The Pallilog

Resilient but inconsistent Texans could hang another AFC South banner - or fall apart completely

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Give the 9-5 Texans their due. They're no super team and they're not a superbly coached team, but it is a resilient team. Off the Broncos debacle, taking down a previously hot Titans team in Tennessee was strong. It has the Texans now at least 90 percent likely to win their division for a sixth time in nine years. Four times in six years under Head Coach Bill O'Brien.

I poke fun at the "cute little AFC South Division Champ" banners they keep winning. They have rung increasingly hollow during the O'Brien era with embarrassing home playoff losses to the Chiefs and Colts and the lone win over a Raider squad down to its third string quarterback. Still, four division crowns in six years is proof positive that the football operation, and O'Brien don't stink.

The Texans have beaten the Chiefs, the Patriots, and the Titans. And have lost, at home, to the Panthers and Broncos. A ceiling of mediocre to pretty good at some point should not be accepted as the top end achievement. There seems a very simple standard for judging this Texans season a success. Without a home playoff win Wild Card weekend it's not a successful season. Getting smashed at Baltimore again in the Divisional Round wouldn't make them "losers," but it sure would make them posers not real contenders. Winning AFC South titles means nothing towards real contention.

The only way the Texans can miss the postseason is by losing at Tampa, having the Titans beat the Saints Sunday, then have the Titans come here and win the season finale. That is no impossibility. Maddeningly inconsistent teams can lose to anybody, anywhere.

Bucs on a roll

The Buccaneers have won four in a row to get to 7-7. Grade the streak on a curve. They've beaten the Falcons, Jaguars, Colts, and Lions. Combined record for those four: 19-36-1. The Bucs have two Pro Bowl wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. In a huge break for the Texans they're both out with hamstring injuries.

Bucs' quarterback Jameis Winston has had an interesting season. After an inept start he has come on like gangbusters. Winston is 427 passing yards over the last two games from posting just the 12th 5000 yard season in NFL history. Six quarterbacks have done it once, Drew Brees has done it five times. The past two games Winston aired it out for 456 and 458 yards, becoming the first QB ever to go 450+ in consecutive games. Surprising (yes?) that Marino, Moon, Manning, somebody hadn't done it previously.

Only NFL MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson has thrown more touchdown passes this season (33 to 30), no one is within five interceptions of the 24 Winston has thrown. The last quarterback to throw even 22 picks in a season was Eli Manning in 2013. If the Ravens clinch the top AFC playoff seed this weekend, Jackson certainly sits out the regular season finale. That would give Winston a chance to wind up leading the NFL in both TD passes and INTs. Name the last guy to do that? Answer below in Buzzer Beaters.

Quirky stat pairing: On their 14 opening drives this season the Texans have mustered a pitiful total of three points. Jameis Winston has thrown an interception on five of the Bucs' 14 opening drives.

Rockets with a big one

What a wild ride of a Rockets' win at the Clippers Thursday night. Early in the third quarter they were down 16. A 40-12 eruption put them up 12 in the fourth. The Clips then countered with a 24-6 run for a six point lead, before the Rockets closed with a finishing 14-5 kick to win 122-117. Russell Westbrook was a human tornado tearing through the Clippers for a season high 40 points. Interest in the Rockets is down, interest in the NBA is significantly down, but the Rockets are again very good. They passed the one third of the regular season completed milepost at 19-9, though their defense is still not of championship caliber. The Rockets have taken a page from the Texans' book of inconsistency. In the eight games before the Clippers, the Rockets faced seven bad teams and a really good Toronto team. They beat the Raptors in Canada, yet lost home games to the Kings and Pistons after their blown 22 point lead fiasco at San Antonio. Exasperating for die hard Rocket fans, but it's much better to have a team that has some confounding losses but shows a clear ability to beat elite teams than to be able to beat the scrubs but look like second class citizens versus the elite.

Buzzer Beaters


1. Brees led the NFL in 2012 with 43 TD passes and 19 INTs. 2. I have five musts for the 10 greatest NFL wide receivers of all-time list disclosed Friday night: Jerry Rice, Don Hutson, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Cris Carter. 3. Worst places to get sent for a bowl game: Bronze-Mobile Silver-Montgomery Gold-Boise

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Texans fall to Browns. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans kept it closer than the experts thought they would, but couldn't pull out a victory. Here are 11 observations from the loss in Cleveland to the Browns.

1. The game looks totally different if Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor finishes the game. Taylor left at halftime with a hamstring injury. He was playing exceptionally well against his former team. Taylor is not expected to play Thursday according to NFL Network.

2. Davis Mills had a rocky NFL debut which was to be expected. Mills looked to have the wrong elements of a few plays. He also couldn't hit backup wideout Andre Roberts over the middle and threw an interception. It was a fine performance considering what Mills showed he could do in the preseason.

3. Mills didn't work with a full load of offensive weapons in the second half. Rookie wideout Nico Collins didn't return to the game after his lone catch and big run early in the game. Veteran slot receiver Danny Amendola left the game with an injury. Tight end Anthony Auclair left with an eye injury. The Texans entered the game without wide receiver Anthony Miller who was inactive.

4. Brandin Cooks is a monster through two games. He is the most dangerous skill position player on the team, and defenses still have trouble covering him and staying with him. Cooks turned in yet another impressive day for this team and hauled in a Davis Mills touchdown pass.

5. The Browns did a solid job against the ground game of the Texans. Mark Ingram averaged under three yards per carry and Tyrod Taylor was the only rusher to have a big play on the ground. This led to a fair number of third-and-long situations which the Texans usually had trouble converting.

6. Justin Reid was set to increase his payday on his next contract with his early play. Reid forced a fumble and had an interception in the first half. Unfortunately, Reid would leave the game multiple times with injuries. The knock on Reid has always been his health.

7. The Texans were worn down by the Browns rushing attack all day. Once Cleveland committed to the run they saw the success of their work culminating in a 26-yard scamper by Nick Chubb for a touchdown. The Browns didn't run as much as I excepted them to run early.

8. Tim Kelly had another nice day calling plays. Kelly remains creative in finding ways to get the ball out of Taylor's hands quickly as well as manufacturing matchups where the Texans can win and pick up yards. He even got creative to get Davis Mills a passing touchdown late in the game. Kelly has been very impressive through two games.

9. Andre Roberts was inexcusably bad today. The Texans defense held on the opening drive and his muffed punt eliminated the momentum from the defensive stand. He also had poor returns on kickoffs. His lone job is to be a solid returner, and he failed at that on Sunday.

10. David Culley had a head-scratching decision foregoing an offsides call on a third down. The head coach opted for the result of the third down, and a punt on fourth down, instead of another third down. He did not explain himself well postgame on the decision either.

11. The Texans hung tough and should feel solid about where they could have been without the injury to their quarterback. With no Taylor in the short week, it will not be easy to beat the Panthers who upset the Saints on Sunday.

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