drew a flag from Ronald Torbert for unnecessary roughness. Five for the offside. 15 for the unnecessary roughness. We can do that math. 20 yards in penalties and a HUGE first down.
Then, the Texans picked up five yards on the first two plays of the next series of downs and faced a third and five.
Oops, false start.
Now, it was third and ten and the odds of getting three straight first downs weren't good…until Mills found TE Jordan Akins on the right sideline. The Jaguars ran a T/E stunt on the left side which got a Jaguar DL free into Mills' face as he threw to the right side. Akins ran an out and up to the Jaguars sideline and snatched Mills' throw, diving forward for the first down.
Three straight first downs led to The Run two plays later and a Pierce touchdown a few plays after that. 13-6. Ballgame.
Well, it wasn't quite over, but the defense wasn't about to let that lead evaporate in this one.
As I said, there were so many key plays in this game but those mentioned above don't happen without the defensive play of the game that featured a pair of rookies. The Jaguars moved the ball all the way down to the seven-yard line, facing a second and one. Just as they had done earlier in the game, the Jaguars went right back to the same play that the Chargers had run the week prior. You know the one, the Ekeler out in the flat play. The Jaguars hit on that play in the first half but this time, the rookies were ready to strike. Lawrence reversed out and looked for RB Travis Etienne in the flat but rookie DB Jalen Pitre worked his way through the tight ends on that side to take that option away from Lawrence. So, the Jaguars QB held on to the ball until he threw to his…former 2019 CFP National Championship game foe Derek Stingley Jr. The former LSU star jumped in front of the pass headed to the back of the end zone for the interception that kept the Jaguars off the scoreboard in the second half.
Stingley Jr. made a couple more plays later in the game on the Jaguars second to last drive. Lawrence threw his way twice on third and fourth down to no avail as Stingley Jr. threw clamps on the Jaguars receivers.
The defensive backs were stellar but the DB that played, arguably, the best game was Desmond King II. I mean, DK25 was all over the field. He had three pass breakups, including a diving effort late in the game that could've turned into a big play for Jaguars Zay Jones across the middle. He finished the game with a pick on the final play. He had three passes defensed, one of those coming on a massive 4th down situation for the Jaguars in the second quarter. After that pass breakup, the Texans went down and took the lead with a Kai'mi Fairbairn field goal. He was everywhere. The Texans haven't won a ton of games the past two years, but when they have, King has played a significant role in those games and today was no exception.
The Texans had trouble in the first half stopping throws in the middle of the field until LB Garret Wallow made a tremendous play on a curl route. Back in training camp, Wallow made a diving pass breakup that never left my brain. I saw him do it live and then back on film that night, so it seared into my brain. So, fast forward to today, a Jaguar receiver sat about 12-15 yards downfield as Trevor Lawrence reached back and fired. Out of nowhere, Wallow dove in front and knocked away the pass. Instantly, I was taken back to that training camp play and it was nearly the exact type of breakup - diving from seemingly out of nowhere to force an incompletion. Last year against Jacksonville, Wallow had to step in due to injuries/COVID at the linebacker position and he was outstanding. Today, he showed more of the same with a key TFL and that pass breakup.
The special teams for the Texans have been so, so very special. The coverage units were instrumental in forcing Jacksonville to start their drives at their own 17-yard line. Dare Ogunbowale had two key tackles on teams. Tremon Smith and Grayland Arnold combined to down a Cam Johnston punt at the Jaguars three-yard line. However, the ST hero today was K Ka'imi Fairbairn. When the Texans bogged down twice around the 33/34 yard line, Fairbairn nailed both of his 50+ yard field goal attempts. The Texans needed to answer the Jaguars early field goal and Fairbairn did just that when the Texans needed it the most. He nailed his second one that gave the Texans a lead they would hold until the end of the first half.
Seeing the Travis Etienne "fumble" at the end of the half live, I didn't think he ever had full control. Sometimes the initial view is the best view, but when they went to replay, it did look like he made a football move after the catch. That was a three-point review overturn, unfortunately, before the half.
The first fourth down stop by Desmond King's diving effort was just incredible. But, the way that the Jaguars ran the ball for much of the day, the fourth and one stop in the fourth quarter might have been even more impressive. DL Maliek Collins and DL Kurt Hinish got just enough penetration to keep James Robinson from finding a seam or a gap to squeeze through to get 36 inches for the first down. Then, LB Christian Kirksey sprinted in and finished the tackle with those two to get the much-needed stop.
RB Dameon Pierce was just magnificent, but RB Rex Burkhead had a number of big plays in this game. He had a nine-yard run on third and six in the third quarter when the Texans were backed up into their own end. He then followed that up with a six-yard run on the same drive. Add in a couple of catches and he had five quality touches in the game.
Alright, we're about to land this happy plane and take it to the house. Have a great bye week and we'll see you in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks. GO TEXANS!!