HOUSTON -- Houston Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn was already having an extremely rough day, flubbing a costly pair of extra points wide right and wide left when he was called upon later to deliver in a clutch moment.
Clinging to a 22-19 lead in the fourth quarter, Texans coach David Culley sent Fairbairn into the game to try a 56-yard field goal Sunday on fourth-and-4 at the New England Patriots’ 38-yard line.
The aggressive decision backfired as the Texans experienced an epic meltdown on special teams.
Fairbairn, who made a 33-yard field goal earlier in the game and has a career-high kick from 55 yards, hooked the kick wide left. The Patriots wound up tying the game on rookie quarterback Mac Jones’ touchdown pass to tight end Hunter Henry and ultimately put the Texans away for a 25-22 comeback victory at NRG Stadium as they scored the final 16 points of the game.
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Signed to a four-year, $17.65 million contract last year, Fairbairn is capable of making a kick from that distance. After missing the first three games of the season on injured reserve with a pulled leg muscle and not attempting any kicks last week in a 40-0 road loss to the Buffalo Bills, Fairbairn wasn’t on top of his game Sunday. He also had a kickoff sail out of bounds after his first missed extra point attempt.
“No, the decision there was the fact that we felt like he was in his range,” Culley said. “He's our kicker. Got the utmost confidence in him. He had a tough day up to that point but had made one. We felt if we made that field goal it's a two-score ball game. That's why I made the decision to kick.”
When asked if the Texans will contemplate moving on from Fairbairn, Culley replied: “I haven’t even thought about that.”
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That wasn’t the only embarrassing special-teams breakdown against the Patriots.
In the third quarter, Texans punter Cameron Johnston attempted to get New England to jump offsides by running toward the line of scrimmage. When he subsequently retreated for the punt, Johnston wasn’t nearly far back enough and his punt crashed off the back of safety Terrence Brooks for zero yards.
The Texans were considering attempting a fake, but ultimately wound up punting it, albeit unsuccessfully.
“That was a possibility that if they gave us the right look, when we did what we did there, that if it gave us the right look we were possibly going to fake it,” Culley said. “They didn't give us the look. We were going to back out and then just re-punt, and it didn't work out. We ended up having a leakage up the middle and ended up getting a block.”
It was a crucial error because the Patriots capitalized on the short field for a Nick Folk field goal that led to them starting their 16-point rally for the win.
“I thought the blocked punt was a key play in the game for us, even though we only got a field goal out of it, which ended up being a three-point game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “I thought that was a big momentum play and thought our kicking and special teams played well. They are good in the kicking game. They covered well against us, too, but the blocked punt really was a big play and of course Nick Folk’s field goals were obviously very important in the outcome.
“It looked like they were in some kind of gadget punt formation, trying to I think probably get us to check into a safe look and prepare for the fake. That strategy, it takes you out of return, right? So, if you think they are going to fake it and you're just going to stand there and wait for them to run a fake and then they don't, then you just don't get any return setup. But we were able to get the call and pressure that, and we had some big guys in there so that if they did fake it, we felt like we were covered but, at the same time, we felt like we could pressure as well. I'm not sure exactly what happened there, but I know we had guys coming, whether it was a fake or not, and like I said, obviously they missed it there and Lawrence Guy made a great play.”
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