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The Houston Texans and the NFL Power Rankings: Week 16

Where do the Texans land after their victory against the Titans?

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Houston Texans win again!!! They’ve done it again!!! Another walk-off game winner in the books for the 2023 Houston Texans, this time orchestrated by the best kicker in team history: Ka’imi Fairbairn!

This is just an absolutely ridiculous season. I guess the Texans are just destined to make our hearts race every single Sunday, because this is their sixth game in 2023 decided by a last-second field goal attempt. Thank goodness for Fairbairn’s return from injury, too, because I think I might’ve collapsed from the anxiety if it wasn’t for his reputation as a top-tier player. He couldn’t have possibly returned at a more crucial moment in the season.

But, Ka’imi’s clutch kick was basically the only routine thing about Sunday’s game. Joining him on the Houston sideline were leading receivers Noah Brown and Robert Woods subbing in for the injured Nico Collins and Tank Dell, linebacker Christian Harris and cornerback Desmon King subbing in for injured linebacker Blake Cashman, defensive end Jerry Hughes subbing in for the injured Will Anderson Jr., and quarterback Case Keenum filling in for the concussed C.J. Stroud. A mountain of injuries stood between Houston and another victory, and with four of the most important players to the team out for this game, it felt like the coffin was waiting for us in Tennessee.

But, somehow, someway, the Houston Texans buckled down on defense yet again, crashing the Will Levis party and eliminating the Oilers’ impersonators from postseason contention. Silenced was former Texan DeAndre Hopkins, his fate sealed as a Houston also-ran as he suited up in those baby-blues and embarrassed himself with just two catches for 21 yards. Against surging superstar cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., Hopkins saw his game-changing plays erased in an instant, forcing the impersonators to turn to running back Derrick Henry - as they have so often in this rivalry.

Derrick Henry has been the inconvenient truth for the Houston Texans for years. In his previous four games against the Texans, Henry had gained a disgusting 807 yards on just 111 attempts, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt and 201.8 yards per game. Derrick Henry sheer presence on the field nearly guaranteed two division wins for Tennessee each year, as he practically owned the Texans since 2019.

This game? Derrick Henry had nine carries for just 16 yards, averaging 0.6 yards per attempt.

The Houston Texans have done it. They have conquered King Henry. Through a combination of great defensive coaching, crucial free agent signings, and admittedly Henry’s gradual decline, Houston slammed the door on this chapter of the Titans/Texans rivalry, with Denzel Perryman and recent waiver claim Derek Barnett becoming are beloved regicides.

So, instead of Henry being the running back of note this game, it was someone on the other sideline: Devin Singletary. This was the Devin Singletary game we’ve all been waiting for. 121 yards rushing, 49 yards receiving, and averaging 4.7 yards per carry, Devin Singletary ushered in another fantastic performance, breathing more life into a previously thought dead Texans ground game. Out of the litany of great free agent signings general manager Nick Caserio made during the offseason, this one ranks near the top.

And I still haven’t brought up quarterback Case Keenum. You could write a book about what Keenum has meant to the city of Houston, and on Sunday, he added another chapter.

A somewhat surprising decision given other backup Davis Mills’ recent experience, Keenum was announced to be the starter vs. the impersonators the day before the game. Having little starting experience since 2019, Keenum was in for an uphill battle coming into a must-win game for a Houston team trying to make the playoffs.

The added pressure was nothing to him. “I’m built for this,” Keenum said, and he was. Case Keenum went 23 of 36 for 229 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, becoming responsible for two of the three touchdowns scored by both teams the entire game. Largely ineffective for the first three drives, Keenum turned it around in the last drive of the first half thanks in large part to tight end Dalton Schultz. Schultz will go down in Texans history, not for his stat line of four catches for 58 yards, but for this improbably catch he made in the fourth quarter, keeping Houston’s season alive:

He saved the season with this catch. Houston needed a big play to keep the drive moving, and he made it. I still don’t know how he ended up with the ball, but he absolutely needs to get paid as soon as possible so we can get more of this next year.

Here’s where the Houston Texans are ranked entering Week 16 of the 2023 season:

NFL.COM

11. Houston Texans (8-6) (Last Week: 12)

After Sunday’s overtime win over the Titans, with Case Keenum stepping in for C.J. Stroud, all possibilities exist for the Texans: win the AFC South, make the playoffs as a wild-card team or miss the postseason tournament entirely. At this moment, they’re one spot out, ahead of Buffalo in the AFC wild-card picture but behind both the Colts and Jaguars in the AFC South race. “Gritty” might be one way to describe Sunday’s win; “fortunate” might be another. The Titans raced to a 13-0 lead, and Houston kept settling for field goals and enduring long offensive droughts. The absence of Stroud, Nico Collins and Tank Dell clearly hurt, but Devin Singletary had a huge outing, and Noah Brown and Dalton Schultz both made game-changing catches. The Texans’ defense also deserves major kudos for holding Tennessee to 204 total yards and three second-half points without Will Anderson Jr. and Blake Cashman playing. But the real test comes Sunday against Cleveland, with Stroud Watch kicking into high gear this week.

- Eric Edholm

ESPN:

12. Houston Texans (8-6)

Week 15 ranking: 11

We’re No. 1 ... in snaps from offensive rookies.

The Texans have won eight games, more than the past two seasons combined (seven). Their offense has played a significant factor in this turnaround; it’s 10th in total offense, averaging 353.7 yards per game. The most impressive part is the Texans have had the most snaps from rookies on the offensive side of the ball (614), led by quarterback C.J. Stroud, who at one point led the league in passing yards entering Week 14.

- DJ Bien-Aime

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:

15. Houston Texans (8–6) (Last Week 15)

Last week: win at Tennessee, 19–16

Next week: vs. Cleveland

To beat a Titans team that knocked off the Dolphins the week prior with Case Keenum at quarterback is no small feat, but it shows the strength in this Texans build. While some teams are scanning the Indian Premier League for elite bowlers capable of throwing touchdown passes, the Texans had Keenum as the second/third string quarterback, just hanging tight. They expected to be in big moments this year and weren’t just content with Davis Mills.

- Conor Orr

BLEACHER REPORT:

14. Houston Texans (8-6)

Last Week: 12

Week 15 Result: Won at Tennessee 19-16 (OT)

The Houston Texans headed to Nashville on Sunday with problems galore. Quarterback C.J. Stroud was out. So was wide receiver Nico Collins. And edge-rusher Will Anderson. Houston had dropped two of three and its postseason hopes were fading.

Luckily, Keenum was on the case. Veteran backup quarterback Case Keenum outplayed Tennessee’s Will Levis under center, and Ka’imi Fairbairn hit four field goals—including a 54-yarder in overtime.

The 35-year-old Keenum told reporters that this sort of fill-in duty was old hat for him.

“I’ve been in a lot of situations,” Keenum said. “I’ve been in a lot of systems, been in a lot of different games and God’s made me who I am for this, for moments like this. I’m just trying to make sure that I’m ready when my number’s called. Like I said before, you don’t have to get ready if you stay ready.”

Head coach DeMeco Ryans lauded his team for gutting out the win short-handed.

“Of course, we miss C.J., we miss Will, we miss Blake [Cashman],” Ryans said. “A lot of guys are out, and our guys didn’t blink. It didn’t matter. Whoever steps on that field, we expect our guys to give their best and that’s what our guys did today.”

Now the Texans will try to get as healthy as possible as quickly as possible—next week’s meeting with the Cleveland Browns carries enormous stakes for both teams.

- Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton, Brent Sobleski

Average Ranking: 13 (Last Week Average: 12.5)

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Wait…they went down? After that victory, against a division rival, with a backup quarterback? They went down???

I’ve been attempting to defend the power rankings pundits for most of this season - and they’ve treated the Texans well for the most part - but this crossing the line. I can understand being a little underwhelmed by that offensive output, but Case Keenum was the quarterback! Not only that, he was making his first start in two years! And, besides Robert Woods and Dalton Schultz, he was throwing to strictly backups!

Did they see how the defense played on Sunday? Did they not see Jonathan Greenard and Maliek Collins wreaking havoc behind the line of scrimmage? Did they not see Derek Stingley Jr. and Steven Nelson wipe away DeAndre Hopkins? Hell, even Khalil Davis made a few plays!

I don’t know, man. I can understand having the Texans hold their position after an ugly win like this, but dropping them would have been out of the question for me. Do they really deserve this ire without C.J. Stroud? Are the Texans really that bad without him? I don’t think so!

What do you think, though! Are you just as flabbergasted as I am about this drop, or did you see this coming from a mile away? Did this game give you more belief in the Texans, or less? For me, the answer is pretty simple, and it all has to do with this play: