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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How significant Astros spring training revelation highlights even more reasons for optimism

The Houston Astros had a very successful season in 2023 which led them back to the ALCS for the seventh-straight season, but despite another deep playoff run, their pitching did regress from the prior year.

While many would point to their historic bullpen in 2022 and say they had nowhere to go but down, that doesn't paint the full picture. It was the starting rotation that really fell off in 2023. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, and Jose Urquidy all saw a spike in their ERAs from the previous season.

According to a recent report from The Athletic's Chandler Rome, we might have an explanation for Jose Urquidy's down year.

The Astros and Urquidy believe he was tipping his pitches. Which would explain why the slugging percentage against his fastball jumped from .482 in 2022 to .632 in 2023.

When hitters know a pitcher is tipping, they often start hunting fastballs. Also, his strikeout percentage went down last year and his walks went way up. He had 2 more walks per nine innings in 2023 than he had in 2021.

Part of that could be him aiming for corners and refusing to give in to hitters because his fastball wasn't performing up to expectations.

His WHIP in 2023 really jumped off the page as well. He finished with a WHIP over 1.4. While his career WHIP is 1.143. That's a huge difference.

Back to the big picture

Until last season, Urquidy never finished with an ERA over 3.95. He recorded a 5.29 ERA last year. So when we factor in his shoulder injury that cost him three months of the season, and the fact he was tipping pitches, we believe he's in store for a bounce-back season.

And the Astros are going to need him, especially with Justin Verlander and JP France possibly not being available for the start of the season.

What will the rotation look like early on?

The Astros haven't ruled Verlander out yet, so he could be ready to go. But if not, and we base this off what we saw last season. The rotation will likely include Valdez, Javier, Brown, Urquidy, Ronel Blanco, and Brandon Bielak.

Don't miss the video above for the full discussion!

Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) with Charlie Pallilo, Brandon Strange, and Josh Jordan every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.

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