The National Football League has a long regular season of sixteen games, spanning almost four full calendar months. A lot of teams go through certain phases over the duration of a season, as if the season is one elegant novel composed of eventful, but unique chapters. The roller coaster that has been the 2018 Houston Texans’ season is exactly how Mark Twain would have scripted it if he were still alive and assigned to tell the story of a football team.
The plot is simple. The overly flawed protagonist falls into a hole, becomes resilient, rides a wave of success and luck before the magic slowly dies out as the goal lies within reach. The road to the NFL Playoffs for these Houston Texans fits that bill like Cinderella and her glass slipper.
Looking like he might be just a flash-in-the-pan early in the season, unable to recapture his rookie year magic, September had Deshaun Watson looking like what he was—a young player still recovering from a torn ACL. Watson’s play was sloppy. His legs were not quite working yet. Everything on a football team begins with the quarterback, the most important position in all of sports, and Watson didn’t look like the guy who set the league on fire in 2017. An opening day loss in New England, followed by two more losses to the Tennessee Titans and the New York Giants, put the Texans at 0-3, leaving them with a 2.8 percent chance of securing postseason berth. Only five of the 153 teams that started the season 0-3 since 1980 have reached the playoffs.
The Texans proceeded to rally for a nine-game winning streak to reach the top of the AFC South division, squarely in contention for a first-round bye. The tables turned as Deshaun Watson began looking like the rookie dynamo he was last year and Houston’s defense saw improvement, most notably against the rush. The Texans finished third in the league in rushing yards allowed per game at 82.7, just behind the Bears and Saints. They allowed 3.4 yards per attempt, which ranks them first in the league in that statistical category.
Of course, some fortunate late-game miscues by opponents assisted the Texans on some of their nine consecutive wins. Most folks outside of Houston disregarded this team as a true contender due to their excessive lack of style points in their wins. Good thing the NFL is not college football.
The finish of the regular season was far from smooth. After losing at home to the Colts via a dominant performance from Andrew Luck, the Texans had their hands full with the New York Jets, squeaking by on a late touchdown. Houston followed that up with a last-second field goal loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia and a ho-hum win at home against the Jaguars, leaving some down on these Texans as the NFL Playoffs loom and Indianapolis Colts loom.
In retrospect, 2018 has been a tale of three seasons. They just all happened to occur in the same four month period of 2018. The first season was full of dysfunction came early. Houston fans quickly put their hopes in the Astros repeating their World Series run of 2017 as the Texans appeared headed for a top ten pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The second season, known as “The Magic Carpet Ride,” gave the Texans a historic winning streak that lasted two and a half months, propelling them from the graveyard to a potential first-round bye. The third season began once the winning streak ended, and it was time to see how this group would respond in the thick of a playoff race.
There is a fourth season that begins this Saturday against the Colts. The postseason.
While national attention will be directed towards the Chiefs and Patriots as it pertains to the AFC, the Texans will look to continue their under-the-radar journey and win a home playoff game for just the fourth time in franchise history. As good the novel has been so far, it would only be fitting if it were concluded in nail-biting fashion. That has been the name of the game for these Texans. No win is overly impressive. No loss is overly deflating. Everything seems to come down to a few plays, no matter how well or poor they perform.
The Texans can look like the more talented and superior team yet still escape on a missed last-second field goal. Or they can look overmatched for sixty minutes and potentially come within an offsides penalty of having a chance to tie a game. Whichever result comes to pass on Saturday will only further write the novel that details how the season has gone for the Texans:
The Little Engine That Couldn’t, But Then Sorta Could: The Story of the 2018 Houston Texans