HOUSTON (SportsRadio 610) -- This season has not produced a lot of positive moments for the Texans.
They’ve had a losing record the entire season. The organization is in transition, with a vacancy at head coach and general manager.
The Texans don’t run the ball particularly well. And they don’t defend it very well, either.
But you would not be able to tell how badly this team struggled before they beat the Patriots 27-20 on Sunday.
Deshaun Watson, who’s having a career season, was surgical with his passes. Texans wide receivers and tight ends routinely won their one-on-one matchup.
And the defense? On every level of the unit, players flew to the ball in a way that felt different from previous games.
Let’s face it. The Texans are playing for pride at this point, with playoffs out of the picture due to a dreadful start to the season.
But pride, indeed, the Texans showed against the Patriots to pick up their third win of the season and first against a non-Jaguars squad.
Here are five quick thoughts from Sunday’s Texans win:
1) The defense showed some juice it had not previously shown. This was by far the defense’s best game of the season, when you consider how well they played from the defensive line, to the linebackers and secondary.
J.J. Watt had four passes defensed, which is the most by a defensive lineman since 2018 and the second-most by a d-lineman since 1994.
Zach Cunningham was his usual dynamic self, flying toward the ball and tying with safety Justin Reid for a team-high nine tackles and a quarterback hit on a blitz.
Safeties Reid and Lonnie Johnson each hit Cam Newton twice, including at the end of the game, blitzing Newton on 4th-and-4 with just over a minute left to play in regulation.
The play forced an incompletion and effectively secured the win.
2) Deshaun Watson is an athlete, but who knew he was getting down like that?
Watson’s second quarter scramble for a touchdown ended violently, but it was the quarterback delivering the punishment.
Watson took a red zone snap from the shotgun and when he realized nothing was there, he made it up. Watson calmly hit the truck stick against Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty, and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley’s attempt to bring Watson down was fruitless.
“That was a big-boy play,” Texans tight end Jordan Akins said after the game. “That’s something I try to do, you know? It was amazing, man. D4, he’s stronger than what he looks. I’ll tell you that.”
A lot of Texans fans cringe when Watson takes hits. Some fans want him to run the ball more. If he’s going to meet force with force like that, and emerge from it all flexing as if he expects to do it, the latter crowd might be onto something.
Six carries for 36 yards this week. Eight carries for 36 yards last week against the Browns. Ten carries for 50 yards two weeks ago against the Jaguars.
Most of these are not designed runs, but Watson using his instincts and knowing when to make plays with his legs. Whether it’s him being encouraged more to do it, or just feeling more comfortable with it, Watson as a dual threat has been phenomenal.
3) Justin Reid has been critical of his own play this season because he has not played up to his potential. To make matters worse, the most memorable play from the Texans’ loss to the Browns was one not too flattering to Reid.
But this game was different.
It was clear why the Texans like Reid so much as not only a box safety, but an overall defensive leader. The aforementioned safety blitz with Johnson sealed the win, very much a contrast to how the last game ended.
And Reid talked after the game about how the defense played with a chip on its shoulder, and that he personally had something to prove.
That message was loud and clear through his play.
4) Tight end targets. It seemed strange that tight ends Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown and Darren Fells were not more involved in the passing game before Sunday, especially considering the nearly non-existent run game.
Whether it was part of the game plan, or an in-game adjustment, there was clearly a focus on the tight ends in their one-on-one matchups.
Eleven of Watson’s 37 pass attempts targeted the three tight ends, and they made the most of it to move the chains.
By comparison, Texans tight ends were targeted just four times the week before against the Browns.
“Just taking what the defense gives me,” Watson said after the game. “Just find the open guy. That’s what my job is. To be that surgeon, be that point guard and not try to force it downfield. Just give it to the open guy and let those guys go make plays.”
5) Keke Coutee is still alive.
OK, we knew he was still living and breathing. But Coutee seemed to be dead on this roster after being a healthy scratch for much of the season.
Coutee had been buried on the depth chart after a costly fumble in Week 2 against the Baltimore Ravens.
But with DeAndre Carter waived from the team last week, and starting slot receiver Randall Cobb injured after catching a touchdown pass in the first quarter, Coutee’s number was called.
The third-year receiver out of Texas Tech returned two punts for 14 yards and caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter to extend the Texans’ lead.
“I tell you what, you’ve got to take your hat off to the guy because he hasn’t played since Baltimore,” Crennel said. “But he comes to practice every day. He works really hard. And then when he gets his opportunity to go in and play, he shows what his ability is and what he can bring to the team.”