By Elwyn Henderson
The 6-4 Houston Texans hosted the 7-3 Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium in Houston Sunday in their biggest game since their last playoff appearance, as first place in the AFC South Division was on the line. Even though a win would give both teams identical 7-4 records, Houston defeated Jacksonville in week 1, so by virtue of the sweep over the Jags they would hold first place.
The game was everything that it was expected to be, but when the smoke cleared Houston fell short and walked off the field failing to accomplish the goal they had going into the contest, falling by the final score of 24-21. The loss moves Jacksonville to 8-3 while the loss drops Houston n to 6-5 putting them two games behind in the AFC South with 6 games left to play.
To begin the game, Jacksonville won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half to get the game started. Brandon McManus kicked off for the visitors. The ball traveled out of the end zone and CJ Stroud and the Houston offense began their first possession at their 25 after a touchback.
The offense picked up one first down and then they were forced to punt away on a 4th and 9 at their 42 on the next series following a 5yard penalty for delay of game. Cameron Johnston came in and punted the ball down to the Jacksonville12 where it was fair caught. Trevor Lawrence brought his unit out at that point for the Jaguars first possession of the day.
Lawrence led his charges down the field to the Houston 22 where the Texans forced a McManus 40-yard field goal with 5:54 left in the first quarter, putting the Jaguars up 3-0. The drive was 12 plays, 65 yards and took 6:02 off the first quarter clock.
Houston’s next drive began at their 25 after a touchback of the kickoff following the field goal. Thanks to a 10-yard holding penalty on the first play the Texans went three-and-out and after a Johnston punt and a 22-yard return the Jags set up in excellent field position at their 45. The Texans defense allowed just 3 yards in the plays and after a Logan Cooke punt Stroud and company came back on the field at their 8 to start their next drive.
After managing one first down Stroud hit Tank Dell for a 53-yard pass on a third down play, but Dell was flagged for not getting set prior to the snap of the ball, and after the 10-yard penalty was assessed the ball went back to the Houston 9. A pass to Nico Collins moved the ball up the 23, bringing up a 4th and 6 and Johnston punted the ball away, resulting in a Jacksonville fair catch at the 32.
Lawrence moved the visitors down the field and on a key third down the Texans were called for very questionable pass interference in the end zone, setting up a 1-yard jump into the end zone by Lawrence for the first TD of the game. McManus added the PAT and Houston was in a 10-0 hole. The drive was 8 plays, 68 yards and took 4:39.
McManus kicked off out of the end zone once again and Stroud and the Texans set up at their 25 after the touchback desperately needing a score to stay in the game. They did just that, moving the 75 yards in just 5 plays over 3:06. The score came on a 7–yard pass from Stroud to Tank Dell with 6:37 left in the first half. Matt Ammendola made the extra point and Houston was back within three, trailing 10-7.
Lawrence led his charges right back down the field after the Houston TD and narrowly missed another TD when the ball slipped out of the intended receiver’s hands, setting up a 48-yard McManus field goal with 2:24 left in the half. The drive was 8 plays, 45 yards and took 4:13 off the second quarter clock, increasing the Jaguars lead to 13-7.
The Texans got one last possession to close out the first half and began at their 25 after the normal touchback of the kickoff. Stroud led the team down to the Jax 32, but a pass intended for Dell on third down inside the 10 was completed out of bounds, forcing a 50-yard field goal attempt by Ammendola. The kick was wide right, leaving the score at 13-7 with 20 seconds left in the half.
Lawrence came out with his offense and decided to try to get into at least field goal range for McManus. Lawrence hit a wide open receiver at the Houston 30 who was tackled out of bounds at the 1 with 1 second left in the half. After calling a time out, a pitch went to Travis Etienne around the right side. Houston had the perfect defense for the play and stopped him for no gain, ending the half with Jacksonville still leading 13-7 and set to receive the second half kickoff.
The kick was returned up to the 16Lawrence was driving his unit down the field when Houston’s Derek Stingley grabbed an interception he returned down to the Jags 46 that thwarted the drive.
Stroud and company came out and promptly moved down the field and into the end zone. The score came on a 1-yard TD run around right end by Stroud with 8:10 left in the third quarter. Ammendola’s PAT kick was good and Houston had their first lead of the game, 14-13. The drive was 7 plays, 46 yards and took 3:39.
The score seemed to fire up Jacksonville, as they moved quickly into Houston territory. Thanks to a couple of pass interference calls against Tavierre Thomas, the last in the end zone putting the ball on the Houston 1. The defense fought hard, but on third down Lawrence hit Calvin Ridley on a 1-yard TD pass with 4:29 left in the third period. The Jags went for 2 and Lawrence hit Ridley again on the same pattern and Houston trailed 2l-14. The drive was 8 plays, 75 yards and took 3:41.
After yet another touchback Houston started at their 25. They managed one first down and then Johnston had to punt the ball away on the next series. The ball was fair caught at the 11 and Jacksonville went back on offense again with 2:33 left in the third quarter.
The Texans defense bent but didn’t break and forced a McManus 53-yard field goal with 11:20 left in the game. The kick was good, advancing the Jaguars lead to 24-14. The drive was 10 plays, 54 yards and too 6:13 of clock time.
Houston began once again at their 25 knowing they HAD to put points on the board, but it wasn’t to be on this day. A 4th and 1 pass deep down the field fell incomplete and Jacksonville took over on the Houston 46 with 9:15 left in the game.
The Texans defense came up big when they were in a do or die situation forcing a McManus 55-yard field goal attempt. The kick was wide left and Houston still had life, taking over at their 45.
Stroud fearlessly drove the offense down the field and hit Nico Collins on a 24yard TD pass with 5:15 left in the game. Ammendola added the extra point and Houston was back within 3, trailing 24-21. The drive was a 5-play, 55-yard possession that consumed just 1:50.
After a touchback of Ammendola’s ensuing kickoff, the Jags offense came back onto the field knowing they HAD to get a stop and get the ball back for the offense in order to have a chance to get the win. They did just that, forcing a Cooke punt on 4th and 7 from the Texans 47. The punt was fair caught at the 11 and Houston had one last chance to get the win.
The home team moved the ball down to the 41 of Jacksonville and on a fourth down Ammendola went in to attempt a 58-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Sadly, the ball hit the crossbar and fell back into the end zone and the try was no good. With just another 3 or 4 inches it would have gone through and the game would have been extended. Houston was so close, yet so far away.
A disappointed Coach DeMeco Ryans met with the media after the disappointing finish. He was asked why the Texans were off schedule on their offense most of the game.
“Yeah, credit to Jacksonville for their defense. They mixed it up really well. Those guys played well up front and in coverages and everything. We’ve got to play better up front, we’ve got to protect it better, we’ve got to run the ball better, and it all starts up front. They were the best team up front today on the offensive and the defensive line. That’s the reason why we didn’t win the game.”
When quarterback CJ Stroud faced the media after the crushing loss, he talked about the problems in the game.
“It’s a great Jacksonville team. We fought hard, but you can’t put the last play of the game on that situation (the missed 58-yard field goal that would have resulted in overtime). We’ve got to be better and execute better the first half.”
Things don’t get any easier next Sunday when the Texans close out their 3-game home streak as they will face the Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson who have suddenly come out of nowhere, winning their last 6 games. They come in with a 6-5 record, matching Houston. It will most certainly be another nail-biter next week.