TITANS 41, TEXANS 38

5 observations from the Texans' season-ending loss to the Titans

Texans lose to the Titans, 41-38. Photo by Getty Images

The Texans season came to a merciful end on Sunday in entertaining fashion, as they dropped a 41-38 decision to the playoff-bound Tennessee Titans. The year may be 2021, but it was typical 2020 Texans; Derrick Henry ran all over them once again, and they played hard but lost in dramatic fashion in the final 20 seconds. At least the Texans showed some heart and made the Titans work for it. Five observations from the season ender:

1) At lest we can stop waiting and look forward to new hires. The season is now officially over, and we can turn our attention to who might take over as head coach and GM. The lone bright spot of the season was the end of the Bill O'Brien era, which at least gives some hope. Now we will see if that hope will be fulfilled. It's a stretch to think the Texans will get these hires right, especially if Jack Easterby is involved at all, considering he signed off on the DeAndre Hopkins deal. But at least the wait is nearing its end. It will be a challenging off-season with no picks and a lot of bad contracts, but maybe the Texans get the GM hire right and a better coaching staff improves some of the underperformers. So at least there will be hope - at least until the hire is made.

2) There were some bright spots this season. Watson finished with a terrific statistical season, even though his team was not very good. With a better coaching staff next year, he should take another big step. He did not have much help. Brandin Cooks was solid, and Keke Coutee had a nice second half of the season and looks like a useful piece moving forward. Tight end Pharoah Brown was a pleasant surprise. We've mentioned Tyrell Adams and Keoin Crossen as bright spots on the defensive side late in the season. None of these guys are stars, but they should be useful pieces moving forward. The Texans don't have a lot of those.

3) Does it feel like there is no leadership other than the players? Someone in the front office should have stepped in and made Watson sit this game; an interim coach with no skin in the game wasn't going to do it. The Jack Easterby stories are a matter of lore, and Cal McNair remains mostly silent. This felt like a ship without a captain, and it hit the iceberg hard.

4) Speaking of leaders...it might have been J.J. Watt's final game as a Texan. It was sad to see, but the truth is the Texans should give him a chance to play somewhere he can win. He has been the greatest player in franchise history, and one of the best athletes to ever play in Houston. He is not what he was, but he can still be a big factor for a good team. It's unlikely the Texans will be that next year.

5) This defense has been bad for a while. Maybe the best news in the coaching change will be a total revamp of the defensive coaching staff. Romeo Crennel's defenses have not been good for a long time, no matter who was actually calling plays. It's time for a new system and a new voice. That alone won't do it; there is a LOT of work to be done. They will have to raid free agency since they have no premier draft picks. But it's been a hard watch for a long time, and Sunday was no exception, especially on the last drive.

The bottom line: Thankfully, this disaster is over. The bigger concern is will the Texans make the right hires? Will the O'Brien stench take years to wash away? They wasted a really good Deshaun Watson season. It was a pathetic effort all the way around, and one with very few positives, especially since they will not get a high draft pick. All in all, it was just a lost season.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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