For the second straight season, the Houston Texans (9-6) are AFC South champions and will be hosting a playoff game in January. Once the Jaguars upset the Titans on Saturday, the Texans had a golden opportunity to make next week’s game at Tennessee meaningless. Although it was far from comfortable, the Texans made just enough plays on offense to come away victorious. Here are four takeaways from the Texans’ division-clinching win over Cincinnati:
- Houston’s defense shut down Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offense
Houston’s offense was shaky against Cincinnati, but their defense had yet another impressive outing. With 8:18 left to go in the second quarter on third down, Jadeveon Clowney steamrolled Bengals left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and sacked Dalton for a 10-yard loss, stalling out Cincinnati’s offensive drive. Whitney Mercilus was also problematic for Dalton and was able to bring down Dalton twice behind the line of scrimmage.
Meanwhile, Quintin Demps registered the only turnover of the game. Demps, who nagged the game-winning interception last week, has collected four interceptions in the past five weeks, and has been one of Houston’s most valuable players down the stretch of this season.
The Texans’ defense forced the Bengals’ punter, Kevin Huber, to appear on the field eight times on the night, as Cincinnati struggled to move the chains throughout the entire game. A.J. Bouye led Houston in tackles, racking up nine solo. Houston will go as far in the postseason as their defense can take them, as their secondary and front seven continue to terrorize opposing offenses.
- Alfred Blue answered the bell at running back in place of the injured Lamar Miller
Miller being unavailable for Saturday night’s showdown was a huge blow for Houston, but Blue proved he was able to deliver when it mattered most. With 8:47 remaining in the ballgame, Blue gashed through the Bengals’ defense for a 24-yard touchdown, which capped off a four-play, 75-yard drive. This score, which was Houston’s lone touchdown of the night, wound up being the game-winner.
Blue finished the day carrying the rock 21 times for 73 yards, showing Houston has solid depth at the running back position. The Texans’ ability to run the ball down their opponents’ throats has become a theme for them in 2016 and it also helped Houston win the time-of-possession battle, as the Texans held on to the football for 31 minutes against Cincinnati.
- Tom Savage wasn’t a superstar, but he got the job done
In the first half of play, the Texans’ offense was held in check, as Savage only completed two passes for 13 yards. However, Savage rebounded from his poor performance in the second half and helped put Houston in the red zone on their opening position in the third quarter, which set up the Texans to tie the game by a score of 3-3.
Although Savage didn’t have an impressive stat sheet, completing 18 passes for 176 yards and no touchdowns in the game, he did an excellent job protecting the football and didn’t throw any interceptions. Savage showed great poise in the pocket and delivered some passes where only his receivers could catch them. Savage isn’t flashy, but he is a much better and safer option under center than Brock Osweiler.
- Randy Bullock’s missed kick in the final seconds resulted in a Houston victory
Cincinnati has a new kicker, but their woes on special teams continue to haunt them and the Texans benefited greatly from it. Bullock, who was drafted by Houston in the fifth round in 2012, had a chance to hand his former team a loss in their own stadium with a walk-off 43-yard field goal. He had previously made a 43-yarder in the closing seconds of the first half.
As the clock ran out, Bullock’s kick went wide right, and Houston was able to take a deep sigh of relief, as the Texans could only hope their blocked PAT attempt in the fourth quarter wouldn’t come back to bite them. In the end, the pressure got to Bullock and he gave Houston an early Christmas present as a result.