Texans 34, Lions 31: Heart of a Champion? Houston Bends but Doesn't Break in Latest Rally
For a second time in five days, the Texans trailed by a touchdown late and seemingly needed a miracle just to reach overtime.
Photo by Marco Torres Johnson was a beast for the second straight week.
Yet again, they ended up winners -- this time, moving to 10-1 with a stirring come-from-behind effort in Detroit.
"It looked a lot like last week, but this group just refuses to go down," said head coach Gary Kubiak. "Very proud of their effort."
Much of the attention will go to the offense, and rightfully so. Matt Schaub masterfully orchestrated a 15-play, 97-yard touchdown drive to tie the game in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, including a clutch fourth-down conversion to Andre Johnson.
But that drive isn't as meaningful without tremendous play from the Houston defense -- yes, the same unit that surrendered 525 yards while playing without star cornerback Johnathan Joseph and linebackers Brooks Reed and Bradie James, all out due to injury.
Big stops late
Twice, the Texans went three-and-out in the fourth quarter, allowing the Lions to start drives near midfield. Twice, the Lions advanced to the Houston 36, needing a mere two or three yards to reach field goal range, where Jason Hanson could extend the lead to two possessions and effectively end it.
Both times, though, Stafford was sacked by J.J. Watt, whose nationally-televised masterpiece of three sacks, three passes defensed and five tackles should clinch his award for Defensive Player of the Year.
"He's a beast," said Andre Johnson, speaking of Watt. "The way he's playing right now is unreal. If it was up to me, he'd be the MVP."
Watt and the defense didn't stop there. Following Arian Foster's tying touchdown with just under two minutes to go, the Lions quickly moved to the Houston 45 and came within a first down of having a shot to win. Instead, the Texans defense forced three straight incompletions, including a Watt swat.
Overcoming overtime adversity
The trend continued in OT. Three Detroit possessions ended with a forced fumble by Danieal Manning, a punt after 14 yards and a missed field goal when the Lions were stonewalled at the 29 (forcing a lengthy attempt). The latter two stops were particularly impressive considering they came after the apparent backbreakers of a missed Shayne Graham field goal and a Schaub interception in Houston territory.
"Ten quarters in five days is draining, but our team persevered," said Watt. "I couldn't be more thankful to be on this squad. You just find a way to win."
Yes, it was a second straight game of multiple missed assignments and poor fundamentals for Wade Phillips' defense. Yes, Stafford passed for 441 yards after Chad Henne tossed for 354. But key injuries (none believed to be season-threatening) and the compressed schedule offer some explanation.
In the big picture, most noteworthy could be the defense's response with everything on the line. After taking a 31-24 lead with 13 minutes left, the Lions had six more possessions. They scored zero. It was reminiscent of the Jacksonville game, when the Jaguars were mustered only three points on their final four possessions - including an overtime series that started on the Houston 47 and went nowhere.
Concerns linger, but final drive gives hope
The two biggest concerns mentioned after the Jacksonville game -- notably, Graham's inaccuracy on long kicks and Kubiak's tendency to go conservative -- weren't much better on Thanksgiving Day.
After advancing to the Detroit 27 on the first OT possession, Kubiak and the Texans called three consecutive runs. Between those and a false start penalty, they lost six yards and settled for a 51-yard attempt to win the game. Graham was wide left, just as he was against Jacksonville when the Texans similarly handed off and ended up with a 47-yard attempt.
On the next series, Chris Houston picked off Schaub on a terrible throw.
Neither poor decision seemed to rattle the Texans, as Schaub completed three of five passes for 49 yards on the third and final drive. Most impressively, he found James Casey via playaction on first down from the Detroit 25, moving Graham into chip-shot range.
Kubiak didn't settle for the long kick, and Graham rewarded him by finally ending a game off his foot.
"This group just refuses to go down," said the head coach.
The Texans have 10 days before resuming play Dec. 2 in Tennessee. They have plenty of injuries to mend and schemes to tweak. But the heart displayed in the past five days sends them into this mini-bye with soaring confidence that all can eventually be fixed.
On a holiday weekend, they gave themselves and Houston fans much to be thankful for.