While the Saints' victory may have initially decided Houston's fate, the Texans went on to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 30-6, which would have punched their ticket regardless of any other result.
Although the Texans missed the playoffs after going 9-7 during Bill O'Brien's first year as head coach, Houston was able to take advantage of an injury-ravaged division and rebound over the season's final 10 weeks following a nightmarish start.
After opening the season 1-4 with losses to the Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts, the Texans proceeded to win five of their next six games. That fruitful run included wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.
And while Houston sputtered with back-to-back losses against the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots in Weeks 13 and 14, respectively, consecutive wins over the Colts and Tennessee Titans the following two weeks put the Texans back in the driver's seat for good.
Perhaps more miraculous than Houston's late-season rebound was the fashion in which the team did it. In dire straits, the Texans turned to T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden down the stretch in crucial spots before Brian Hoyer returned for the team's Week 17 showdown against the Jaguars.
"They've done an unbelievable job," Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley said, according to the Associated Press' Kristie Rieken. "Boy, you don't hear that very often, number of quarterbacks they've gone to. I think what I've come to appreciate with what they've done is they're really taking the skill set of each quarterback and best utilizing it."
The Texans offense was also without Arian Foster after the star running back tore his Achilles against the Miami Dolphins in Week 7. Fortunately for Houston, stud wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins stepped up and offered the Texans' rotating cast of signal-callers a steady presence on the outside, while the defense consistently set the tone.
Entering their season finale, the Texans ranked 11th in opponents' points and third in opponents' yards, per Pro-Football-Reference.com, with the secondary stepping up in recent weeks.
"In addition to improved communication between defenders, I see evidence of growing trust within the unit," NFL.com's Bucky Brooks wrote of Houston's defensive backs. "Defenders are not only playing with proper leverage in each coverage, but it appears that each defensive back knows exactly where he fits in the scheme; the Texans are disciplined enough to execute their responsibilities in critical moments."
The Texans won the AFC's weakest division, so it won't be a surprise to see them considered underdogs despite hosting a home playoff game. However, O'Brien's squad can't be discounted just because its offense has left plenty to be desired.
J.J. Watt makes Houston's defense one of the league's most formidable, and low-scoring affairs could facilitate some surprising results as the Texans seek to nab the third postseason victory in franchise history.
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