EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Houston Texans won't gain any style points for their 29-22 win against the New York Jets on Saturday at MetLife Stadium, but at 10-4, they are a step further in their quest for both an AFC South title and a first-round bye in the AFC.
After a strong first half in which he completed 9 of 14 passes for 145 yards -- including a 45-yard touchdown strike to DeAndre Hopkins -- Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson sputtered for much of the second half. With consistent pressure from the Jets' defensive line, Watson had a hard time maneuvering the pocket and avoiding the relentless rush. Watson was sacked six times -- the fourth time this season he has been sacked at least five times, tying Dallas' Dak Prescott for the league high.
Watson, who called 24-21 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 14 "a good learning lesson," came up clutch against the Jets to help Houston regain control late in the fourth quarter, after the Texans had relinquished a 16-3 lead. Trailing 22-19 late, the second-year signal-caller engineered an efficient seven-play, 75-yard drive that lasted just 2:45 and resulted in a sensational sideline touchdown grab by Hopkins.
"You have an opportunity on a big stage to lead your team to victory, I don't know, I guess it's kind of my DNA," Watson said.
Added head coach Bill O'Brien: "Thank god he's our quarterback. He wants the ball in those situations. That's always been the case with him from the time he was probably 12 years old."
In fact, Watson's only consistent success came when targeting Hopkins, who finished with 170 yards on 10 catches (11 targets), including the two scores. Well on his way to a third All-Pro selection, Hopkins also notched his 500th reception in his 93rd game, making him just the 10th player since the 1970 merger to reach the 500 mark that quickly.
"We've been in those situations before, so we know how to handle it," Hopkins said. "I wouldn't want any other quarterback in this entire universe."
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, there were 0.52 yards of separation on Hopkins' go-ahead TD catch. That's the second-lowest amount of separation Watson has ever had on a TD pass, and it was Hopkins' third tight-window TD of the season, which ties him with several other players for most in the NFL this season.
"I knew I just had to get position on him, not let him get close to the ball," Hopkins said. "It was a jump ball and I was able to get it."
Hopkins, who hobbled off the field after his winning touchdown grab, said he felt "great" after the game.
With starting running back Lamar Miller unable to go after a first quarter ankle injury (he briefly returned in the second quarter), the Texans failed to register the type of run-pass balance they like. They finished with just 47 rushing yards on 17 carries, and 24 of those yards came on designed run by Watson.
Miller's replacement Alfred Blue was held to 6 yards on nine carries by an aggressive Jets front. After the game, O'Brien sounded optimistic about the prognosis for his starting running back's injured ankle.
"I think he'll be alright. I don't think it's major," O'Brien said.
Despite beating the Jets, Houston once again struggled on third down (1-of-9). It was a point of emphasis after going just 5-for-15 in converting third downs in the loss to the Colts.
Watson & Co., however, can worry about that problem over the next two weeks against lesser opponents. Winners of 10 of their past 11 contest, the Texans close out the regular season at the Philadelphia Eagles and home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who enter their games on Sunday a combined 10-16 this season.
On Sunday, the Texans can clinch the AFC South if the Colts (7-6) lose to Dallas and Tennessee (7-6) loses to the Giants (5-8). To clinch a playoff berth, the Texans need losses by the Dolphins (7-6) and Ravens (7-6), or losses by the Dolphins and Steelers (7-5-1).