RANKING THE EXPERIENCES

When it comes to playoff atmosphere, one Houston team stands out

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Over the past couple of years I have been lucky enough to attend multiple playoff games for all 3 of Houston's major sports teams. My attendance at the Texans playoff game this past Saturday completed that big 3 circuit and inspired me to write this little piece ranking the playoff atmospheres for all 3 teams.

Third Place – Texans

Given the supposed reign as sports kings of this town I was struck by the lack of intensity at NRG on Saturday. I am not talking about the players, though their lackluster performance certainly contributed to the feeling in the stadium later in the game. Overall the stadium just lacked the buzz I have felt at Astros and Rockets playoff games. Maybe it is because the Texans weren't largely perceived as championship contenders unlike the other two teams. However, I would think the seemingly rabid appetite for football in Houston would have countered that. Quite honestly this playoff game felt no different than the regular season game against the Dolphins I attended this year. The loudest I heard the stadium is when they played "I've got friends in low places" over the PA when the Texans were down 21-0. I'm definitely not one of those "you aren't fan enough" kind of guys but it was surprising to feel the level of disinterest in the stadium from kick-off on Saturday.

2nd Place – Rockets

The Rocket have always struggled getting people in their seats for tip-off, or for most of the first quarter for that matter. This was no different in the playoffs. The big screen operator had to put those not wearing their free t-shirt on camera to publicly shame them to join the crowd of red (or whatever color the shirt was that night). However despite the struggle to get fans to arrive on time and wear the desired color, once butts were in the seats Toyota Center got loud. The intensity on the court, especially when 3 pointers were falling, translated seamlessly to the crowd. Despite the (stupidly) long duration of the NBA playoffs the zeal of the fans never seemed to wane. Even at second round games against Utah last season fans were engaged and making themselves heard. Overall Toyota Center has an underrated playoff atmosphere.

1st Place – Astros

Minute Maid in the playoffs is still the loudest stadium I have ever been in, including college and professional football games. People generally show up on time and the tension before the first pitch is palpable. Every hit or strikeout elicits explosive fan reactions. Additionally, I found the crowd on their feet far more than I ever have at football games. Baseball gets the rap of taking too long and being boring, but playoff baseball is an entirely different animal. I can confidently say the loudest sound I have ever heard in my life is when Alex Bregman hit the game winning double in Game 5 of the World Series (this includes the crack of thunder that blasted me from a lightning strike about 100 feet away). I thought my eardrums had burst. A playoff game at Minute Maid makes the playoff games I have experienced at NRG seem like they were rec-league competitions.

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The Texans had a chance to make a big statement on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. They did indeed make a big one; they are not ready to compete at the highest level. The Ravens might be the best team in football right now, and they looked like it. The Texans looked like an also-ran, losing 41-7. There is no shame in losing to the Ravens, but completely failing to show up and channeling your inner Miami Dolphin was an embarrassment. This was by far their worst performance of the season and maybe the worst of the Bill O'Brien era. It was reminiscent of the 30-0 playoff loss to the Chiefs. Here is how it all played out:

Offense

The positives: You're kidding, right? The only touchdown came in garbage time.

The negatives: We can stop with the Deshaun Watson MVP talk. He was badly outplayed by Lamar Jackson, who continues to stake his claim. Watson followed up an amazing performance in London with one of the worst efforts of his career.

They got off to another slow start, with a bad Watson fumble where he once again tried to do way too much. Fortunately it did not hurt them, as the Ravens missed a rare field goal. The next possession they went for it on fourth and three, threw a deep ball to Hopkins, who was interfered with in the end zone but there was no call. The Texans rightly challenged, but the NFL continued its trend of refusing to overturn interference calls. That was one of the only real shots to score a touchdown as it turned out, and they game quickly got away from them after that. Ka'imi Fairbairn missed yet another field goal in the first half. They allowed five first-half sacks (seven overall), although many of those were Watson's fault. They looked disjointed on offense, as they did in the first game against Jacksonville and in the loss to Carolina. They had just 102 yards in the first half, worst of the Watson era. There is no other way to say it; they were just bad.

Defense

The positives: Special teams made a nice stop on a fake field goal in the first quarter, reading it perfectly and stopping it on fourth down. Also, it was scoreless after one quarter. So there's that. Otherwise...

The negatives: After a solid beginning, holding Lamar Jackson to a 1-of-6 passing start, they had little answer for what has been the best offense in football, allowing the Ravens to score on six consecutive actual possessions (they did have a one-play knee down at the half). They got little pressure on Jackson, dropping multiple players into coverage, but Jackson was able to beat that. The third touchdown they allowed was vintage Texans defense; they failed to cover a running back out of the backfield on a wheel route. Injuries continued to plague the secondary, as both Lonnie Johnson and Justin Reid left the game. They were overmatched on this side of the ball, too.

The bottom line

This was an all-around awful performance, the worst of the Watson era. He completed 18-of-29 passes for 169 yards, zero TDs and a terrible interception and even worse fumble. He rushed for just 12, and was sacked six times. All the progress the Texans seemed to have made over the past month disappeared in one ugly afternoon. Lamar Jackson showed why he and Russell Wilson are the MVP leaders, hitting 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. He also added 86 yards rushing on just nine carries. In the battle of young star quarterbacks, Jackson dominated in what was no contest. The team stats were ugly as well. Baltimore had 25 first downs to 16, 492 yards to 232 (much of it garbage time yards) and led in time of possession 35:46 to 23:41. The Texans were just 2 of 10 on third downs and 1 of 4 on fourth down.

Bill O'Brien has done a good job in recent weeks, but they had no answers on either side of the ball. He also unnecessarily risked Watson by leaving him in the game down 34-0 in the fourth quarter. Why? To pad his crappy stats? He finally put in A.J. McCarron with 3:55 left down 41-7. He should have folded sooner and prepared for Thursday night's game against the Colts. He was lucky Watson was not hurt.

The Texans came out of the bye week looking like they had spent the entire time on the beach. The bad news is they face a quick turnaround and a must-win against the Colts and are now just 6-4 on the season, tied with Indy. At least they didn't expend much energy in this one. They have to regroup quickly or the season could spiral out of control in a hurry with the Colts and then Patriots on deck. This three-game stretch was going to be their big test. On the first section of it, they failed miserably.

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