For the second game in a row, the Texans were able to beat a team that came in with a winning record. They did it by playing dominant defense, showed rare creativity on offense and managed to hold off the suddenly struggling New York Jets 24-17.
At 5-5 with three consecutive wins for the first time since 2012, the Texans remain tied with the Indianapolis Colts atop the suddenly less dreadful AFC South. It’s possible the current streak has come too late this season. Severe tests remain and the Colts have by far the easier schedule to finish the season. But the Texans have righted the ship after some of the worst losses in franchise history. The recipe on Sunday was slightly different from the prior two wins.
Against Tennessee and Cincinnati, the Texans defense was absolutely dominant. They got just enough offense against the Bengals to eke out a win.
Sunday, once again the defense was terrific. The Texans outgained the Jets 364-267 and led time of possession by almost seven minutes. They held the Jets to 16 first downs and just 3.3 yards per carry. They won the turnover battle 2-1 and while they had just three sacks, they constantly pressured Ryan Fitzpatrick and forced him into hurried throws.
This was the Texans defense we thought we would see all year. It’s finally arrived, with three straight strong performances.
But what might have won the game for the Texans was some rare creative playcalling on offense. Whether a product of second-tier quarterback play or just an all around shaky offensive line, the Texans have been predictable calling plays all year. On Sunday, they broke out a trick play with Cecil Shorts, which led to a touchdown pass. They used wildcat. They tried to catch the Jets off guard, and it worked.
They challenged Darrelle Revis downfield with DeAndre Hopkins, who caught two touchdown passes and had another big game (5 catches, 118 yards and the two scores). T.J. Yates was just efficient enough, throwing no picks. His only hiccup was holding the ball too long on a play that led to a sack/fumble and got the Jets three points. But he avoided any other catastrophic moments. .
His numbers weren’t special — 16 of 34 for 229 yards and two TDs — but for a player who wasn’t even in the league a month ago, it was a much better performance than the Texans could have realistically expected.
The big questions from Sunday:
A. Have they truly turned things around?
B. What caused such a sudden change in the defense?
C. Is it too late considering the last six games on the schedule?
It appears so. They look nothing like the unit that embarrassed itself in Miami and Atlanta, and was pushed around by the Colts at home.
Not so easy to answer. Obviously, if the Texans knew, they would have done it sooner. Some personnel changes, simplification of calls and more rotations appear to have helped. But it’s hard to explain such a sudden improvement.
That’s the biggest question of all. Let’s look at the remainder of the schedule:
Realistically, the Texans will need to go 4-2 to have a legitimate chance. It seems daunting, but not impossible. However, one of those wins will need to be at Indianapolis, where you have probably heard the Texans have never won.
The next six games they play the Saints, at Buffalo, New England, at Indianapolis, at Tennessee, home to Jacksonville.
The Saints should be a win, but New Orleans changed defensive coordinators, plays well indoors and has fired some big shots at times this season. Probably not quite a must win for the Texans, but close.
At Buffalo will be tough, but if the Texans can win at Cincinnati, it’s not impossible. Still, not a likely win.
New England? No chance. But the big game would be next at Indianapolis. Who knows whether or not Andrew Luck will be back, but the Colts have actually been better without him. The Texans would have to finally end the Indy curse to have a shot at the playoffs.
At Tennessee and home to Jacksonville should be wins, although the Jags are playing better football and there is a slim chance that game means something to both teams.
So the question becomes can the Texans sweep the division and go 1-2 against the Saints, Pats and Bills. The latter is possible. The former seems like a long shot. Still, it’s at least a viable conversation now. That wasn’t the case just three weeks ago.
And all because the defense finally has its act together. Hopefully it did not happen too late.