A BIG WIN

Texans beat Cardinals 31-21, get their first win without Deshaun Watson

D'Onta Foreman (left) and Tom Savage led the Texans to victory. Tim Warren/Getty Images

Without Deshaun Watson, the Texans are forced to plan hard for all the games they have a realistic shot at winning. Sunday's home game against the Arizona Cardinals presented such a game.

And it all went the Texans way in a 31-21 victory on Sunday at NRG Stadium.

On a day where Texans legend Andre Johnson would be honored at halftime, two teams that look evenly matched on paper and were only one game apart in their record were ready to battle for an important win. The Texans' defense looked to contain Adrian Peterson and take advantage of Arizona's third starting quarterback of the season, the much-maligned Blaine Gabbert; while the Cardinals were hoping to force the Texans offense to rely on Tom Savage. The Texans got their desired result while the Cardinals did not.

Early on it went the Texans way. Bill O'Brien leaned heavily on his running game and their second drive went for 12 plays and 7 minutes on the way to a 7-yard touchdown pass from Tom Savage to Lamar Miller. The Texans ran the ball 10 times in their first 16 plays and now had an early lead. The Cardinals came back with a good drive but after crossing mid-field they stalled and punted the ball to pin the Texans deep for the third time. A 10-yard penalty would break the Texans' way and they started their next drive on their own 19-yard line. It would take only 2 plays for the momentum to swing.

One of Savage's weaknesses is his inability to get the ball out of his hand when the pressure is on. After a 5-yard run on first down by Miller, Savage was stripped of the football on second down and the Cardinals recovered at the 17-yard line. Gabbert threw a quick 20-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald for a tie game, 7-7.

Punts were traded and then Savage did it again for the Texans. After a good start to a drive that began on their own 16-yard line he threw an off-target ball into coverage that was tipped and intercepted by Patrick Peterson, who returned it to the Houston 15-yard line. two more plays and Gabbert had his second touchdown of the day and a 14-7 lead. This time Ricky Seals-Jones caught his first career touchdown pass.

The Texans came right back just before the half and managed to eat up the rest of the clock, finishing with an important field goal and a 14-10 halftime score. They would get the ball after the break and they put together a quick, 7-play effort to go up 17-14 on a 28-yard pass from Savage to DeAndre Hopkins, his 9th TD reception on the year, the leader for the Texans.

After punts were traded, the Cardinals had the ball at their own 49-yard line. They managed to get a first down but a chop block penalty forced them into a 1st and 25. The Cardinals offense managed to get out of that tough situation. Then, on their next first down, Gabbert threw his career-high third touchdown of the game and his second to Seals-Jones. This time it was a 28-yard score to put them back on top 21-17.

Not to be outdone, the Texans offense came to life and Savage made some throws that made him look competent. Methodical passes and one good 22-yard throw to tight end Stephen Anderson gave them the ball at the Arizona 3-yard line. After a timeout D'Onta Foreman ran it in for a 24-21 Texans lead with just over 13 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

After more punts, the Cardinals took over with 8:36 left in the game with an important score needed to stay in the game. After a 13-yard play on first down the Texans defense settled in and forced them into fourth down. Arizona decided to go for it needing only 1-yard to keep the drive alive. The defensive hero for the Texans this season, Jadeveon Clowney, blew up the tight end on a run by Adrian Peterson and he and Zach Cunningham were able to make the tackle for negative yards and a turnover on downs.

With great field position on the Cardinals 34-yard line Bill O'Brien called a run over the right side to Foreman that went for a 34-yard touchdown and a 31-21 Texans lead. It wasn't all great though. After crossing the goal line, Foreman was seen immediately grabbing his lower leg in obvious pain. He was carted off the field and into the locker room.

Down by 10 points with five minutes left in the game the Cardinals were forced to press. The Texans could play with soft coverage on defense to make Gabbert win the game with his arm. The drive ended with Eddie Pleasant's first interception of the season and the Texans could now run the ball and the clock making it less likely the Cardinals could come back. After they went 3-and-out the punt coverage unit failed to down the ball near the goal line despite two players in the area. The touchback helped Arizona and the Cardinals were quickly moving the ball down field.

Their effort would come up short and Gabbert wouldn't get Arizona back into it. A first down throw on the Houston 40-yard line would be intercepted by Andre Hal and Houston would have the ball back at the two-minute warning up by ten points. Even though they punted one more time, it was enough to get the home win.

The Texans defense came up big today with interceptions and turnovers at the right time. The offense did their part by scoring 30 points for the first time since Deshaun Watson was lost for the season. Tom Savage--despite his two turnovers--finished the day 22 of 32 for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. Foreman led the way on the ground with 10 carries for 65 yards and 2 scores.

The Texans will look to keep up the good defensive effort on the road next week against the Baltimore Ravens. They have another chance to show up against a beatable team and get back to a winning record. After today's win, they sit at 4-6 in 3rd place in the AFC South Division.

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The Astros need to beat up on the lowly Rangers. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Collectively so far this season the Astros would not make for very good garbage men. Meaning they haven't been so good at taking out the trash. Swept in a series at Detroit when the Tigers were terrible, swept at Minute Maid Park by the sorry Orioles, swept in an early season series at the Rangers. Presently the Rangers are an atrocity. A nine game losing streak has them 35-62, buried deeply in last place in the American League West, 23 games behind the Astros. So the Astros need to whip up on them in this weekend's three game set, before the Astros head west for a three city road trip with stops in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

15. The number of home runs Jose Altuve has hit over his last 37 games. Multiply by four and that's a 60 homers in 148 games pace. Over those 37 games, Altuve is batting just .242. But slugging .577.

.029. Carlos Correa's batting average dating back 10 games played. One hit in his last 34 at bats. 14 strikeouts and just one walk over the stretch. That is what you call a funk. Certainly not a way to curry 300 million dollar contract offers.

The Rangers have just two 100 loss seasons in their history, their first two seasons after becoming the Rangers upon moving from Washington D.C. In 1972 the Ted Williams managed squad went 62-100, Ted quit, and the next year the Rangers finished 57-105. If the Astros sweep them this weekend, the Rangers will be on pace to lose 105 games.

It will be a decade ago this October that the Rangers came as close to winning a World Series as any team has ever come without winning the Series. In 2011 the Rangers carried a three games to two lead into game six at St. Louis. The Rangers led game six 7-5 with two on, two out, and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals' David Freese drilled a ball toward the base of the right field wall. Rangers' right fielder Nelson Cruz didn't make an error but didn't play the ball well, going back awkwardly and reaching out at the last second as if afraid of the wall. It went for a two run triple to tie the game. Two innings later Freese hit a game winning homer to force game seven.

The inning before that the Rangers again came within one strike of winning it all. A Josh Hamilton two run homer had the Rangers up 9-7 going to the bottom of the 10th. The Cards got within 9-8. With the tying run on second and two out, Rangers' Manager Ron Washington opted to intentionally walk Albert Pujols. Albert was still a tremendous player in 2011 (his last with the Redbirds), but he was not better than Lance Berkman that season, definitely not against right-handed pitching. Walking Pujols brought up Berkman to face right-hander Scott Feldman (a matchup of former Astro and future Astro). Berkman lined a two-two pitch to center field tying the game 9-9, ahead of Freese's 11th inning walk-off homer. One of the most incredible games in World Series history.

NCAA

Quite the story hitting that Texas and Oklahoma may be plotting to bolt the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. That neither UT, OU, nor the SEC denied it has smoke billowing. The Sooners have won the last six Big 12 football championships. The Longhorns last won in 2009. Oklahoma St., Kansas St., Baylor, TCU, all have more recently won at least a share of the conference title. An SEC UT could be looking at being in a division with Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M. UT marketing folks should be exploring a huge sponsorship deal with 7-Eleven. You know, Big Gulp. But as usual, follow the money.

The week ahead…

Wednesday: The Texans open training camp! Wait. Delete the exclamation point. Whither Deshaun Watson?

Thursday: The NBA Draft. Unless the Rockets pull off a thunderbolt of a trade to move up to number one and select Cade Cunningham, the winds of opinion are blowing in the direction of the Rockets taking wing Jalen Green second overall pick. That would be fine. Green is generally considered the most potential-laden explosive scorer on the board. The Rockets can use just about everything, a premium wing scorer would be excellent.

Friday: The MLB trade deadline. Does James Click bolster the Astros' shaky bullpen. The Astros have also been linked to Marlins' center fielder Starling Marte. Growing from his wretched start Myles Straw has been plenty acceptable. Free agent-to-be Marte would be a notable upgrade.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. First big beat the deadline win goes to the Rays. 41-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz still mashes. Simple frame of reference: he's been notably better than Yordan Alvarez this year.

2. The delayed by a year 2020 Summer Olympics are underway. Any interest at all?

3. Baseball's greatest Cruzes: Bronze-Jose Jr. Silver-Nelson Gold-Jose Sr.

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