Texans 22, Bills 19

Texans pull off late rally against Bills, escape with rare playoff win in OT

Texans pull off late rally against Bills, escape with rare playoff win in OT
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The Texans needed a little bit of magic on Saturday. In overtime, Deshaun Watson gave them just that.

Watson made one of his magical escapes from a sack, hit Taiwan Jones for a 37-yard play to set up the game-winning field goal in a dramatic 22-19 win over the Buffalo Bills.

The win featured a little bit of everything. A typical Texans playoff first half where they went down 13-0 when they were badly outplayed and outcoached.

But then they rallied from down 16-0 - something they had never done under Bill O'Brien - took a 19-16 lead, blew it on defense, went to overtime where they managed to get a game winning field goal on their second possession thanks to Watson.

They won it in spite of a standard playoff performance early. They found themselves in a 16-0 hole late in the third quarter and looking at yet another first round embarrassment.

Turning the tide

But then J.J. Watt came up with a sack, and held the Bills to a field goal attempt that made the 16-0 margin. After that, the offense finally figured they could run the ball up the gut, and they needed to get Deshaun Watson moving on designed running plays. They marched down and made it 16-8 with a two-point conversion. They forced a fumble that led to a field goal. Then they forced the Bills into their first three and out of the game, and the stage was set with just over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Watson at his best

Watson led them on a scoring drive that resulted in a touchdown and two point conversion and a 19-16 lead with just under five minutes left. They made clutch play after clutch play to take the lead.

But then the defense, bad late in games all season, let the Bills march right down the field and have a chance to tie the game. However, Whitney Mercilus forced an intentional grounding penalty and a fourth and 27. the Jacob Martin followed it up with a sack. Still, the Texans could not run out the clock, and the Bills had one last chance with 1:16 left and no timeouts. The Bills once again got into field goal range, and this time they tied it and send the game to overtime.

Doesn't mask the problems

The victory should not excuse some of the coaching errors. Bill O'Brien wasted a challenge on a PI call that was never being overturned. His play calling was conservative and predictable for the better part of three quarters. He handcuffed Watson early with poor play calling.

But the Texans overcame that. As bad as the play calling was early, it was excellent in the fourth quarter. It put the game in Watson's hands, and the stars came to play. Watson and DeAndre Hopkins led the offense. Watt led the defense. Players made plays. Watson. Hopkins. Mercilus. Watt. There is a saying in the hockey playoffs; your best players have to be your best players. When it counted, the Texans best players were the best players.

What's next? 

The Texans will face Kansas City next week, based on the Titans beating the Patriots. The Texans will have to play significantly better - and coach better - to be competitive. They won in KC earlier this year, but Pat Mahomes was hobbled and the defense has improved, so they will be significant underdogs. But they did something few expected them to do - come back from a massive deficit and advance to the next round. They were 0-22 in the Bill O'Brien era down 16 points or more. Now they are 1-22 and O'Brien has his second playoff win in five tries.

Getting more will be difficult, but they showed some heart and grit, and in the end, they escaped with a win.

And Watson made it happen.

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What does the future hold for Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker? Composite Getty Image.

It doesn’t quite equate to scaling Mount Everest, but from their shockingly inept 7-19 start to this season and being twelve games under .500 most recently at 12-24, the Astros reaching the break-even mark one game short of the exact midpoint of the regular season schedule is a fine accomplishment. Since 12-24 they have gone 28-16. Of course, that becomes a hollow accomplishment if it's not built upon in the direction the Astros expected to be from the jump.

Less than a week and a half ago, the Seattle Mariners held a 10 game lead over the Astros in the American League West. The gap is now four and a half games. On July 4, 1979 the Astros beat the Cincinnati Reds to build their National League West lead to ten and a half games. The Astros were on pace to win 101 games, the Reds were at .500. Unimpressed Reds’ pitcher Tom Seaver predicted the Astros would “fall like a lead balloon.” He was right. The rest of the way the Astros went 37-42 and the Reds roared from behind to snatch the division by a game and a half. The Astros would have to wait until the following year to make their first ever postseason appearance. Now here they are very reasonably positioned to make a run at an eighth consecutive postseason appearance.

The same night the Astros went to sleep ten games back of the Mariners, they sat seven and a half games out of the third AL Wild Card spot. That gap is now three games. Given how far the Astros are behind the Yankees, Orioles, and Guardians, it's unlikely that the Astros wind up with one of the two best records in the AL and secure a bye past the best-of-three Wild Card round. As such, whether it's winning the West or nabbing any of the three Wild Cards, the point is to make the tournament and take their shot. Remember, last season both the World Series winning Texas Rangers and runners-up Arizona Diamondbacks were Wild Cards. The Diamondbacks squeaked into the postseason with an 84-78 record.

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This weekend, the Astros are in New York for three games against the Mets. Like the Astros the Mets have overcome a lousy start to sit smack-dab at .500 (39-39). Since their bottom of 24-35 the Mets are 15-4. While the Astros have the good fortune of the AL West being the worst division in the Majors, this season and being just four and a half games off the lead, the Mets National League East location means it's pretty much Wild Card or nothing with them 13 games behind the high-flying Phillies.

There will be no Justin Verlander pitching for either team. It's moving toward done deal status that neither the Astros nor Mets will be on the hook for the 17 and a half million dollars each would owe him if Verlander's 2025 35 million dollar option became guaranteed by him reaching 140 innings pitched this season. At just 57 innings banked as the first half wraps up, he's 83 innings short. Verlander's sore neck seems likely to keep him in moth balls until at least the All-Star break. With perfect health from day one after the break, the absolute maximum number of starts Verlander could get is 14.

Other collateral damage with Verlander's repeated physical breakdowns in his 40s: his chance at getting to 300 career wins is fading. Only 24 pitchers in Major League history have reached 300. There will likely never be a 25th member of the club. With just three victories in 2024 Verlander is presently stalled at 260. Squeezing out 40 more seems a Herculean task. The next pitcher on the winningest active list is Max Scherzer with 215, he's followed by Clayton Kershaw with 210. It then drops off a cliff to Gerrit Cole with only 145. Zero chance at 300 for any of them. “J.V.” finished his 20s with 124 wins. Larry Dierker booked all but two of his 139 career wins before turning 30. Roy Oswalt put up 111 wins pre-30. The current win leader yet to turn 30 is German Marquez with a mere 65 victories.

Astros winning despite Kyle Tucker's absence

Before fouling the ball off his shin June 3 that (eventually) put him on the injured list, Kyle Tucker was the Astros' best everyday player this season. In fact, no one else was even close. In the 19 (and counting) games Tucker has missed, the Astros are 13-6. While “Tuck” need not familiarize himself with Wally Pipp, this is the latest example that one player, no matter how great, can only lift a baseball team so far. It probably isn't making Jim Crane think that eight years 240 million or the like is the way to go in a contract extension for Tucker. Crane's dream Astros' outfield in 2026 could have Jacob Melton in center flanked by Luis Baez on one side and Joey Loperfido on the other, with Yordan Alvarez in left of course when not DHing. Melton and Baez may be the Astros' top two minor league prospects. They'll be 25 and 22 years old opening day 2026. Add Loperfido with them and the Astros could pay their whole outfield under two and a half million dollars for the season.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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