The Houston Texans are AFC South Champs. I know that heading into the week the Indianapolis Colts needed the most absurd combination of victories — including both a Donald Trump victory in DC and a Philadelphia 76ers win on the court — to steal that honor from the Texans, but behind a dominant 30-6 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, it became official.
It may have been the proudest moment in the history of the franchise.
You know by now that I have been a Texans fan since the day they announced that they were bringing a franchise back to H-Town. There have been plenty of those “defining moments” in the history of the franchise, moments that I have been proud to say I was a Texans fan.
Finishing at .500 in 2007 was an amazing feeling. Thinking about T.J. Yates hitting Andre Johnson to put the exclamation point on J.J. Watt‘s coming out party (which Arian Foster would tack on an extra exclamation point with a 42-yard touchdown dash) for the first playoff in win in franchise history gives me chills every time. Having J.J. Watt become the definition of defense in 2012 was a huge high point.
The Texans have won. They have division titles. They have playoff wins. This isn’t the first time they have risen to such heights. But this may have been the hardest road they had ever traveled to do so.
The Hard Knocks Curse some said. The lack of a quality NFL quarterback others said. Some pinpointed the loss of Foster as the beginning of the end.
Whatever the case was, this team was 2-5. It wasn’t just that they were 2-5… it was an ugly 2-5.
I was at the first win at NRG when they beat Tampa Bay largely in part to three missed field goals from Kyle Brindza. I was also on hand in Atlanta the following week when the Texans were down 21-0 — and would fall down 42-0 by the third — seemingly before I had a chance to buy my first drink. Two games later they would fall behind to a not-very-good Miami Dolphins football team by more than 40 in the first half and quite frankly, the season looked lost.
But that’s not the Bill O’Brien Way.
The Ryan Mallett situation didn’t help things. The guy was a cancer to this team, whether he was stuck in traffic or crying like a baby on the sideline because he wasn’t allowed to play. OB wanted to cut him, but Rick Smith wouldn’t allow it… at first. The second they got his negativity out of the locker room and OB became the strong hand of the law again, this Texans team got their edge back.
It started with the defense. J.J. Watt was constantly double and triple teamed at the start of the season, and nobody would step up and make a play. The linebackers forgot how to tackle and Kareem Jackson seemingly couldn’t cover a bed. But then it clicked.
Brian Cushing — who once again had another 100+ tackle season — led the linebacker corps that saw Whitney Mercilus become a sack machine. Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson — who has been a different beast since coming back from injury, highlighted by yesterday’s pick six — and first round draft pick Kevin Johnson — who at one point seemingly combined to make the Rob Ryan led Saints secondary look almost talented — became shutdown city as second year DB Andre Hal came into his own. And then there was J.J.
J.J. should easily lock up his second consecutive — and third out of the last four — Defensive Player of the Year Award yet again this season. A league leading 17.5 sacks, a fumble forcing machine and still the guy who puts the WATT in SWATT… he’s simply the best defender in the league. He makes everyone around him better, and for the second year in a row, he should garner MVP votes. He’ll lose out to a quarterback yet again, but man, one day he’ll grab it.
The Texans went 7-2 down the stretch and their defense allowed a league best 12.7 points a game. This was the defense the nation fell in love with on Hard Knocks. This was a defense that allowed 139 points in a four week span (that’s 35 points a game people) to four non-playoff bound teams, yet somehow finished with the third best total defense IN THE NFL.
This was what OB and the hard-nosed Texans were all about, a defense that currently leads the league in opponents third-down percentage. Get ’em off the field, boys. It helps the offense.
And there was offense as well. DeAndre Hopkins had one of the best seasons a wide receiver has had in the history of the franchise. 111 receptions (which Andre bested twice), 1,521 yards (which Andre bested thrice) and 11 touchdowns (Andre never reached double-digit TDs) made him the third best receiver in football. No. 80 is my favorite player ever to wear a football uniform, he’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and DeAndre’s season was as good as any AJ ever had.
(By the way, let’s take it easy on the Andre bashing I’ve seen on Twitter. He went to go start in an offense that was supposed to have Andrew Luck chucking him the ball. That team fell apart. Does he wish he stayed? I bet he does, but he also gave his all for the Texans for a long time. Him being here this season likely wouldn’t have made this team any better than it currently is, so there is no reason to hate on him.)
Nuk is the real deal. He did it with Mallett throwing the ball, he did it with Yates, Hoyer and Brandon Weeden. Nuk can make me look like an NFL quarterback because he is like a vacuum when the ball is near him.
The backfield came along nicely as well. I have been impressed with Alfred Blue. I thought he was a straight up plodder, a nice two to Arian’s one — and don’t get me wrong, he still has work to do in becoming a feature back — but he showed signs of being a guy who can kill the clock and maybe get 100 yards a game consistently, having done it twice in the last three weeks. He has actually found a few holes here and there, which is great progress since it seemed like all he used to do was run straight forward.
Akeem Hunt can straight up fly, I love watching this kid when he gets the ball. Third and 18? He’ll sprint 19 yards and get the first. And Jonathan Grimes seems ready to take over the lead role with Bang Bang Chicken and Shrimp running up the rear.
They have done it with four QBs, a backfield of backups and a wide receiving corps chock full of injury and the emergence of budding star Jaelen Strong (I loved him when they drafted him and I think we see him play big in the playoffs and beyond). But they are winning, mainly because they have a will and desire to win like no other Texans team I can remember. This is a team that everyone laughed at, that everyone second guessed the once highly vaunted defense, and they turned it around.
Some will say that they are the best of a weak bunch. The AFC South is certainly amongst the worst divisions in football, but the Texans did what they had to do and went 5-1 in the division. They had back-to-back “signature wins” against a 10-win Jets team and the No. 3 seeded Bengals on Monday night. And quite frankly, if they had another go at the Falcons and Dolphins, it would be a completely different ball game, but that’s not how the game is played.
This team is still growing into its identity, but the defense has struck back and there is a fire in this team that I truly think is from the F-Bomb dropping OB. Are they the best team in the playoffs? Nope. But they don’t need to be, because right now it seems like they believe they are the best team in the playoffs and that’s all that matters sometimes.
Next up is a Week 1 rematch with the red hot Kansas City Chiefs. They will be without Duane Brown. Brown suffered a season ending injury with a torn tendon. He is the longest tenured Texan, he is their leader and he is the anchor to that run game as one of the best lineman in the game. His importance was shown by the unity of this Texans team:
Entire Texans team leaves the bench to check in on Duane Brown pic.twitter.com/mtz6UuTk3t
— Ollie Connolly (@OllieUKEZ) January 3, 2016
This weekend will be no easy task, and by no means will “just being in the playoffs” pass as a moral victory. Despite the Chiefs looking invincible on their 10-game winning streak, I just don’t think that this Texans team is ready for their season to end.
And that’s what makes me most proud of this team.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) January 4, 2016
— Cecil Shorts III (@CecilShortsIII) January 4, 2016
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) January 4, 2016
— John Simon (@johnesimon51) January 4, 2016
LOVE MY BROS!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/xMIK1QhfcB
— Brandon Brooks (@bbrooks_79) January 3, 2016
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) January 3, 2016