Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman had a problem.
His team had lost two straight games coming into its Week 13 matchup against the Texans, and Houston’s defense had led the league in most meaningful stats in the second half of the season. In three of their last four games, the Texans had not allowed a touchdown, and last Sunday, they held the Saints to no touchdowns for the first time in the decade-long Sean Payton/Drew Brees era.
However, Roman knew he had two things on his side: a ton of weapons to deploy on the field and a creative running game that has been sparkling when it’s not plagued by inconsistency. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has been one of the NFL’s most prolific deep passers this season, but his deep balls have also been wild, which had left this offense without a consistent identity. On the other side of the ball, Buffalo’s defense came into this game with just 15 sacks, 1.5 fewer than J.J. Watt has on his own. With Houston winning four straight and climbing into the AFC playoff picture, this looked like it could have been a rout.
Instead, Roman put together several creative run packages that mitigated the potential risk of having Taylor use his arm 30 or 40 times against a Texans pass defense that has been quite stellar of late. The Bills ran 36 times for 187 yards and a touchdown in a 30–21 victory that brought them back to .500 on the season, and LeSean McCoy gained 112 of those yards on 21 carries, despite spending time going through the NFL’s much-maligned concussion policy.
What was not questionable was the effect of that rushing excellence—Houston still had more total plays and more time of possession, but the Bills had more effective drives. Buffalo amassed 21 first downs to Houston’s 15 and gained 6.7 yards per play to Houston’s 5.6.
“We really needed that one, playing against a team that was hot,” Rex Ryan said after the game. “So, big win for us, took almost everybody on the roster. ... I thought Greg Roman had a great plan and all the coaches had a great plan. And J.J. Watt, this just in, we put 20 guys on him and he still got there. So great player, we knew he was, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. I like the way we ran the football against a good football team and made some big plays against them. Tyrod [Taylor] throwing for three touchdowns and running for another was a good day in fantasy. All you fantasy owners are happy with that.”
When Taylor did throw the ball, he wasn’t always perfect, but he made it count. The former Ravens backup QB completed just 11 passes in 21 attempts, but did so for 211 yards and three touchdowns, including the 40-yard, game-clinching bomb to tight end Charles Clay with 1:53 left. Taylor also ran for 28 yards on seven carries in Roman’s run-game concepts.
Once again, Sammy Watkins was Taylor’s main target, finishing with three catches on four targets for 109 yards and a touchdown. Following last week’s six-catch, 158-yard and two touchdown performance in the Bills’ 30–22 loss to the Chiefs, Watkins is proving that he can be as much of a matchup nightmare as anyone in the league when he’s on.
The Texans are now also 6–6 after this game, and could still keep things close in the AFC South, but this loss marked a bit of an end to the team’s recent Cinderella story. Brian Hoyer threw three touchdown passes against a Buffalo defense that continues to be surprisingly porous, but one of those touchdowns was helped along by the fact that the officiating crew missed an obvious offensive pass interference call.
“We came into the game saying we couldn’t give up shots,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said after the game. “Our guys fought hard. They made some plays and they made more than we did. I thought one of the things were penalties. We have too many penalties. We had holding calls. We had three of the same calls on special teams. I thought penalties really hurt us in this game, but I think the guys fought hard. I’ve got a lot of pride in this football team. I think they’re fighting, but we’ve got to correct these mistakes if we have any chance. We still have a chance, so we’ve got to turn the page.”
In truth, the Texans looked as if their bubble had been popped, while Buffalo appeared to be what they’ve always been through the 2015 season—capable of beating anyone with a consistent performance.
In a league with seemingly more mediocre teams than ever, that may be more than enough.