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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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