AFC SOUTH CHAMPION SHOULD BE TEXANS OR OLD HOUSTON TEAM
For The Record- By Joe Kazmar
The Houston Texans’ Super Bowl game could have very well been at Indianapolis Sunday–a place where they lost the first 13 games before winning one last year—because a loss would have virtually eliminated them from any post-season action.
The Texans entered Sundays crucial American Football Conference South Division bedraggled after consecutive losses to Oakland, San Diego and Green Bay, but still in a three-way tie with Indianapolis and the surprising Tennessee Titans for first place in the division.
As weak as this division appears, it a sure bet it will be a winner-take-all situation, with the second place team assured of merely watching the playoffs from the comfort of their own living room.
Texans’ quarterback Brock Osweiler has had maybe one outstanding game so far this season. So not too many coaches, teammates or fans were expecting a miracle game from him at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday.
And for all intents and purposes, they were right on the money because they didn’t get anything special from the 6-8 quarterback.
Osweiler did one thing right that perhaps a one-armed baboon could have done—handed the ball off to the running backs. He did this well and he did it often and it kept the Colts’ defense back on their heels, not knowing what to expect next.
Osweiler had his typical game—he completed 14-of-24 passes for 147 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked twice. His quarterback rating was an embarrassing 58.9.
But what Osweiler did was make some crucial throws that resulted in first downs and changed some of the running plays at the line of scrimmage when he saw some defensive weaknesses, engineering six scoring drives, although five of them were Nick Novak field goals.
The result was 185 net yards rushing with Lamar Miller picking up 107 of them, chalking up his second 100-plus yard game against the Indy defense. Former LSU star Alfred Blue added 55 yards on 15 carries and Akeem Hunt ripped of a 19-yard burst on a nifty draw play.
But offense was only half the reason the Texans were able to chalk up their 22-17 victory. The defense harassed quarterback Andrew Luck, causing three turnovers and making key stops when they were needed the most. Luck had led his team to three victories in the past four weeks, so stopping him was big-time for the Texans.
Jadeveon Clowney and 335-pound veteran nose guard Vince Wilfork both played their best games of the season.
Clowney sacked Luck on the one-yard line and caused a fumble which was recovered by Houston that prevented a sure score. He finished with three tackles, the lone Texans sack and three quarterback hits.
And Wilfork hit Andrew Luck twice and also threw Frank Gore for a loss on a second-and goal=situation. He also hit Luck on the final play of the game to force an incompletion.
But there wouldn’t have been a victory if it wasn’t for the right leg of veteran Nick Novak’s career tying five field goals. He scored 16 of Houston’s 22 points.
“This is a really good win for our team,” commented Head Coach Bill O’Brien after the game. “It’s difficult to win when you’re dealing with great players, dealing with injuries, you’re counting on guys to step up and you’re playing a good team on the road. So give our guys a lot of credit.”
The victory keeps the Texans in first place in the division with a 7-6 record, tied with Tennessee, which shocked the world champion Denver Broncos 13-10 Sunday.
There’s a good chance the division title will be decided on New Year’s Day, the final day of the season, when Houston travels to Nashville to clash with the Titans.
In between, Houston has home games against the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11), who have an eight-game losing streak and is 1-5 on the road, and the Cincinnati Bengals (5-7-1), who have had a difficult time beating the Texans late in the season.
Tennessee will have a tough game Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs and then catch Jacksonville before their showdown with the Texans.
Indianapolis (6-7) hits the road to play Minnesota Sunday and then travels to Oakland before finishing the season with Jacksonville. The Colts will need plenty of help if they expect to win the AFC South.
KWICKIES…It’s hard to keep a good man down and that’s exactly the case with recently-fired Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong, who last weekend was named the new head football coach at the University of South Florida. Strong inherits a youthful team with 18 of the 22 starters juniors or younger and the two-deep roster having 21 underclassmen. Strong was 16-21 in three seasons with the Longhorns and compiled a prestigious 37-15 record as the head man at Louisville. USF will meet South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29.
Lamar Jackson was the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy since Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009. Jackson plans on returning to Louisville for his junior year, but the chances of repeating a rather slim. He will be the 10th player to return to school after winning the Heisman Trophy since Archie Griffin became the only two-time winner in 1975.
Let’s hope that Sunday’s dismal offensive performance by the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night in New York doesn’t give owner Jerry Jones any wild ideas about replacing Dak Prescott with Tony Romo at quarterback. If he wants to replace someone, he should get Dez Bryant out of the lineup and replace him with somebody who can catch a football. Bryant’s hands certainly have turned to stone.
Army’s 21-17 victory over Navy Saturday may only be the first win in 15 years for the Black Knights, but my grandson Logan Smith is one for one as he was among the happy throng of cadets savoring the moment after the game. Logan, who is a Plebe (freshman) at West Point, said they had to leave for Baltimore at 3 a.m. and then had to stand around for three hours before the kickoff. I guess the old hurry up and wait idea hasn’t changed much in the military.
JUST BETWEEN US…I’ve been covering high school football for more than 50 years and can promise you, I have not seen any team as talented as the 2016 West Orange-Stark Mustangs. The Mustangs have several players who should go Division I if they have the grades and at least get a shot at the next level. I don’t know a thing about Sweetwater, except they also are called Mustangs. But I expect our guys to successfully defend their state championship like 38-13.