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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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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