This week had the makings of a disaster for the AFC South. Two road games in difficult to win places looked a tall order. The Denver Broncos are always good t home and the Dallas Cowboys were unbeaten at home this season. However, the division came away 2-0 with both of the active teams giving themselves a shot going forward. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts will be disappointed to have not seen at least one team slip up and they now need to be virtually perfect the rest of the season if they are going to have any shot at the division or even the playoffs.
Let’s now take a look at the two games and the key takeaways from each.
Houston Texans 19 @ Denver Broncos 17
This was a really scrappy game that the Texans were extremely lucky to get out of with a win. The Denver Broncos made a number of mistakes but their were three headliners. First Devontae Booker’s fumble which presented a short field and led to the Texans second touchdown and a 13-3 lead. The Texans missed the extra point but still they were gifted six points.
Next was the extremely bad game management at the end of the half by Vance Joseph. With 18 second remaining on the clock the Broncos attempted a 62-yard field goal. Even in Denver with the thinner air that is a really tough field goal that you only kick when desperate. Down 13-10 at the end of the first half is not a moment of desperation, it is a stupid decision. McManus missed the kick and the Texans got the ball on the Broncos 48 yard line. Three plays and 22 yards later the Texans hit their own 46-yard field goal. A gift of three more points.
The final mistake ultimately cost the Broncos the game despite everything. With 50 seconds and a timeout remaining Case Keenum completed an 18 yard pass down to the Houston 37. They Broncos then took their second timeout. Keenum then completed a five yard pass. The Broncos then did not rush up to the line and spike the ball on second down with a timeout remaining. They instead took their time and ran Phillip Lindsey into the middle for a one yard loss before calling their final timeout with three second remaining. McManus was left with a tough 51-yard field goal to win the game, which he missed to send the Texans home victorious. Another three points gifted.
Essentially the Texans were gifted nine of their 19 points and the Broncos left three points on the table with bad clock management to end the game. That is a swing of 12 points that would have seen the Broncos win handily had they of played the game smarter. Playing in Denver is tough, even the Chiefs and Rams found that, so the Texans will just be thrilled to escape with a win. As expected the defense did great, they got a crucial turn over and limited Denver to just 17 points.
The offense was extremely disappointing however. Deshaun Watson managed just 213 passing yards with 17 completions on 24 attempts but managed to throw two touchdowns. He was sacked four times but against that defense that is not too bad, especially given they were the only four times he was hit. The run game also struggled with 98 yards on 33 attempts. The only reason the numbers are that good is because Watson managed 38 yards on six rushes. It was a bad day to be a Texans running back.
On the positive side, Demaryius Thomas pulled in his three targets for 61 yards and should see more plays once he has a better grip of the playbook. The Texans also picked up a crucial win to move to 6-3. They are now three wins ahead of the Colts and Jaguars and two ahead of the Titans with one of their slip up games in the books. They will enter the bye next week with the chance to bring Thomas further into this offense and come out ready for the stretch. This win makes them firm favorites to win the AFC South. They have the Broncos and Vance Joseph to thank for that.
Tennessee Titans 28 @ Dallas Cowboys 14
This was a very sloppy game of football mixed in with some good plays. The Titans were lucky to not be out of the game early after Marcus Mariota fumbled twice. The Titans then had another potential fumble called off as an incompletion, it was a messy start. They were let off the hook by the Cowboys offense with an end zone interception by Kevin Byard was and a missed field goal by Brett Maher. To complete the sloppiness the Titans issued a field goal when up seven in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys offense looked completely unstoppable on their first drive. Dark Prescott seemed to be completing passes at will and Ezekiel Elliott was ripping off decent runs. However, the Titans offense stiffened and held them in check. Mariota only managed 243 passing yards and Elliott averaged just 3.6 yards per rush. The reason for that was the Titans defensive line stepping up as they sacked Mariota five times and forced an interception.
The real positive was the Titans offense. After a slow start Mariota had two touchdowns and 240 yard score passing. Corey Davis saw 10 targets, catching six for 56 yards and it is good to see him get involved. Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry and Mariota combined for 121 rushing yards on 35 carries. Not amazing but it was good to just see them have an offense of sorts.
This was very a nearly different story for the Titans. They could easily have been down 17-0 early had the Cowboys capitalised on their mistakes. Instead they were up all square at 14-14 come half time. In the second half their defense completely shut down the Cowboys offense. However, the most promising thing was the offense. They made a concerted effort to get the ball to Davis and despite some drops and miscues in general it worked well, In addition, even when the run game stuttered they stuck with it and it did its job. Nothing was spectacular but it functioned and that is more than we have seen at times.
They will need to beat the Houston Texans in both of their matchups and avoid silly losses but they are still in the division race. In addition, they now only sit half a game out of the second wildcard spot wit a game to make up on the Miami Dolphins, who do hold a head-to-head win against. The playoffs are still very much in touch but they need to keep improving as they have the last couple of games.
Image credit: Tennessee Titans