Wild Card weekend saw the return of the Houston Texans to the playoffs for a second consecutive season, with the franchise hoping to go one step further than last year’s defeat to the Colts at this same stage. Head coach Bill O’Brien had a less than stellar record in the postseason going into this matchup. Despite leading the Texans to a winning game in 4 out of 5 seasons prior to this year’s campaign and making the playoffs in 3 of those, he had put up a 1-3 record, leading to questions over whether he can take this talented roster further.
The Texans advance but continue to be as unpredictable a team as they were in the regular season. In the first half the offence was limp whilst the defence offered little resistance to the Bills’ ‘Ravens-Lite’ attack. That allowed Buffalo’s retro offense to pull out to a 13-0 lead at half time. Houston can’t afford a slow start like that in the Divisional Round versus the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes.
Buffalo’s lack of killer instinct on offence ultimately allowed Houston to hang around and claw their way back into the game in the second half.
In the first two quarters Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson seemed flummoxed by the Bills’ tight coverage in the secondary and fled the pocket often with little success. Factoring into his decision was the continuous success of Buffalo’s defensive line which racked up sack after sack, including when the former Clemson signal caller had left the pocket. Once Watson settled down in the second half and allowed plays to develop, he made Buffalo pay in the passing game on a series of intermediate completions.
The Houston quarterback was bottled up as a runner for most of the game but late in the third quarter ran for a 20-yard touchdown dragging two Buffalo defenders with him. On the ensuing two-point conversion Watson duly ran it in to cut into the Bills’ lead.
The dual threat quarterback worked his magic in overtime to set up Ka’imi Fairbairn for the game winning field goal. On a would be eighth sack for the Bills, Watson was hit by two Bills defenders, but refused to go down, finding backup running back Taiwan Jones who took the ball to the Buffalo 10-yard line for a ‘game’ kick.
Houston and Watson need to level out their consistency, as well as finding more ways to get Duke Johnson involved. The pass catching back picked up chunk gains through the air and on the ground against the Bills ferocious defence when given space to operate. In fact, as All Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins was locked up by Buffalo’s secondary until the second half, it was predominantly Johnson and tight end Darren Fells who tended to move this unit up the field.
The same comment for consistency goes for head coach and offensive play caller Bill O’Brien. With 1 minute 16 seconds left in the game and the Texans up 19-16, O’Brien chose to run a quarterback sneak on 4th and 1 rather than kick the field goal. That was from Buffalo’s 30-yard line, and turning the ball over on downs allowed Josh Allen and the Buffalo offence to move down the field on the ensuing drive to send the game to overtime with a Steven Hauschka field goal. Had the Bills been victorious in the extra quarter, its likely the Houston head man would have been hearing about that decision for some time.