The Houston Texans are AFC South champions for the second consecutive year thanks to their 23-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday.
Even with some bumps along the way, this season has been a rousing success for the Texans so far. They already own victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots, two teams they could see again in the postseason.
Houston's win also keeps its slim hopes alive for a first-round bye in the AFC. That scenario will require a win next week, combined with at least one loss by the Chiefs and two straight losses by the Patriots. For now, though, head coach Bill O'Brien and his squad can celebrate knowing they are going to have a chance at winning the Super Bowl starting in January.
Saturday's win wasn't the prettiest performance by the Texans. The offense had two bad turnovers and often struggled to move the ball. Houston finished with only 229 total yards against a Tampa Bay defense that entered Week 16 allowing 350.1 yards per game.
The Buccaneers hurt themselves with five turnovers, including Jameis Winston's pick-six on his first pass of the game. They were able to move the ball with 435 yards of offense, but it wasn't enough to prevent their four-game winning streak from coming to an end.
Notable Fantasy Stats
- Deshaun Watson (HOU): 19-of-32, 184 yards, 1 INT; 7 carries, 37 yards
- Carlos Hyde (HOU): 17 carries, 27 yards, 1 TD; 1 reception, 10 yards
- Kenny Stills (HOU): 5 receptions, 57 yards
- DeAndre Hopkins (HOU): 5 receptions, 23 yards
- Jameis Winston (TB): 25-of-48, 335 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT
- Ronald Jones II (TB): 14 carries, 77 yards, 1 TD; 3 receptions, 32 yards
- Breshad Perriman (TB): 7 receptions, 102 yards
Texans Clinch AFC South in Ugly Fashion
Since their 28-22 win over the Patriots in Week 13, the Texans have looked out of sorts on both sides of the ball. They got blown out by the Denver Broncos in Week 14 and survived turnovers and a blown 14-point lead against the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday.
Houston looked like it was getting back on track right away Saturday, thanks to some help from Winston:
The defense and special teams showed up early for the Texans. They picked off Winston on Tampa Bay's ensuing drive and blocked a field-goal attempt on the third drive.
Houston jumped out to a 17-3 lead with 9:22 remaining in the second quarter and looked to be on cruise control. However, the game took a turn late in the first half when Watson was trying to make a big play down the field.
The Buccaneers were able to capitalize on that when Winston found Justin Watson for an eight-yard score. They were able to go into the half with a 17-17 tie despite four turnovers, including three interceptions by Winston and two other passes that could have easily been picked off.
After halftime, the Texans put together a 14-play drive that gave their defense a rest. But they had to settle for a field goal when the offense stalled after getting a first down at Tampa's 10-yard line.
Despite grabbing a 20-17 lead, Houston's defense was once again exposed on third down when the Buccaneers responded with their own 16-play drive to tie the game on Matt Gay's 41-yard field goal.
Houston was able to take the lead for good midway through the fourth quarter on Ka'imi Fairbairn's 37-yard field goal.
The Texans defense came through in the closing minutes to secure a win and an AFC South title. Jahleel Addae sealed the victory by intercepting Winston's 3rd-and-1 pass from the Bucs' 38-yard line with 1:31 left to play.
It wasn't pretty for Houston, but teams don't need style points to make the playoffs in the NFL. The Texans will take the victory and can prepare for the postseason without having to worry about anything that happens in Week 17.
Bucs Can't Overcome Winston's Struggles
Prior to Saturday's game, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the Buccaneers plan to bring Winston back in 2020.
He will return "in part because of the improvement Winston has shown under coach Bruce Arians and in part because of what the team hopes the future brings," Rapoport wrote.
Winston has performed better in recent weeks, throwing four touchdowns in each of the past two games against the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions. However, the mistakes never went away, as he had three picks in the Colts game.
Saturday's game looked like it was on the verge of becoming a fiasco for Winston. He had three interceptions in the first 16 minutes of game time.
Turnovers have been a problem for Winston throughout his career, but the 25-year-old has taken that to new levels in 2019.
One big difference for Winston in 2019 compared to past seasons—particularly the last two years, when the Bucs won a combined 10 games—is that he's been able to overcome those mistakes to at least give his team a chance to win.
When the Texans went ahead 23-20 with 7:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, Winston put together a strong drive by going 4-of-6 for 42 yards. He made the right read on a 4th-and-3 from Houston's 40 that tight end Cameron Brate dropped.
This is the first season Winston has played under Bruce Arians. Tampa Bay's head coach has a strong track record of rebuilding turnover-prone quarterbacks. Carson Palmer finished third in 2015 NFL MVP voting with Arians coaching the Arizona Cardinals two seasons after he threw 22 interceptions to 24 touchdowns.
Even though Winston continues to have moments when he looks lost, there have been enough positive signs late in the season to warrant Tampa Bay giving him one more chance to see what he can do with Arians.
The Texans will wrap up the regular season on Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET when they host the Tennessee Titans. The Buccaneers host the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET in the final game of this season for both teams.