Texans’ defense thrives without Watt in 27-14 win
HOUSTON (AP) — Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus helped the Houston Texans to a dominant defensive performance in the first playoff game in franchise history without J.J. Watt.
Clowney had an interception that set up Houston’s first touchdown and Mercilus had two sacks to help the Texans to a 27-14 wild-card win over the Oakland Raiders on Saturday.
The Texans (10-7) overcame losing last season’s Defensive Player of the Year after just three games to finish with the NFL’s top-ranked defense in the regular season. And the unit didn’t slow down on Saturday.
“We aren’t just here for the playoffs,” Clowney said. “We are here trying to win games and move forward ... no matter what the outside or critics said, we know what we have. We are going to keep fighting all season.”
The Texans rebounded after an embarrassing 30-0 wild-card loss to Kansas City last season to advance to face either the Chiefs or New England in the divisional round next weekend.
DeAndre Hopkins had a touchdown reception for the Texans and Lamar Miller gave Houston a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a TD run one play after Clowney’s interception.
Clowney batted a pass by rookie Connor Cook with one hand, then tipped it with his other one before pulling it down for the interception. He probably would have scored on the play, but in the time it took him to grab the ball, Raiders running back Latavius Murray had latched on to one of his ankles and was pulling him down.
Clowney’s interception was the first of three Houston got off the rookie third-string quarterback. Cornerback A.J. Bouye grabbed the third one.
“I’ve heard things like we have the No. 1 defense but the Raiders have better playmakers,” he said. “They do have playmakers, but we just wanted to show the world that we’re just as good. Even though we don’t have J.J., we have plenty of other guys on our defense that are ready to make a play, and that’s what we did today.”
Houston limited the Raiders (12-5) to just 203 yards and allowed them to convert 2 of 16 third-down attempts. The Texans were proud of their performance Saturday, but are looking do much more as they try to win a divisional playoff game for the first time in franchise history after dropping their first two.
“It means a lot, but it doesn’t mean squat at the end of the day because we have to go out and do it again next week,” Mercilus said.
Some things to know about the Raiders-Texans wild-card game:
KEEPING THE JOB: Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler will remain Houston’s starter after playing well in his return after being benched for two games. He threw for one touchdown and ran for another. After the game, coach Bill O’Brien said he’d stick with Osweiler next week, too.
“Each individual player during the year faces some type of adversity, whether it’s an injury or maybe not seeing as much playing time or whatever it is,” O’Brien said. “So I think he handled it like a pro and he went out there today and played well.”
LEARNING EXPERIENCE: The Raiders were hoping for a deep postseason run after winning 12 games in the regular season. Instead, injuries to quarterback Derek Carr and left tackle Donald Penn had them heading home early after their first playoff appearance since the 2002 season, when they lost in the Super Bowl.
Coach Jack Del Rio hopes his team can build on what happened this year and be better next season.
“You go forward, you believe and you teach and you grow and you continue to add and you grow stronger, and you know what you want it to look like and you keep pushing for it,” he said. “Do you end up having some growing pains? Typically, I would say probably, yes. But does that mean I’m going to sit here and feel good about it? No.”
HEALTHY MILLER: Miller was healthy on Saturday for the first time in weeks after dealing with various injuries for most of the season. He sat out the last two weeks before returning against the Raiders and finished with 73 yards rushing and a touchdown.
It was the first career playoff game for Miller, who is in his first season with the Texans after four years with the Dolphins.
“It feels good just to get a win in the playoffs,” Miller said. “Having the opportunity to play next week is always great.”
ONE-SIDED? Oakland cornerback David Amerson ranted about the officiating after the game. He received a holding penalty and one for pass interference while spending much of the day matched up against Hopkins.
“He can get away with everything, but as soon as I do anything, they call something,” Amerson said. “I feel like it was big points in the game where it happened.”
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