By Brien O’Donal
Week 14 against the 2 win San Francisco 49ers is the game the Houston Texans needed right now. They are struggling to win with an offense that turns the ball over too much and at the wrong time. The 49ers are a team that doesn’t force a lot of turnovers; something the Texans need to limit if they want to win and get at least one more before the end of the season. But just because a team doesn’t force a lot of turnovers doesn’t mean that’s the only way the Texans can lose this game. They were facing Jimmy Garoppolo in just his second game as the starter for San Francisco and he led them to a victory in his first game last week.
Just because Jimmy G has hype and the Texans have been struggling didn’t mean this game would somehow be exciting. The first half was anything but. The Texans defense, especially Jadeveon Clowney, were wrecking shop early against the 49ers. They forced a 3 and out to start the game and the pressure forced Garoppolo to threw an interception to Kareem Jackson on the next drive. Despite that effort, the Texans were only able to get a 55-yard field goal from Ka’imi Fairbairn to lead 3-0, a good start.
Most of the first half was punts, but the 49ers were slowly finding rhythm and with 6:36 left before the break they tied the game at 3 points. They forced another punt from the Texans and then took the lead after 6 plays in which the Texans defense couldn’t contain fullback Kyle Juszczyk who caught 2 passes for 60 yards on the drive. The last play was a 2-yard touchdown run by Carlos Hyde and a 10-3 lead for the 49ers.
But a change at quarterback for the Texans caused by an injury to Tom Savage brought a different feel to the Offense. With just over 2 minutes left before halftime T.J. Yates stepped in and led the Texans on a 9-play 75-yard drive that ended in a 7 yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins, his 10th of the season tying him for the league lead. But it wasn’t a tie score because Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point and the 49ers still led 10-9. The Texans defense didn’t hold with under a minute to play and the 49ers kicked another field goal and a 13-9 halftime lead.
T.J. Yates wasn’t done showing off. The Texans had the ball to start the second half and it took only 6 plays to move down the field for his second touchdown pass of the day to Hopkins and a 16-13 lead. Hopkins at this point was already at 10 catches for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns, once again showing why his new contract was a good move by the Texans front office.
San Francisco wasn’t done. They went down the field for another field goal and a tie game at 16 points. On their next drive the Texans were forced to punt. San Francisco took over and got a big 61 yard pass to Garrett Celek, then took the 23-16 lead when Garoppolo threw a touchdown to Celek. They had now scored points on 5 consecutive drives.
The game wasn’t over as Texans defense stepped up and; after a 2nd down sack by Brain Cushing, forced a 3rd and long. A deep pass by Garoppolo was nearly intercepted and the Texans took over on their own 40 yard because of a short punt by Brad Pinion. They got nothing going after some over thrown balls and gave the ball right back in a close game. But a huge sack by LaTroy Lewis on 3rd down gave the ball back to the Texans after just 6 plays. The only downside to that drive was that the 49ers took almost 5 minutes off the clock, leaving the Texans with only 6:31 left in the game.
In an uncharacteristic move, DeAndre Hopkins had the ball popped out of his hands and the 49ers recovered at the Houston 32 yard line. They now had good field position with a 7-point lead in the 4th quarter. They would get another field goal from Robbie Gould- his fourth of the day- and take a 10-point lead with just under 4 minutes left in the game.
The Texans got the ball back with almost 4 minutes left but could not finish it off with a touchdown. The were in range for Fairbairn but he missed from 52 yards and the score stayed 26-16 49ers. San Francisco was able to run the clock out and walk away with the 26-16 victory.
This was a really tough loss for the Texans. The defense–especially Clowney–played really well. When Yates took over for Savage and led two scoring drives there was a feeling of hope. But it was all for naught as the Texans fell once again to a team that played just slightly better than them.
They are now 4-9 on the season with at least 2 more tough games in front of them. Maybe T.J. Yates performance today will be enough to show why he should be the starter, but I doubt it. Savage will likely be there next week when the Texans face the Jaguars on the road. Anything they do from this point on will be for pride. That’s just not enough in the NFL and fans will just have to hope that every injury returns next year and they have a shot at winning the big one.