FALCON POINTS

Best and worst of Texans on display  in heartbreaking opening loss to Saints

Michele C. Watson/Houston Texans

Oh, so close. Again.

The Texans played an instant classic Monday night, showing off all their best features - and their worst - in a dramatic, heartbreaking loss to the Saints. Deshaun Watson once again showed off his clutch gene. So, too, did Drew Brees. In a frenetic last minute, the Saints scored on the final play to send the Texans home disappointed.

It was an incredible finish to a game that could set the tone for the 2019 season.

From a fan's perspective, the first game of the season takes on extra meaning. The preseason teaches us nothing, so the excitement of seeing what your team can be is what makes opening night special.

In reality, it does not mean a lot in the grand scheme. Some teams are better prepared for the start of the season than others. Most teams are healthy, which they will not be as the season goes on. Some teams don't develop their identity until several games into the season. Others hit their stride right away.

Last year, the Texans took a while, starting 0-3 before getting a miracle win in Indianapolis and going on to finish 11-5.

Monday night, they almost pulled off an opening night miracle, falling to the Saints 30-28 on a last second 58-yard field goal. We saw the potential of what they can be, and what their issues will be. Let's take a look:

OFFENSE

Positives: Deshaun Watson and the offense have a chance to be explosive. He pulled off a huge, clutch final drive, hitting DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills with big plays to give he Texans the lead with under 40 seconds to play.

They had more than their share of moments otherwise, with Watson throwing three TDs and an interception, leading a balanced attack and making plays with both his arms and legs. He looked poised and professional, other than the interception. The running game looked better than expected at times, with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson both making plays running and in the passing game, and teaming with Watson to average almost 8 yards per carry. When things were clicking, they played Bill O'Brien's perfect idea of complementary football. Watson finished with 268 yards, three TDs, 1 pick on 20 of 30 passing and added another 40 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He played well enough win the game.

Negative: The new offensive line was just like the old one, and it limited what they could do. It was basically the same starters as last year with Laremy Tunsil at left tackle. Tunsil looked a lot like a guy who had only been practicing with the team for a week. For what they paid to get him, he has to be better. In general, Watson took too many hits besides the six sacks. On his touchdown run, he should have gone out of bounds, but instead dived for the end zone and had to go to the injury tent. He simply can't take these hits and last the season. Some of it was on the O line; some on Watson. DeAndre Hopkins had some uncharacteristic drops, and an unnecessary penalty after Watson's interception. But overall, the struggles to protect Watson - the dominant theme last year - were on full display again.

DEFENSE

Positives: They got a red zone pick to stall a Saints drive and held New Orleans to just three points in the first half. But the Saints also missed a field goal and the Texans were able to control the clock and keep the defense off the field. Whitney Mercilus had a pick and a sack and looked good.

Negatives: With no Jadeveon Clowney, the Saints were able to double and triple team J.J. Watt, essentially taking him out of the game. The secondary, a mess last year, looks to be every bit as concerning this year. Yes, Drew Brees and the Saints are going to torch a lot of secondaries. But this was a serious problem for the Texans in 2018, and looks to be again. They allowed a 40-yard pass on third down late in the game, hurting their chances, then allowed Brees to get the Saints in field goal position with less than 40 seconds to play. They also struggled stopping the run - allowing a ridiculous 7.0 yards per carry, something else Clowney helped with last season. In essence, the Texans just aren't good enough to stop a high powered offense and will have to outscore teams like this. It won't be easy.

The bottom line

The Texans look very much like a team that will be able to handle mediocre squads and slow down average offenses. They are going to have a tough time with the explosive offenses on their schedule. The Saints are a legitimate Super Bowl contender and there is no shame losing in their building. But if the Texans want to be serious contenders in the AFC, they have to find ways to win against teams that have better talent. It will have to come with improvement on the offensive line, because the defense looks very shaky. Sean Payton's staff made better adjustments in the second half, but that was to be expected. All in all, not a bad effort for Week 1, and they should win a lot of games if they play like this.

Just not this time.

Deshaun Watson had an up and down day. Tim Warner/Getty Images

So what does Bill O'Brien have in store for a Sunday encore in the clock management follies department? All's well that ends well for the Texans if another Billy Botch episode comes with another win. Get it and home games vs. the Panthers and Falcons make 4-1 a very legit possibility.

The Texans have a good shot to get the win in Los Angeles Sunday. They may have half the crowd rooting for them. The Chargers have the lamest homefield advantage in the NFL. L.A. has largely yawned at them since their move up the coast from San Diego. In their home opener the Chargers couldn't sell out the 27,000 seat soccer stadium serving as their temporary facility. Next season they move into the monument of wow and greed they'll share with the Rams. That place will hold about 70,000.

On the field it's a big game for the also 1-1 Chargers if they hope to hang with Kansas City in the AFC West race. The Chargers' three following games are at the joke Dolphins, then home vs. the not good Broncos and the Roethlisberger-less Steelers.

For the Texans, one major subplot is a constant. How porous will the offensive line be? Deshaun Watson has been sacked 10 times over the first two games. The Chargers have one of the NFL's better pass rushing duos in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. If the Texans can protect, opportunity knocks for big plays downfield with the Chargers down both of their starting safeties. Rookie All-Pro Derwin James is on injured reserve recovering from a broken foot, Adrian Phillips broke an arm last Sunday at Detroit.

Warm California sun

So if you were 300 strikeout man Gerrit Cole, what would you be thinking about re: 2020 and beyond? I mean after next month ideally helping the Astros win the World Series. And if you are the Astros what are you thinking?

In his two Astro seasons Cole has been tremendous. The ballclub is tremendous, and if Cole re-signs it that much more figures to stay tremendous for at least another couple of seasons. But Gerrit Cole is to become the most highly coveted free agent on the market. The low end of what he should be able to command is probably in the six years 150 million range. Heck, he could get seven years 250 million.

Next year the Astros payroll is set to soar into competitive balance tax territory. Meaning, in addition to the payroll itself, the Astros are looking at paying millions in penalties if they pay up to keep Cole. To counter that the Astros certainly could pivot and trade Zack Greinke. They basically will be open to giving away Josh Reddick and the 13 million he'll make in the final year of his contract.

Maybe Jim Crane and his partners say this is such a special era, we'll forego huge chunks of profits to keep this core together. That would be fantastic, but drawing a line on how far they'll go to keep Cole would not be miserly. Long term megadollar pitching contracts carry large risks. Cole turns 30 next season.

Cole grew up in Southern California. His wife too. It's where they live in the offseason. He went to high school under five miles from Angels Stadium and grew up an Angels fan. The Angels have a desperate need for starting pitching. Even with Cole though, the Angels can't essentially promise perennial contender status. But the Dodgers can, every bit as much as the Astros, and the Dodgers have much deeper pockets. If the Coles want to spend the rest of Gerrit's prime pitching years living year-round back home in SoCal, no one should take offense. Still, if the Astros’ bid is competitive when factoring in income tax rates, proven comfort level with the team, air conditioned comfort for home games…

Big weekend for Aggies

Better college football schedule this week after the garbage card of a week ago. The biggest game nationally is seventh ranked Notre Dame at number three Georgia. Big game for Texas A&M vs. Auburn at Kyle Field Saturday. The 17th ranked Aggies are three and a half point favorites over the eighth ranked team in the nation. A hard fought loss wouldn't be shameful, but would mean that with games yet to come vs. Alabama, at Georgia, and at LSU, the Ags would have to pull off at least one upset to finish better than 7-5. 75 million dollars to lure Jimbo Fisher were not spent to yield any 7-5 seasons.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Major Applewhite would have coached the Cougars to a 1-3 start much more economically for UH than Dana Holgorsen has. 2. The Tulane Green Wave wearing powder blue uniforms is just as dopey as the St. John's Red Storm and Duke Blue Devils wearing black. 3. Names that Houstonians should rule out for daughters: Bronze-Imelda Silver-Allison Gold-Alicia

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