CODY STOOTS

Texans player of the game: Cunningham makes impact all over the field

Zach Cunningham scored a touchdown. Bob Levey/Getty images

As the Texans defense continues to get healthy, Zach Cunningham's contribution is clear each week. This week he set the tone early and helped the Texans extend their first-half lead over the Cleveland Browns on their way to their ninth straight win. 

Cunningham in coverage was active, nearly intercepting a pass from Baker Mayfield on the first drive for the Browns. In the second quarter, with the Texans leading by 10, Cunningham got his hands on a Mayfield pass again. This time though he didn't let it hit the ground. Rumbling back 37 yards, and running over teammate Benardrick McKinney in the process, Cunningham dove and extended for a touchdown. Though he was ruled out at the one, the replay review saw he stayed in for the score. 

"It was more of an instinctual play that I felt," Cunningham said. "Getting back on the ball, obviously made an amazing catch, great catch, so it definitely felt pretty good. It was my first pick, first touchdown in the NFL. Definitely felt great for me."

Cunningham joked he knew it was a touchdown and celebrated but had to wait for the official call. He said he knew he was scoring. 

"That means a lot," said DeAndre Hopkins of the Cunningham score. "We know we can go out there and depend on those guys to get the ball. That's championship football."

"The guy made a great play," said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield on the Cunningham score.

Cunningham was a leader for the defense who slowed down a hot Cleveland rushing attack. Nick Chubb entered the game trailing only Cowboys Ezekiel Elliot for yards over the past four weeks. The game-flow didn't lend itself to rushing a ton as Cleveland trailed big after Cunningham's big play but the defense kept the Browns from getting comfortable. Cleveland managed just 31 rushing yards. 

With a healthy Cunningham, the Texans have one of the most stout rushing defenses in football. Cunningham adds a great element in coverage as well and the defense seems to operate a little smoother with him in there. With injuries to backups in the game, Brennan Scarlett went down with a leg injury, Cunningham is healthy at the right time. 

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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