Following a home loss to the New York Giants, the Houston Texans’ locker room was not a location many would seek out for some fun.
The following six weeks, however, it has been the exact opposite.
The same spot where quarterback Deshaun Watson once sprawled out on the floor with a towel over his face has been replaced with a smiling signal-caller who has thrown at least one touchdown every game in this recent streak.
He has failed to eclipse the 200-yard mark only twice in that time while avoiding interceptions in the latter half of the stretch.
“It’s always big on every level,” Watson said. “A turnover is giving a possession to the opposing team and seeing how they can capitalize with it. We do not want them to have it. Take care of the football, if we do that, the chances of us winning are very high.”
The Texans were able to do just that, keeping the ball on the ground for the most part even though many runs did not go far.
The visitors scraped the 100-yard ceiling but just could not get through; averaging just less than three yards over their 33 carries as a team. Despite hitting triple digits in both of the last two games, Lamar Miller was restricted to 21 yards and his counterpart, Alfred Blue, managed 39 yards.
Watson accrued 38 yards on just six carries but that balanced attack neutralized the strong points of the Broncos’ defense in pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb although Watson still connected with DeAndre Hopkins 10 times for 105 yards and a touchdown.
“I think right now that’s kind of our formula,” Head Coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think we’ve got to do the best job we can of being balanced.”
Miller echoed his head coach’s thoughts, noting “I think just having a balanced offense is the most important in keeping the defense on their toes,” he said. “We knew coming into the game that the Broncos had great pass rushers, so we just tried to keep them contained. We struggled in the run game, but we still found a way to win.”
That way to a victory was found thanks in part to the kickers on each side, with Ka’imi Fairbairn and Brandon McManus both suffering misfires.
Fairbairn missed his first extra point this season in the second quarter but McManus failed to convert his 62-yarder to close out the opening half. Even more haunting, though, will be the miss from only 51 yards out with the game on the line and little time remaining.
The Broncos trailed 19-17 and had just enough time left on the board to trot out the field-goal unit once again but soon after he kicked it, McManus knew it wasn’t good.
“Yeah instantly,” he added, certain it was not going in. “And then obviously at the end, it wasn’t windy at all … It sucks because you come in kicking pretty well and like I said, two bad kicks that didn’t even give us a chance. I feel like I let these guys down.”
But on the other side, it was exactly the break the Texans needed to complete a turnaround that hasn’t been seen in nearly 50 years.
Elias Sports Bureau confirmed Houston became the first team to win six straight games following a 0-3 start since the 1970 New York Giants who was headlined by Fran Tarkenton’s play under center in Yankee Stadium.
Those Giants ultimately missed the playoffs following a loss in the season finale to the Los Angeles Rams, however, but it’s still way too early to be talking playoff seedings.
Until then, the Texans enter their off-week on a high note and understand what they accomplished was not just by chance.
“It’s obviously not easy to win six games in a row,” safety Tyrann Mathieu stated. “It was a hostile environment, but we knew it was going to be a hard game. Luckily, a lot of things went our way and we capitalized on them.”