Sometimes NFL games boil down to something simple, like two of the best players in the league hooking up for a couple of huge plays.
Deshaun Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins for two touchdowns, the second of which was a fantastic catch in the end zone to give the Houston Texans a 20-17 lead, and that ended up being the final score. The Texans didn’t play particularly well, but neither did the Colts, and Hopkins’ two scores made the difference.
There was some controversy too, because NFL officials rarely get through a game without some blown call. With 50 seconds left, Watson ran the ball and had it clearly punched out. The Colts said they recovered the fumble. But there was no review, even though the ball was loose before Watson got to the ground. The Texans kept the ball, with officials saying Houston recovered. That cost the Colts valuable time in the final minute. The Texans were able to run out the clock.
Thursday night’s game was huge in the AFC South race. Both teams came in at 6-4. Not only was the winner going to take a game lead with five to go, but it had huge implications in the tiebreaker as well. For practical purposes, it was a semi-playoff game in mid-November. And the Texans now have a clear path to the postseason.
Colts don’t get it on a key fourth down
Despite the Texans missing multiple defensive backs due to injury, the Colts had a conservative game plan. They passed only when necessary, relying mostly on emerging Jonathan Williams in the run game. Williams, who has bounced around the NFL, had his first 100-yard game on Sunday, then hit 100 yards again on Thursday.
But playing a grind-it-out style reduced their margin for error. The Colts had a chance to win. But they generated almost no big plays, and the Texans got a few from their receivers.
Colts coach Frank Reich made an aggressive decision late in the game, like he did in a meeting with the Texans last season. On fourth-and-7 with three minutes left, the Colts went for it. Jacoby Brissett couldn’t find anyone open, tried to run for the first down and was stopped just short. It wasn’t as controversial as Reich going for it in his own territory late in an overtime game against the Texans last season, but it still didn’t work out.
On the next drive, Will Fuller caught a huge third-down pass from Watson just after the two-minute warning. Then came the non-call on Watson’s fumble, and the game was over.
DeAndre Hopkins shines
One reason the Colts had a run-heavy game plan was seemingly that their star receiver, T.Y. Hilton, played but wasn’t 100 percent. Fortunately for the Texans, Hopkins was just fine.
Hopkins’ first touchdown was an inexplicable breakdown by the Colts. Hopkins went deep, the cornerback expected safety help and Hopkins ran by the safety. Of all the players on the field to lose track of, Hopkins should be the last one.
The second touchdown was a great play. In the fourth quarter, Watson threw deep to his left and Hopkins made a lunging catch in the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Hilton returned from a calf injury, and it seemed he rushed back too soon. On one play in the third quarter, he had a lot of room to run if he could have secured a catch, but turned upfield too quickly and dropped it. In the fourth quarter Brissett threw deep to Hilton, who got both hands on it and couldn’t bring it in. Fox’s broadcast showed HIlton slamming his helmet in frustration when he got back to the sideline.
It’s understandable that Hilton would be rusty. It seemed like Hilton was playing hurt; he was on a limited snap count. But it was a big game and Hilton’s drops cost the Colts dearly.
Hopkins came through when it mattered most. And it might mean we get to see him in the playoffs again.
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