The Texans have been an easy punching bag since coming into the NFL in 2002.
It took them 10 years just to make the playoffs. They have never made an AFC Championship game.
They wore those varsity letter jackets to Foxborough in 2012, and promptly got blown out. Their coach said last year, “That’s not my job to call a timeout to make their job easier,” when asked why he didn’t use a timeout so officials could review a questionable catch by Rob Gronkowski.
But there’s something different about the 2019 Texans, who improved to 4-2 with a 31-24 win at Kansas City Sunday.
That Patriots-Chiefs rematch in the AFC Championship game most of us are hoping for? The Texans look like they could spoil those plans.
Their big statement win is where we begin the Week 6 review:
■ The problem with the Texans since their inception has been that they haven’t been able to find a quarterback. Matt Schaub had a few good years, but it has mostly been an inept bunch led by David Carr, Brock Osweiler, and Tom Savage.
The Texans sure have a franchise quarterback now, though. Deshaun Watson is in the early conversation for 2019 MVP, with 12 touchdown passes, 3 interceptions, a 107.9 passer rating, and 5 rushing touchdowns.
A torn ACL in 2017 ended that season and slowed Watson’s development last year. But he had a healthy 2019 offseason, and the Texans are rolling this year, winning four of their last five games. The Texans gained 592 yards in a win over Atlanta last week, then racked up another 472 at Kansas City on Sunday.
Watson doesn’t get rattled; he had five game-winning drives in 2018, then went into one of the toughest road environments Sunday and came away with a huge win after trailing, 17-3.
He has a great supporting cast on paper, as well: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and a run game averaging 5.0 yards per carry.
“To come in and get a big win like that, we definitely should put the league on notice after that one,” said running back Carlos Hyde.
The Texans look dangerous this year. And the Patriots’ Week 13 matchup in Houston doesn’t look so easy right now.
■ As for the Chiefs, they have a time-of-possession problem. They held the ball for just 20:12 in the loss to the Texans, and 22:45 in last week’s loss to the Colts.
And in the two losses to the Patriots last year, the Chiefs held the ball for 23:51 and 20:53.
With Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs have one of the best quick-strike offenses in the NFL. But they may be putting their defense back on the field too quickly, and good teams know how to play keep-away.
Coach Andy Reid and Mahomes need to do a better job of grinding out some long drives, and the revamped Chiefs defense needs to learn how to make a stop or two.
■ The 6-0 Patriots now have a two-game lead on the 4-2 Texans, Chiefs, and Ravens for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Buffalo, which had a bye, is only 1½ games back, but lost to the Patriots head-to-head.
Normally I’d make a snarky comment here about how the Patriots will have home-field advantage wrapped up by Week 9. But the Texans, Chiefs, and Ravens are all on the schedule, so the Patriots still have their work cut out.
■ The 49ers are 5-0 for the first time since 1990 following an impressive 20-7 road win over the Rams, and Jimmy Garoppolo improved to 13-2 in his career as a starter.
But the real story is the 49ers’ defense, which now ranks second in the NFL in both yards and points allowed (12.8 per game). The 49ers allowed 180 yards and 3 points against the Browns last week, then just 157 total yards and 7 points to the Rams on Sunday.
The Rams opened the game with seven straight runs, marching 56 yards for a touchdown. But the 49ers shut out the Rams over their final 10 drives.
The Niners’ defense is loaded with former first-round picks — Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, and Solomon Thomas — and it is starting to blossom.
“This is a turning point,” Bosa said. “I think people are starting to realize how good we are.”
■ The Saints and Panthers each improved to 4-0 with their backup quarterbacks. The Saints and Teddy Bridgewater took down the Jaguars, 13-6, while Kyle Allen and the Panthers went across the pond to beat the Bucs, 37-26.
Bridgewater will be ceding his job back to Drew Brees when the veteran returns, but Allen has played well enough that Panthers coach Ron Rivera may keep riding the hot hand even after Cam Newton returns.
But while Bridgewater and Allen are worthy of praise, each team is winning mostly with defense. The Saints, after allowing 514 total yards to the Seahawks in Week 3, have held the Cowboys, Bucs, and Jaguars under 300 total yards in consecutive weeks. And the Panthers have forced 10 turnovers in the past two weeks, including seven against the Bucs.
■ Sunday was a brutal day for Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the top two picks of the 2015 draft who are both playing for their futures. Winston threw five interceptions, lost a fumble, and took seven sacks in the Bucs’ loss, drawing the ire of coach Bruce Arians. Winston became the first QB to turn the ball over six times in a game since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2016.
“Throw the damn ball away,” Arians said. “He has a habit of trying to be Superman, and that’s been a problem in the past.”
And Mariota got benched late in the third quarter of the Titans’ 16-0 loss at Denver. Mariota completed just 7 of 18 passes for 63 yards, with two interceptions and a 9.5 passer rating. Ryan Tannehill came off the bench to complete 13 of 16 passes for 144 yards with a pick.
Neither QB is signed past this season. Both may be looking for a job soon.
■ The biggest chicken in the NFL Sunday was Eagles linebacker Zach Brown, who last week called quarterback Kirk Cousins the “weakest part” of the Vikings offense and said, “Every defense is going to want that guy to throw the ball.”
But after Cousins shredded the Eagles for 333 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-20 win, Brown didn’t want to be held accountable.
“I’m here to talk about the game. Not about that,” Brown said. “Any other questions besides about Kirk Cousins?”
Weak. And the Eagles apparently thought so, too. They released Brown on Monday night, per ESPN.
■ Patriots fans, you can probably cross Stefon Diggs off your wish list. The Vikings receiver caught seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. And with the Vikings rolling at 4-2, they won’t be sellers at the trade deadline.
“I am proud of that guy for sticking in there, because we haven’t been getting him the ball as much as previous years,’’ running back Dalvin Cook said.
■ The Chargers, expected to be one of the top AFC teams, suffered an embarrassing 24-17 loss to the Steelers to drop to 2-4. They lost to a third-string quarterback (Devlin Hodges), at home, and had their tiny stadium completely overrun by Steelers fans. This is what the Chargers deserve for abandoning San Diego.
■ Jets WR Braxton Berrios: Returned two punts for 22 yards but played just four snaps on offense in a 24-22 win over the Cowboys. Has two catches for 29 yards this year, and five punt returns for 39 yards.
■ Titans RB Dion Lewis: Had one rush for minus-1 yard and three catches for 20 yards in the loss to the Broncos. Free Dion Lewis!
■ Rams WR Brandin Cooks: Had three catches for 18 yards and two rushes for 14 yards in the loss to the 49ers. Has scored just one touchdown this year and is on pace for career lows in catches and yards.
■ Titans coach Mike Vrabel: The fact that he wouldn’t name a starting quarterback Monday is not a good sign for Mariota.
■ Dolphins coach Brian Flores: Shrewd move Sunday against the Redskins, acting just enough like he wanted to win the game, before inevitably losing, 17-16. The Dolphins may want to tank, but I really hope Flores doesn’t get hung with an 0-16 record.
■ Texans coach Bill O’Brien: Just stay out of the way, please. O’Brien is 0 for 4 on challenges this year, and on Sunday had Watson throwing deep on fourth and 1.
■ Lions coach Matt Patricia: Probably going to regret that Week 1 tie against Arizona when it comes time for playoff seeding.
Stats of the week
(via ESPN and NFL)
■ Coaches went 0 for 5 on challenges of pass interference calls in Week 6, and the original call on the field has been upheld on 24 of the past 25 challenges. The NFL has effectively killed this rule.
■ Cardinals QB Kyler Murray took 20 sacks in his first four games (0-3-1), and only one sack in the last two games (2-0).
■ Because of penalties, Mahomes threw for 116 yards on the Chiefs’ opening drive.
■ At 42 years and 68 days, Tom Brady is the oldest player in NFL history to rush for two touchdowns in a game.
■ The Cowboys had been 12-0 when Ezekiel Elliott gained 150-plus scrimmage yards before Sunday’s loss to the Jets.
■ Brandon Wilson’s 92-yard kickoff return touchdown for Cincinnati was the first on a game’s opening kickoff since the Rams’ Pharoh Cooper in Week 6 of 2017.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.