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.

Saints 34, Bucs 17

Saints vs. Bucs 2: Good, bad and ugly

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The Saints got back in the win column by dominating a lesser talented division rival this week. Here's what I thought of the Saints' move to 8-2:

The Good

-Michael Thomas and Drew Brees are perhaps the most prolific quarterback-wide receiver duo in the league. Brees was 28/35 for 228 yards and three touchdowns, while Thomas had eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. Thomas is still leading the league in receptions and yards, despite Brees missing a chunk of the season.

-The defense came up big depite giving up over 300 yards. They had two sacks, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), and limited the Bucs to only 36 yards rushing. After last week's performance against the Falcons, it was important for the defense to step up.

-Sean Payton made a concerted effort to get Alvin Kamara the ball. Whether it was rushing, receiving, or on returns, Kamara was heavily involved in the gameplan. 26 total touches for 155 yards altogether.

The Bad

-Giving up 313 yards passing to Jameis Winston and the Bucs was terrible. Sure Marson Lattimore was out this game, but this defense has too much talent to give up that many yards through the air.

-Speaking of giving up passing yards, Cameron Brate had 10 catches for 73 yards. Tight ends haven't really been a problem for the Saints, but it was today. Moving forward, they need to do better about giving up the easy stuff underneath, especially to tight ends.

-The longest run recorded was a 14-yarder by Kamara. The team only totaled 109 yards on the ground, which is uncharacteristic of them since they committed to the run more a few years ago. They are used to averaging upwards of 130 yards a game on the ground.

The Ugly

-I think it may be time to invest high picks on linebackers. The current linebackers on the roster are pretty good, but the only real playmaker is Demario Davis, who's already 30. Where's the young playmakers at linebacker? There are none. Hopefully Alex Anzalone can turn into something.

-As I mentioned earlier, Marshon Lattimore missed this game. Some of the guys that filled in lately, such as CJ Gardner-Johnson, have done an okay job at best. There's no replacing one of the better young cover corners in the game. Gardner-Johnson had a couple rookie mistakes, but looks like he'll be a player, just not yet.

-Speaking of young guys needing to step up, I sure hope Marcus Davenport removes himself from the back of the milk carton soon! When a team gives up the type of draft capital the Saints did to draft you, you have to produce. Far too often Davenport has been a no show in the stat column and on film. Two first round picks and a mid rounder were used to get him and he's so far playing like a fourth rounder.

Last week, the Saints were outplayed by a then 1-7 division rival. This week, they decided to dominate a 2-7 division rival. Brees and the gang returned to form against the Bucs and have a firm grip on the NFC South thanks to the Falcons dismantling of the Panthers, who the Saints play next week. If they win next week, they can wrap up the division crown and start taking aim at a first round bye in the playoffs. Here's to consistency and health down the stretch.

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