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Deshaun Watson Owned the Day as the Texans Outlasted the Bills for a Wild-Card Win

Houston found itself in a familiar place, playing in the Saturday afternoon slot of the wild-card round. But Watson and the Texans, held scoreless by the Bills until late in the third quarter, made sure it was a game to remember.

HOUSTON — Saturday afternoon again. Shut out at the half again. Nearly a month before Groundhog Day, the Texans appeared to be stuck reliving a playoff nightmare—but Deshaun Watson and his teammates never wavered.

The AFC South champs trailed 16-0 more than halfway through the third quarter, but stormed back with 19 straight points and survived overtime to beat the Bills 22-19. They’ll travel to Kansas City to face Patrick Mahomes and the No. 2-seeded Chiefs in the divisional round.

Deshaun Watson

Watson did a little of everything during the second-half comeback. He threw some darts. He plowed through multiple defenders to cap off a 20-yard touchdown run, then ran in the two-point conversion himself for good measure. He improvised and converted third downs. He dialed up targets for his All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and sent the decisive pass to Taiwan Jones, a player who had just one catch the whole regular season.

On second-and-six, just on the outskirts of field-goal range, Watson engineered arguably the play of the game, in which he spun away from two defenders and a guaranteed sack, somehow staying on his feet and escaping to his right. Jones caught his pass at the right sideline, two yards shy of the line of scrimmage, cut in and took off. Thirty-four yards later, Ka’imi Fairbairn ran on to send everyone home with a chip-shot field goal.

“When you’ve got a quarterback like 4 [Watson],” Jones said, “and a team like this—no matter what’s going on on the field, we always feel like we can come back. No matter how much we’re down, or what’s gone on previously. Every time we step on the field, we feel like we can make plays or make a comeback, or do whatever we need to do to win the game.

Hopkins said similar. He was held without a catch in the first half and then stripped for a costly fumble after he finally got on the board in the third quarter. But he finished with six catches for 90 yards, including a 41-yarder on which he blew by All-Pro Bills corner Tre'Davious White.

“I’m not [surprised] at all,” Hopkins said of his quarterback. “Honestly, I’ve seen him do it over and over, so no I’m not surprised.”

The wide receiver said the message at halftime was nothing special: Don’t panic, take it play-by-play. The team didn’t even discuss getting Hopkins more involved, either. They just wanted to stay the course and stick with the offense that led them to 10 wins and a home playoff game. Watson finished an efficient 20-for-25 for 278 yards and one touchdown through the air against one of the league’s best defenses. The final numbers belie the difficulty he had through nearly 40 minutes.

Early in the game, it looked like a Buffalo blowout was coming, as second-year quarterback, Josh Allen’s two best plays came right out of the gate on the first drive. First, he scampered to the right on a designed run, followed three blockers and took it 42 yards. Then the Bills reached into their bag of tricks, with Allen tossing the ball back to receiver John Brown, leaking out to the left and hauling in an easy catch for a receiving touchdown.

But that would be the Buffalo’s lone touchdown of the day. The Bills left points on the board multiple times, most notably during their final drive before halftime. Starting at their own four-yard line, Buffalo ran 15 plays to chew up all but four seconds off the clock. But the drive ended in a field goal and a 13-0 lead.

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On the other side of the field, Watson couldn’t get anything going in the first half. Buffalo’s ferocious pass defense dropped him for four sacks and forced him to dance out of the pocket nearly every time he wanted to look downfield.

“I mean, the game is never over,” Watson said. “Regardless if we’re down 16-0, 7-0, 28-0, I’m going to keep fighting. I’m going to keep playing. That’s just me.”

But when the Bills were on the verge of putting the game out of reach, the Texans’ best players showed up—including J.J. Watt, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, who was returning just 10 weeks after tearing his pectoral muscle. He and his coaches had said before the game that he’d be playing plenty, but he spent most of the game coming in on third downs and obvious pass-rush situations. Watt's hard shot on Josh Allen resulted in an eight-yard sack, forcing Buffalo to settle for another field goal and a 16-0 lead. However you feel about momentum in football, that’s when things turned around.

But ultimately the day belonged to Watson—one of the AFC’s three young quarterbacks who have become one of the brightest stories the NFL currently has going. Watson took the league by storm as a rookie in 2017 until tearing his ACL with just seven games under his belt. He then watched as Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson put up MVP seasons in 2018 and ’19, respectively. Watson’s first playoff victory goes down as a signature moment in his burgeoning career, and now the three of them—a potentially era-defining trio of young superstar quarterbacks—will all share the stage of the divisional round next weekend.

You know the stats we see this time every year: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have represented the AFC in 15 of the last 16 Super Bowls, while the NFC has seen 14 different quarterbacks in the big game over that same span.

A generation of players has entered and exited the NFL as we’ve waited for a new crop to rise in the AFC. At long last, this may finally be the season. With Brady’s Patriots eliminated later Saturday night, the throne now sits vacant.

This 2019 Texans squad made the playoffs for the sixth time in franchise history, and in all six seasons the road through the playoffs has started in the Saturday afternoon wild-card time slot, typically reserved for the least-appealing game. Houston is the eternal appetizer, an opening act striving to graduate to a headliner.

This was a much-needed win for a Texans team that went all-in this season, trading future draft picks for current talent. Now they’ve earned a rematch with a Chiefs team they already beat in October.

And if Watson keeps playing like he did in the second half and overtime, the Texans won’t be early-game fodder much longer.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

More From Texans Maven:
Texans Make Their Mark in Comeback Win
Deshaun Watson Houdini Act Saves The Texans
J.J. Watt's Sack Flipped Momentum Against the Bills

More From Bills Maven:
Bills Lose Heartbreaker In Overtime
WATCH: Bills Use Trick Play From Brown To Allen For Touchdown