Coming into this game, many pegged Houston as the underdog. While Houston was hosting their 7th home playoff game in team history, the Cleveland Browns, coming off an 11-6 season, the resurgent Joe Flacco, a powerful defense, and the memory of slaughtering the Texans back on Christmas Eve 36-22, figured that they would have a great shot at winning and advancing, perhaps setting up a Flacco vs. Ravens rematch.
If that was the accepted script, someone forgot to tell the Houston Texans to follow it. The first quarter started out with both teams forced to punt. However, on Houston’s second possession, the Texans took advantage of great field position to get the ball inside the Cleveland 5-yard line. However, questionable play-calling and an incomplete passed forced Houston to settle for a short Ka’imi Fairbairn FG to go up 3-0. Cleveland immediately responded with a long drive highlighted by some massive Flacco passes to the Cleveland TEs taking advantages of holes in the Houston secondary. A 1-yard Kareem Hunt rushing TD put Cleveland up 7-3, and the race was on.
The teams traded touchdowns (A 15 yard C.J. Stroud to Nico Collins TD pass to go up 10-7, A Flacco to Hunt 15 yard TD pass to go up 14-10, a Stroud to Brevin Jordan 76-yard TD catch and run to go up 17-14). However, as the second quarter evolved, the Texans defense finally locked down the Cleveland attack. A Stroud to Dalton Schultz TD pass made it 24-14 going into the half.
With the 3rd quarter, Houston was forced to punt after getting a first down and Cleveland started to methodically move the ball down the field. Houston has been known for some 3rd quarter swoons and it wasn’t hard to imagine that Cleveland would cut the 10 point lead to 7 or 3. Then came the moment when the game turned.
On a 1st and 10 at the Houston 34, Flacco dropped back to pass, but under pressure by Derek Barnett (who had a sack earlier), Flacco threw an errant pass that Steven Nelson scooped up to return 82 yards for the pick-six and a 31-14 Houston lead. Cleveland would get the ball right back, and the defense was right back on the field. They forced Cleveland into a 4th and 2 in which Cleveland elected to go for it. Flacco telegraphed his pass that Christian Harris saw, getting the pick and returning it for 36 yards for another defensive score. The next drive saw Cleveland avoid the turnover, but a 4th down sack by Christian Harris at the 50 ended the Cleveland drive and effectively the competitive portion of the game. The quarter ended with Cleveland dominating yardage and time of possession, but losing in the turnover battle 2-0 and the deficit swelling from 10 to 24.
When Devin Singletary took the ball 19 yards for the TD, the game was effectively over at 45-14. For a team that has played so many dramatic games, where it came down to the final seconds, this was quite the pleasant change. Houston was able to pull Stroud and several starters out of the game as this matchup degenerated into a garbage time affair. Stroud had a 16-21 for 274 yards, 3 TD and no turnover day. Singletary went for 66 yards on 13 carries and a TD. Collins had six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Linebacker Christian Harris had eight tackles, one sack, two TFLs, a pass defended and the pick six.
Houston will now sit back and await their next opponent. Depending on the results in Kansas City and Buffalo, there is an outside chance that Houston could host a game next week. However, the percentages say Houston will be on the road. Still, after today’s performance, no team should want to see Houston.
What do y’all, the Texans interwebs fanbase , think of this devastating blasting of the Browns? Let your celebratory reactions be heard below.