Texans stumble in AFC South race, suffer post-Patriots letdown

HOUSTON -- All week, Houston Texans coaches and players insisted that there would be no letdown after beating the New England Patriots.

"That's not the type of guys we have in that locker room," quarterback Deshaun Watson said Wednesday. "Then the leadership we have, we're not going to allow it."

About that.

On Sunday afternoon, the Texans were dominated by the Denver Broncos, 38-24; Denver was 4-8 coming into the game.

Although Houston scored 24 points, all three touchdowns came after the Texans were down 38-3 in a game that never felt close.

By losing to the Broncos, the Texans not only didn't do themselves any favors in the divisional race but also all but eliminated any chance of their first first-round bye in franchise history. The Texans play the Titans twice in their final three games to decide the winner of the AFC South.

QB breakdown: This wasn’t the Watson who played one of the best games of his career against the Patriots. On Sunday, Watson completed 28 of 50 passes for 292 yards and a touchdown. He also threw two interceptions, including one in the fourth quarter that was tipped three times before it was intercepted by former Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson. Watson also scored two rushing touchdowns; his seven rushing touchdowns this season is a career high. Watson was without speedy Will Fuller, who was inactive after he was limited in practice all week with a hamstring injury.

Troubling trend: Entering the game, Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil had committed nine false start penalties, which led the NFL. Against the Broncos on Sunday, Tunsil had three more false starts, including one on third down on the Denver 36 that stalled Houston’s first drive.

Pivotal play: In a game in which the Broncos scored 38 points, one touchdown might not have made a huge difference, but a miscue by the Texans put them down two scores early in the game. On first-and-10 on the Broncos’ 37-yard line, Watson completed a 9-yard pass to wide receiver Keke Coutee. Coutee was hit by Broncos linebacker Alexander Johnson, who knocked the ball out. Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu scooped up the ball but was held by the ankle by Texans tight end Jordan Akins. Attaochu handed the ball to Jackson, who ran 70 yards for a touchdown in his return to NRG Stadium.

Eye-popping stat: With 9 minutes and 15 seconds left in the third quarter, the Texans trailed by 35 points, which was tied for their largest home deficit in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. The Texans' largest home loss was a 38-3 loss to the Bengals in 2002, their first season in the NFL.