FRED FAOUR

Thanks to a 'game manager' effort from Watson, Texans are in first place in the AFC South after 20-7 win over Jaguars

Deshaun Watson did just enough. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

A month ago, the Texans were 0-3, with little hope of a turnaround. They were playing terrible football on defense, struggling with turnovers on offense and getting Deshaun Watson killed.

Today, they are alone in first place in a suddenly weak AFC South.

The Texans were better at the most important position on Sunday, and the end result was a 20-7 Houston victory over Jacksonville. It was a good example of what Bill O’Brien likes to refer to as “complementary football.” Special teams pinned the Jaguars deep. The defense forced two fumbles and caused the Jaguars to change quarterbacks.

The maligned offensive line opened up enough running lanes for the Texans to rush for 141 yards and only allowed one sack of Deshaun Watson.

More importantly, Watson protected the football. His numbers weren’t great - 12 of 24 for 139 yards and a touchdown - but most critically, no interceptions.

The Texans were conservative on offense against a tough Jaguars defense, but they could afford to be, because the Texans defense came to play. Jaguars QB Blake Bortles was yanked after going just 6 of 12 for 61 yards and two critical fumbles on attempted scrambles. He was replaced by Cody Kessler, who was much more effective, going 21 of 30 for 156 yards and a touchdown but also an interception. 

But a big difference in the game was Watson, who managed to get a victory when he was not at his best. He played the role of game manager, and it was what the Texans needed on a day like this. He was effective when his team had chances, and the Jaguars QBs were not.

Watson did some little things to help with the win. He threw the ball away on several occasions rather than take sacks or risk interceptions. He was more mobile than last week, and rushed for 13 yards on seven carries (two were kneel downs at the end of the game). He played hurt again.

He was not dynamic, but he did not make mistakes, either. With the way the Texans were running the ball, and as solid as the defense was, that was what was needed. The Texans won the turnover battle 3-0, including a late pick by Tyrann Mathieu. They sacked Kessler four times in the second half, two by Jadeveon Clowney. With a 20-0 lead, there was little reason to take chances with Watson, who helped lead two TD drives on short fields.

With the complimentary performance on special teams and defense and Miller's running, they just needed Watson to protect the ball. He did exactly that. It might not be sexy, but it was very effective. Watson and the offense were 50 percent on third down (8 of 16) and two of three in the red zone, an area where they have struggled all year.

The Texans had control for almost the entire game, and the end result was a fourth straight win.

They are now 4-3 in the AFC South, a game ahead of the 3-4 Jaguars and Titans and two ahead of the 2-5 Colts. They have won four in a row but not been impressive doing it. They were gifted a win by the Colts and were outplayed by the Bills and managed to beat them thanks to ineffective quarterback play on the Buffalo side late in the game. But they earned the wins over Dallas and Jacksonville, and the defense has looked great for the last three weeks. They will have a quick turnaround with the Dolphins coming in on Thursday, and will need another big effort. 

Things can obviously change fast, but as of today, the Texans are in first place, and they did it without a big game from Watson.

None of that would have seemed possible just a month ago. But here they are, and the season suddenly has taken on a new look.

 

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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