They had lost three in a row, and were on the verge of seeing their season fall apart. Their best effort over the past month was probably a loss to the Raiders.
But with their hopes of winning the division circling the drain, the Texans came up with a clutch, timely performance that changed the entire outlook of the season, beating Indianapolis 22-17. It might have been their best effort of the season, and it could not have come at a better time.
A loss would have all but killed their playoff hopes. And rest assured, some of the old problems showed up on Sunday. Their quarterback continued to play below average football. They far too often settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. They had some costly penalties at inopportune times.
And yet when they needed it most, their defense came up with clutch play after clutch play — often making up for their own self-inflicted mistakes — and the Texans playoff hopes are very much alive and well.
The Texans are now 7-6, still tied atop the division with Tennessee, which had a big win over Denver on Sunday. The Colts are now a game back, but have lost both contests to the Texans, who are most importantly 4-0 in division. They swept the Colts for the first time in franchise history.
The defense had some miscues, but they came up with big plays when it mattered. Quentin Demps had an early pick that turned into three points. Andre Hal also had a pick on a huge play when Jadeveon Clowney forced a bad pass. And Clowney came up with a huge strip sack with the Colts in the red zone, also leading to three points.
The biggest play was a monster stop on fourth and one with just over a minute left, forcing Andrew Luck into an errant pass.
The defense harassed Luck all game. He was only sacked once, but the constant pressure led to the two picks and fumble. He completed 24 of 45 for 276 yards.
Brock Osweiler was shaky again, but was not asked to do much. He completed 14 of 24 for 147 yards and an interception.
But if the Texans were going to win, it was going to be because they kept the ball on the ground, played hard defense, and hoped to come up with turnovers. Check, check, check.
They ran the ball 41 times for 185 yards. Lamar Miller went for 107. As a team they averaged 4.5 yards per carry. They kept Luck off the field, winning the time of possession 36:05 to 23:55, even though they were outgained 348-316.
It was the only formula that was going to get the Texans a win. And it worked.
Now, the stakes go up. Tennessee is playing very good football, and the Texans can’t afford to slip up in games against Jacksonville and Cincinnati. But after a stretch that almost doomed their season, the Texans came up with their biggest win of the year.
And it came at the perfect time.