HOUSTON -- NFL scouts staring through binoculars in the press box at NRG Stadium on Sunday caught an eyeful of what opponents could expect come postseason
Utilizing an array of designed runs, Watson outrushed the Jacksonville Jaguars(48 yards to 16) in the first half of what turned into a 20-3 victory that clinched the AFC South for the Houston Texans. The No. 3-seeded Texans will play the winner of the Titans-Colts at 4:35 p.m. ET Saturday.
“I’m going to be careful about how I answer that,” said Texans coach Bill O’Brien when asked about what prompted Houston to call so many designed rushes for Watson. “So I’m not gonna answer that question. It’s a great question, but you’ll have to figure that out on your own. I just don’t want to get into the schematics of all the things we did today.”
Along the way, Watson became the first quarterback to throw for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns and rush for 500 yards and five touchdowns in a single season in NFL history.
“Of course, I want to throw it,” said Watson, who completed 25 of 35 for 234 yards and was sacked six times. “But at the end of the day, if the ball is in my hands, I feel like I’m a playmaker. Every time I have the ball in my hands, which is every play, I feel I’m the best player on the team. That’s just my mentality. I’m not saying that in a cocky way, but everybody should have that mentality when they step on that field. As we play, I just kind of make the best decision and try to move the chains.”
Houston’s offense scorched the Jaguars early with designed runs for the multifaceted Watson. Watson ran for 66 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. The quarterback ran the ball (five attempts) almost as much as he passed it (eight attempts) in the opening quarter. Watson’s 5-yard run with 14:56 left in the second quarter put the Texans ahead 10-3 after the extra-point kick.
The play also marked Watson’s fifth designed rush of the contest, which ranked as his most in a game in his career. By the 10:30 mark of the fourth quarter, Watson had run on designed rushes 8 times for 57 yards.
That registers as the most designed rushes for a Texans quarterback in a game in the last 10 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“The way Deshaun plays the game, it makes everybody in that locker room want to take their games up,” said receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who finished with 12 catches for 147 yards and tied Andre Johnson’s single-season franchise record set in 2008 for receptions in a season (115). “The guy takes a lot of hits, but he’s still going out and staying in the pocket. Me seeing that, it makes me want to go out and make a play for him.”
While it would seem short-sighted to put your quarterback in harm’s way with the playoffs on the horizon, for the Texans, the tactic worked. Houston averaged 7.4 yards per rush when using the zone read in the first half, as Watson racked up 48 yards and a touchdown on seven attempts, while the Jacksonville trio of Carlos Hyde, Dave Williams and Blake Bortles combined for 16 yards on 10 carries.
“It’s very important [to establish the running game], especially now that we are about to start the playoffs,” Miller said. “Just being a more balanced offense, keeping the defense on their toes will always be good. Whoever we play next week, we just have to find a way to keep the chains moving, and find a way to put points on the scoreboard.”
Houston’s leading rusher, Miller made his return against the Jaguars after missing last week’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles due to a sprained ankle. Miller’s 7-yard touchdown with 3:01 left in the first half gave Houston a 17-3 lead after the PAT kick.
Watson would finish with a game-high 66 yards rushing.
“It’s good to be able to run and have a balanced offense,” Watson said. “They’ve got to be worried about both things. They can’t just focus on the run game or the passing game, and have us locked down that way. So when you have balance, good things are going to happen on offense. You never know with the game plan. It depends how the game's flowing. I try to do what's best for the team, try to get the win, and try to have success on offense.”
Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham set up the Watson TD by recovering DeDe Westbrook’s fumble at the end of a 36-yard punt with 1:33 left in the opening quarter that put Houston on its own 49. The Texans needed just four plays to cap the 51-yard drive, despite nearly doubling Jacksonville’s time of possession in the first quarter (9:42 to 5:18).
Jacksonville didn’t earn a first down until the 9:53 mark of the second quarter, and Westbrook’s muffed punt gave the Jaguars the designation of being the only team in the NFL to commit a turnover in every game this season, becoming the first team to do so since the 2015 Tennessee Titans.
Houston limited the Jaguars to 119 total yards.
“We have loftier goals,” Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said. “Especially after starting 0-3 everybody writes you off. Guys in the locker room believed. We have a lot of resiliency, a lot of perseverance, a lot of talent, guys that play for each other, love playing the game, love playing for each other. Today is a big day. But like I said, we have loftier goals.”