It took the Houston Texans nine seasons to finally make the playoffs, so it’s safe to say winning is new to them. Furthermore, the Texans surprisingly fly under the radar a bit and are constantly overlooked during discussions of the NFL’s top teams. And while the whole winning this is new for the franchise, it’s unlikely to last much longer as the Texans continue winning. As the season progresses, and the Texans keep winning, they’re going to begin getting each opponents best game and teams will be shooting to take down one of the league’s elite teams. The Texans don’t have a lot of experience as the hunted instead of the hunters, but they’re going to have to figure it out quickly.
The ability to take care of business week in and week out against opponents giving you their best games is critical of a championship caliber team. The Texans have, however, already been faced with a chance to prove their superiority and championship pedigree once this season, and responded with a lackluster, yet ultimately successful, effort. The Texans entered the fourth quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Denver Broncos up by 20 points, but quickly found themselves only up six after two quick Bronco touchdowns and two short drives by the Texans offense.
Closing out football games is a key component to being a championship squad. Having the ability to shut the door on an opponent is a sign that you’re a team that doesn’t stop playing until the final whistle and emphatically takes care of business. Last Sunday, the Texans flirted with blowing a big lead after it appeared they somewhat took their foot off the pedal. That’s not to take any credit away from the Broncos, who with QB Peyton Manning at the helm will always have the ability to comeback from large deficits against any team. With that being said, the Texans still got away from their game plan and seemingly became relaxed with a big lead after three quarters.
It’s tough to determine which side of the ball was more troublesome for the Texans in that fourth quarter Sunday, the offense or the defense. Defensively, the Texans got tremendous pressure on Manning through the first three quarters, recording several sacks, QB hits, and even when they weren’t physically getting to Manning, they were forcing him to move around the pocket and not allow him to get comfortable. But during the first two drives of the fourth quarter, the pass rush disappeared. All of a sudden, Manning was getting all day to throw, mostly with nobody within several feet of him. When that happens, a guy like Peyton will pick you apart all day long. What had been an absolutely dominant defensive performance through the first three quarters became pedestrian in the fourth. Again, the Broncos deserve some of the credit for stepping up when they needed to late, but a championship defense continues their play for four quarters and finishes what they started.
Perhaps the more troubling unit in the fourth quarter Sunday was the offense. The Texans were only able to run a total of 12 plays in the final quarter and only had the ball for six minutes and 44 seconds (the Broncos on the other hand ran 14 plays and held the ball the remaining eight minutes and 16 seconds). While that seems pretty normal and balanced, remember the Texans were up by 20 at the start of the quarter. This is a Texans team that prides itself on their run-first, ground and pound offense that should be able to chew large amounts of clock while methodically moving the chains. The play calling mirrored this philosophy as the Texans ran the ball nine of their twelve plays in the fourth, but couldn’t quite finish off a drive they way one would hope.
Of their three drives in the fourth, the first ended with a lost fumble by RB Ben Tate while the other two ended with a punt. The killer was the second drive of the quarter, which resulted in a 28 second three-and-out that was sandwiched between the two Bronco fourth quarter TDs that cut the lead to six and gave the home team Broncos the momentum.
When the Texans did get the ball back for their third and final drive with exactly three minutes remaining in the game, they were able to run the ball, burn some clock, and although they were forced to punt the ball back to Peyton and the Broncos, they only left 20 seconds on the clock for the Broncos to try and move the ball 86 yards.
In the end, the Texans did enough to come away with a huge victory on the road. With that being said, one could certainly argue that the Texans didn’t handle business down the stretch the way a winning organization would. And while it’s a bit concerning that they Texans appeared to let their foot off the gas some with a huge lead, it’s only week three of the season. Remember, winning is new to this organization and will take some getting used to. But as the weeks progress and the Texans continue compiling wins and pushing towards their second straight playoff berth, they’re going to have to fix some of the problems associated with not playing a full 60 minutes of football. Because after all, that’s what Super Bowl champions do.
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