The Houston Texans were dead. Head coach Bill O'Brien was coaching so poorly he was well on his way to getting fired by general manager Bill O'Brien. Quarterback Deshaun Watson's ability to perform in the postseason was being called into questioned. The shoddy offensive line and leaky defense were already being blamed. The obituaries were being prepared. The autopsy was well underway as soon as the Bills turned a DeAndre Hopkins fumble into a field goal to push their lead to 16 points with 6:02 remaining in the third quarter.
The Texans were dead. But what is dead may never die.
On Saturday, the Texans overcame a 16-point deficit in the second half of their playoff opener against the Bills by ripping off 19 unanswered -- needing only three offensive series to do so -- to take a three-point lead before giving up a tying drive at the end of regulation and eventually winning the game on a Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal in overtime that was only made possible due to the individual brilliance of Watson. That's a long sentence to describe how the game ended with a final score of 22-19 in favor of the Texans, but lots of words are needed to describe one of the wackiest playoff games in recent memory.
For two-and-a-half quarters, the Texans were toast. They couldn't block the Bills up front. Watson was getting crushed. They couldn't tackle the Bills in space and failed to capitalized on the chance Josh Allen gave them early on for a game-changing pick-six. For two-and-a-half quarters, the Texans were doing what they always do come January: look unworthy of the playoffs, serve as the sacrificial lamb for another team, and appear to be grossly incompetent. Up until that point, the game was, for lack of a better word, boring.
And then all hell broke loose. Watson took over. The Texans seized a 19-16 lead. It looked like they snuffed out the Bills' game-winning drive when Josh Allen (1) took his team out of field goal range by losing 14 yards on third down with an intentional grounding penalty and (2) took a 19-yard sack on fourth down, only for them to give the Bills one more chance in the final minute, which the Bills capitalized on even though Allen tried his best to lateral away the game in reckless fashion (more on that later). Both teams possessed the ball in overtime before Watson put an end to the madness with what will become an iconic play in Texans football history -- and yet another play that defines the dark wave of sadness that has consumed the Bills since the 1990s.
Seeking their first playoff win since 1995, the Bills let a 16-point lead slip through their grasp, botched their lone drive in overtime that nearly reached field-goal range, and then failed to make one simple tackle that would've changed the ending of the game. The curse has yet to be lifted.
It's the Texans who live to see another week. It's the Bills who head home in agony.
Why the Texans won
Watson took over.
Trailing 16-0 midway through the third quarter, Watson led his team on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with eight points. He was responsible for all eight of those points, scoring a touchdown on a 20-yard run and then doing it himself on the ensuing two-point conversion, only just barely sneaking the football inside the pylon.
The Texans promptly forced an Allen fumble and added a field goal to trim the lead to five points. After the defense generated a three-and-out, Watson led the offense back down the field and scored another eight points, this time with his arm.
On the game-winning series in overtime, Watson didn't just convert a third-and-18 from the 19-yard line. He then turned a sure-fire sack into a 34-yard gain to take his team to the Bills' 10-yard line. On the next play, Fairbairn sent the Texans to the next round with a 28-yard field goal.
It's incredible that after a stunningly slow start to the game, Watson finished 20 of 25 for 247 yards (9.9 yards per attempt), one touchdown, no picks, and a 121.2 passer rating. He added 55 yards and a score on the ground. He did all of that despite getting sacked seven times.
Why the Bills lost
Their offense just wasn't good enough.
Their only touchdown of the game came on the opening series when they dialed up the perfect trick play, with receiver John Brown lofting up a touchdown pass to quarterback Josh Allen.
From that point on, they settled for field goals, the most damning of which came late in the first half after they inexplicably chose to run the ball on first-and-10 from Texans' 23-yard line with 30 seconds remaining. It netted one yard and cost them 16 seconds, leaving them only one shot at the end zone, which was dropped by Duke Williams. As a result, they only led by 13 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Texans failed to turn Hopkins' fumble into a touchdown, once again settling for a field goal after J.J. Watt -- in his return from injury -- sacked Allen on third down in the red zone. The game flipped after that point.
There are countless more examples of the Bills' offensive issues worthy of mentioning. Allen was lucky to avoid at least two interceptions, both of which were dropped by Bradley Roby -- one would've been a pick-six and the other came late in the fourth quarter with the Bills trailing by a field goal. Allen losing 33 yards on two consecutive plays to end an attempted game-tying drive is also worth mentioning, as is his inexplicable decision to lateral the ball on the Bills' actual game-tying drive, which luckily for him, did not result in a turnover.
Jameis Winston wouldn’t even do this. Josh Allen come on man 🤣 pic.twitter.com/R04sga5LD5— Sami Jarjour (@JarjourSami) January 5, 2020
Bro he trippin— Mark Ingram II (@markingram21) January 5, 2020
It's not that Allen played poorly on Saturday. He made a few throws that only he -- and maybe Patrick Mahomes -- is capable of making. He caught a touchdown, rushed for 92 yards, and even after that reckless fumble, put the Bills in a position to tie the game. Heck, on the Bills' lone possession in overtime, he took them to the 38-yard line before a penalty on Cody Ford pushed them out of field goal range. But he was also wildly inconsistent, as demonstrated above. It was, quite simply, the full Josh Allen Experience.
It's not at all surprising that the Bills season ended because of their offense -- it's been their biggest issue all season -- but that doesn't make it any less painful.
It's difficult to pick just one turning point considering just how wild this game was, but it all starts with the Texans' comeback in the second half. And that comeback was only possible because of Watson and the Texans' defense, which struggled through most of the game, but came up with a huge takeaway at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the Texans trailing by eight.
On third-and-8, Whitney Mercilus stripped Allen.
It led to a field goal, which put the Texans in a position to take a lead -- which they did on their next series. Before that takeaway, it never really felt like the Texans' defense was good enough to force the stop Watson needed.
Play of the game
This one's easy. On second-and-6 from the Bills' 44-yard line in overtime, Watson turned what should've been a sack into a 34-yard gain that led to the game-winning field goal. Two Bills defenders missed him in the backfield. Watson proceeded to KO the Bills.
Never count Deshaun Watson out. pic.twitter.com/MGY5MOKE8j— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 5, 2020
That play will be on Watson's highlight reel for the remainder of his career.
What they're saying
The Texans will face either the Ravens or Chiefs next week. If the Patriots beat the Titans, the Texans will face the Ravens. If the Titans beat the Patriots, the Texans will face the Chiefs.