The sometimes puzzling, often exasperating officiating that plagued Thursday night’s game in Houston was not enough to derail the resurgence of the Texans, led by second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson.
This looked like a lost season for Watson and the Texans when they dropped their first three games, including a Week 3 defeat to the lowly New York Giants. But that is an ever-more-distant memory now. The Texans haven’t lost since, extending their winning streak to five games with Thursday’s 42-23 triumph over the Miami Dolphins.
The Texans reached the halfway point of their season firmly in control of an AFC South race in which no other team is above .500. That is a relatively stunning development, given that the Jacksonville Jaguars reached last season’s AFC title game and the Tennessee Titans also were a playoff team. But while the Jaguars and Titans have struggled to matching 3-4 records, the Texans have followed Watson’s lead to first place.
Watson is not quite a year removed from suffering the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that cut short a brilliant rookie season with the Texans. He probably would have been the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year. Instead, he was left working his way back from a major knee injury, just as he was forced to do in college after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee as a freshman at Clemson.
That didn’t prevent Watson from taking the school to two straight collegiate national championship games and winning one. And it appears that his rookie year setback will not keep Watson from being an NFL standout.
There has been much for him to overcome this season. He has been hit and sacked far too often. He suffered a chest injury worrisome enough to the Texans’ medical staff that Watson traveled to and from last Sunday’s victory at Jacksonville via bus, to avoid the potential health hazards of flying.
But Watson looked anything but hindered Thursday night, as he carved up the Dolphins’ secondary with a 16-for-20, five-touchdown, no-interception performance. He had a passer rating of 156.0, just shy of a perfect 158.3.
“We were executing, sticking to the details,” Watson told Fox after the game. “We were just playing free. We got our swagger back today. We just wanted to have fun and try to light up the scoreboard in prime time. And that’s what we did.”
Watson kept the night’s officiating issues from determining the outcome. The rough night for the officials began on the opening kickoff when they seemed confused about how to properly enforce an illegal-formation penalty.
There was a blatant tripping penalty that wasn’t called. There was a questionable call for a personal foul against the Texans for a hit on Miami’s long snapper on a field-goal attempt, setting up the Dolphins’ opening touchdown. There was a controversial instant-replay reversal of an apparent fumble by Miami quarterback Brock Osweiler, which became a harmless incompletion and negated a defensive touchdown for Houston. There was a second-half offensive pass interference call against Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins that nullified a wondrous catch and enraged Houston’s coach, Bill O’Brien.
None of it mattered, thanks to Watson. He threw four second-half touchdown passes, including a 73-yarder to Will Fuller and a 49-yarder to Hopkins. The performance left Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman convinced that the Texans are for real.
“The last two weeks, this looks like something,” Aikman said on the Fox broadcast.
It was a complete performance by the Texans. Tailback Lamar Miller ran for 133 yards. The defense had an interception of Osweiler and sacked him twice. J.J. Watt had his eighth sack of the season, tying him for the league lead as he makes a comeback as impressive as Watson’s. Times are good for the Texans.
“You start off 0-3, and outside the whole world is falling,” Watt said on the NFL Network’s postgame show. “But inside, we knew what we had.”