EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — With each victory, the Houston Texans increasingly established themselves as a team to beat in the AFC.
Their nine-game winning streak set a franchise record and also raised expectations by the week. So, perhaps their 24-21 loss to Indianapolis last Sunday could, in some way, alleviate some building tension down the stretch.
Right, Deshaun Watson?
“You only put pressure on yourself,” Watson said. “For us, we don’t really put pressure on ourselves. We don’t really focus on that. Of course, we didn’t want to lose. We always want to win and try to continue to stack those, but it just kind of goes that way sometimes. It’s the National Football League.
“We just try to focus on the next opponent, the next game and try to get back in the win column.”
Watson and the Texans (9-4) will get their chance to do that Saturday when they take on Sam Darnold and the struggling New York Jets (4-9).
Houston could clinch the AFC South title with a win and then a loss or tie by both Indianapolis and Tennessee on Sunday, or with a tie and losses by both the Colts and Titans. The Texans could also seal a playoff berth with a combination of other scenarios involving several other teams.
Either way, they know they can set themselves up nicely with a victory at MetLife Stadium.
“With three games left throughout the regular season, I think you home in and focus in,” cornerback Johnathan Joseph said, “especially on one game at a time, 12 quarters of football, however it has to be.”
Meanwhile, the Jets are just focused on the finish line — and perhaps the end of coach Todd Bowles’ tenure.
New York snapped a six-game skid last Sunday with a 27-23 win at Buffalo, but it would appear Bowles will not be back next season after four years without a trip to the playoffs. General manager Mike Maccagnan is not a certainty to return, either, with some misses in the draft and free agency during his tenure.
“It’s the same thing every week: We want to win every game, regardless of whether we’re going to the playoffs or not,” Bowles said. “We want to get every game and get better as a team. That’s all we’re trying to accomplish.”
Here are some things to know about the Texans-Jets matchup:
It’s expected to rain for much of the day, with showers at kickoff. That will be something different for the Texans, whose home stadium — NRG Stadium — features a retractable roof.
“You’ve just got to go out there and try to grip the ball as best you can,” said Watson, playing at MetLife for the first time. “You focus on your footwork a little bit more, be cautious with that and understand that the receivers might — depending on the turf or the grass, wherever we’re playing — (focus on) their footwork. … You’ve got to just go play ball.”
Darnold returned from a strained foot that sidelined him for three games and went 24 of 30 passing (80.0 percent) in the win against the Bills. It marked the fifth time in team history a player had a completion percentage of 80 or better and the first since Chad Pennington did it twice in 2007.
He also showed off some cool nerves by leading his first fourth-quarter comeback.
“I think every experience for him, he’s so into it,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “He doesn’t get real high, doesn’t get real low, he just takes every moment as a learning moment, both good and bad. So, I think it’s just another moment that he’s going to take for the rest of his career, for the rest of his life and use it as a teaching experience.”
Darnold will be without two key playmakers on offense with top running back Isaiah Crowell (toe) and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (ankle) both ruled out with injuries.
Elijah McGuire and rookie Trenton Cannon will see increased opportunities in the backfield, while Rishard Matthews and Deontay Burnett could be called on to replace Enunwa.
Houston’s J.J. Watt has bounced back this year to have another strong season after playing just eight games over the previous two years because of a back surgery and a broken leg.
The defensive end leads the team with 12 1/2 sacks, 22 quarterback hits, 15 tackles for losses and a career-high five forced fumbles. His 88 1/2 career sacks are the second most through a player’s first 101 games, trailing only the 106 that Reggie White had.
“The last two years were extremely difficult,” he said. “But, to be here, to be playing meaningful football in December, playing in big games in winter time and me being out there on the field participating in those games, is awesome. This is just, it feels good to be back in that situation, to be back on the field, to be getting the sacks, to be playing good football, to be with the guys.”
TAKING CARE OF THE BALL
The Texans did not turn the ball over last week, marking the sixth time this season that they’ve had zero turnovers in a game.
It’s the second-best streak in a season in franchise history. A big reason: Watson has thrown just two interceptions in the last seven games after being picked off seven times in the first six games.
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed.
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