Texans clinch; look to improve as they chase division title

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans were on a plane returning from their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday when they learned that Pittsburgh’s loss to New Orleans had clinched their spot in the playoffs.

And according to coach Bill O’Brien the team did nothing to celebrate the moment.

“We were all watching the film, and just trying to be as honest as I can with you, there’s was no reaction,” O’Brien said.

Despite this, O’Brien knows that advancing to the postseason after how his team opened the season is something to be proud of.

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“From 0-3 to where we are now there’s definitely a sense that there were some things accomplished,” he said. “But there’s a lot left out there. We didn’t win (Sunday). We had a chance to really do something (Sunday) and we didn’t get it done.”

A win against the Eagles would have given Houston (10-5) the AFC South title. After the 32-30 loss to Philadelphia on a last-second field goal, the Texans need a victory over Jacksonville to win their division, and a win and a loss or tie by New England to get a first-round bye.

They’ll try and do that with a team riddled with injuries. Running back Lamar Miller missed Sunday’s game and remains a question mark for the Jacksonville game with an ankle injury. His absence led to another day of struggles in the running game. Alfred Blue and D’Onta Foreman, who made his 2018 debut after tearing an Achilles tendon in November 2017, combined to rush for just 13 yards.

“We just haven’t gotten it done,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know what else to tell you. We just have to keep trying to get better.”

Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins played despite a gimpy ankle and O’Brien hopes he’ll feel better by Sunday. But Houston will be without receiver Demaryius Thomas after he sustained what O’Brien indicated is a season-ending Achilles tendon injury against the Eagles.

The injury to Thomas is a blow to an already thin group of receivers. Houston traded for the four-time Pro Bowler on Oct. 30 after receiver Will Fuller tore a knee ligament. O’Brien wouldn’t provide details on Thomas’ injury, but his comments indicated he wouldn’t play again this season.

“Demaryius is a great player, excellent pro, but I feel good about the guys that we have and some of the moves that we may make to help that position,” O’Brien said. “I think we can do some things to take up the slack there a little bit. It will be a loss because he was such a good pro and a mentor — all of those things — but we have to move forward.”

One player who could help fill in for Thomas is Keke Coutee. The rookie has played well when healthy, but has missed nine games, including the last four, with hamstring problems. O’Brien didn’t rule out that Coutee could return against the Jaguars.

“He’s a really good player,” he said. “We like him. We’ll just have to see how it goes this week.”

On Sunday, the Texans got a big play from undrafted rookie receiver Vyncint Smith, who had just one reception this season entering the game. Deshaun Watson connected with Smith on a 35-yard touchdown pass that gave Houston the lead before Philadelphia’s late field goal.

The Texans like Smith’s speed and O’Brien said he’s improved a lot since the beginning of the season. He added that Smith and Watson have already developed a good rapport, despite his limited action.

“You don’t make that throw unless you have faith in the guy to make that play,” O’Brien said. “I know D4 (Watson) has faith in the guy to make plays, and that’s big — the trust.”

Whoever the Texans have at receiver Sunday, the team remains confident in its passing game because of the continued development of Watson in his second year. Watson has eight touchdown passes with no interceptions in the last five games and has added three rushing touchdowns in that span.

O’Brien loves the way Watson has played this season and the leadership role he’s taken on this team.

“He makes a lot of great decisions. He’s got good poise,” O’Brien said. “He’s obviously extremely talented. He made so many plays (Sunday) with his feet, he made plays from the pocket. He made plays outside the pocket. He ran. He did everything he could to help his team win.”

Some good news on the injury front for Houston is that cornerback/safety Kareem Jackson, who left early in Sunday’s game with a knee injury, should be ready against Jacksonville.

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