Houston • Deshaun Watson’s teammates talked all week about how they never feel as if they’re out of any game when No. 4 is on the field.
On Saturday Watson showed why the Houston Texans have so much trust in him, when the quarterback’s dazzling performance late after a tough start led them to a playoff victory.
Watson spun out of a would-be sack and coolly completed a pass that set up the winning field goal in overtime as the Texans rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit for a 22-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the playoffs.
DeAndre Hopkins was asked to describe Watson’s play on Saturday to somebody who might have missed the game.
“I hope everyone watched this today, but he’s amazing,” Hopkins said. “You can’t put too many words on it.”
Both teams punted on their first possessions of overtime — the first extra period in an AFC wild-card game since January 2012. On Houston’s next drive, Watson evaded a sack by wriggling away from one defender and bouncing off another before rolling out to find Taiwan Jones for a 34-yard reception to set up first-and-goal.
Watson flexed both arms as the crowd at NRG Stadium went wild — knowing their team was in position to pull off another comeback win to Houston’s playoff history.
“I told myself to stay up. I mean, it’s do-or-die now. I just had to make the play,” Watson said.
Ka’imi Fairbairn then kicked a 28-yard field goal to lift Houston to the victory.
The Texans (11-6) advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs next weekend where they’ll face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
The Texans got a boost from the return of J.J. Watt, who had a sack that helped spark his team. Houston scored 19 straight points to take the lead before Stephen Hauschka’s 47-yard field goal tied it with 5 seconds left to force overtime.
“We never quit, regardless,” Watson said. “Whatever it takes to get the win. I mean, we’re going to keep fighting.”
Watt was wowed by the play of Watson.
“The play he made at the end of the game — nobody makes that play,” he said. “The guy’s unbelievable. I’m very thankful and lucky to have him as my quarterback. That’s why you play the whole game.”
It was Watt’s first game after sitting out since October with a torn pectoral muscle.
“This is why you come back,” Watt said. “I don’t know if I meant to come back for these many plays or this much extra time, but these feelings, these emotions, these fans, these players, Deshaun Watson and all the guys on this team, this is why you come back.”
The win gives the Texans their first playoff victory since the 2016 season and extends Buffalo’s postseason losing streak to six games, with their most recent playoff win coming in 1995. It’s the first wild-card overtime game since the Broncos beat the Steelers 29-23 in the 2011 season.
The game conjured memories of another huge comeback in a wild-card game. The last time teams from Houston and Buffalo met in the playoffs it was in a game that is known as “The Comeback.” The Bills set an NFL record for the largest comeback in NFL history by rallying from a 32-point deficit for a 41-38 overtime win against the Houston Oilers in a wild-card game in 1993.
This time Josh Allen and the Bills (10-7) used a dominant first half to build a 13-point lead and were up 16-0 in the third quarter, before Allen began to struggle.
“He was just trying to do too much and getting a little bit extreme with what he felt like we needed at the time,” coach Sean McDermott said. “But overall, we just didn’t make enough plays.”
Watson had 247 yards passing and ran for 55 yards and Hopkins had 90 yards receiving. Watson led the Texans to the victory despite being sacked seven times, led by three from Jerry Hughes, and hit 12 other times.
Allen threw for 264 yards, ran for 92 and caught a touchdown pass on a trick play in the first quarter, but often looked rattled late in his playoff debut.
Houston couldn’t get anything going on offense before halftime and had 81 yards in a first half where Hopkins didn’t catch a pass for the first time since Week 16 of the 2017 season.
They were finally able to sustain a drive on their second possession of the third quarter when Hopkins had receptions of 14 and 10 yards to help move the ball. The Texans cut the lead to 10 when Watson dragged two defenders into the end zone on a 20-yard touchdown run.
Watson then dived into the end zone for a 2-point conversion that got Houston within 16-8 with about two minutes left in the third.
The Bills were driving early in the fourth quarter when Allen was sacked by Whitney Mercilus and fumbled, and it was recovered by Jacob Martin at the Buffalo 47. Houston cashed in on the miscue with a 41-yard field goal that cut the lead to 16-11 with about 11 minutes to go.
Watson connected with Carlos Hyde on a 5-yard touchdown pass and Hopkins on a 2-point conversion with about five minutes left to put the Texans on top 19-16. Hopkins had a 41-yard reception earlier in that drive.
The Bills were in field-goal range on their next drive when Allen got a 14-yard penalty for intentional grounding and Buffalo lost a down to bring up fourth down. They went for it and Allen was sacked by Jacob Martin for a 19-yard loss to give Houston the ball back with 1:41 left.
“We didn’t execute how we should have, and we didn’t make as many plays as we should have,” Allen said. “That’s what it really comes down to. They made one more play than us.”
The Texans trailed 13-0 at halftime and Hopkins fumbled on their opening drive of the third quarter to give Buffalo the ball at the Houston 32. Watt sacked Allen for a loss of 8 yards on third down and the Bills settled for a 38-yard field goal to extend the lead to 16-0.
Allen scrambled 42 yards for a first down on Buffalo’s first possession for its longest rush of the season. Two plays later, the Bills used some trickery to take the lead when John Brown threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Allen to make it 7-0. Brown’s pass was wobbly, but Allen was wide open despite having to slow down to grab it.
It was early in the second quarter when Allen appeared to fumble, and it was recovered by Houston. But the play was reviewed and overturned, giving Buffalo the ball at the Houston 32. The Bills were unable to move the ball after that and made a 40-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
The Bills added another 40-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter to push the lead to 13-0 at halftime.
Titans 20, Patriots 13
Foxborough, Mass. • When the eerie Foxborough fog lifted, it became clear that New England’s reign atop the NFL was ending.
Derrick Henry ensured that with the kind of dominating playoff performance usually reserved for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Henry rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown while Tennessee’s defense stymied Brady and perhaps ended his championship-filled New England career with a 20-13 wild-card victory Saturday night.
Brady vows to be back on an NFL field next season, but his contract with the Patriots is done.
“I love the Patriots,” the 42-year Brady said, adding about leaving the game after 20 seasons: “I would say it’s pretty unlikely, hopefully unlikely. I love playing football. I don’t know what it looks like moving forward.”
Doing the most moving forward Saturday night was Henry, who had a total of 184 yards rushing in two playoff games two years ago. He nearly got that against the league’s top-ranked defense in boosting the Titans (10-7) into the divisional round at No. 1 seed Baltimore.
“It’s a great win against a great team in a hostile environment,“ Henry said on his 26th birthday. “Credit to my team. I’m just happy we were able to advance.
“We were just locked in. That was our mindset, just coming in here doing what we needed to do in all three phases, stay locked in no matter what happens in the game, and I feel like we did that.”
As that dense fog that shrouded Gillette Stadium for the first half dissipated, the Patriots, who made the last three Super Bowls and won two, stalled repeatedly with the ball. They no longer were the bullies on the block — Henry was.
As for this defeat, the Patriots’ fourth as a wild card, Brady noted: “They kind of stopped us in the first half and the second half and we couldn’t get the job done.”
There had been no scoring in the second half when All-Pro Brett Kern’s 58-yard punt that took up 10 of the final 25 seconds rolled down at the New England 1. Brady then was picked by former Patriot Logan Ryan for a 9-yard touchdown to finish off the Patriots (12-5), who at one point were 8-0.
The game’s first three possessions wound up as three long scoring drives. A 29-yard screen pass to James White set up Nick Folk’s 36-yard field goal, but Tennessee answered with a 75-yard march built around Henry. He had no role on the touchdown, Tannehill’s pass to a Harvard man, tight end Anthony Firkser that made it 7-3.
Firkser is the first player from Harvard to score a playoff TD.
New England counterpunched with its own 75-yard drive, taking temporary control of the game by victimizing Tennessee’s defense on the outside. The Titans looked slow trying to protect the flanks as Sony Michel broke off a 25-yard run and White had a 14-yarder.
Julian Edelman finished it with the first rushing touchdown of his 11 pro seasons, a 5-yard dash to the unprotected left side of the Tennessee D.
New England appeared primed for another touchdown after Mohamed Sanu’s 14-yard punt return set up the Patriots at the Titans 47, and they steadily drove to first-and-goal at the 1.
All they got was Folk’s 21-yard field goal as three runs failed. It was the 13th time the Patriots had first-and-goal at the 1 in a playoff game in the Brady era and the first time they failed to get a TD on the drive.
Tannehill led the NFL with a career-best 117.5 passer rating and by averaging 9.6 yards per pass attempt. But he didn’t do a whole lot Saturday night in his first postseason game: 8 of 15 for 72 yards. His awful decision to put the ball up for grabs on the first play of the fourth quarter resulted in Duron Harmon’s interception.
But New England’s spotty attack flopped and never revived. That has not been unusual during the second half of the schedule.
Tannehill’s passing yards were the fewest for a starter since the Ravens’ Joe Flacco had 34 in a wild-card win against the Patriots 10 years ago.
Henry celebrated his birthday by getting the most rushing yards against a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team in the playoffs. He set an early tone by rushing for 49 of the Titans’ 75 yards on their opening touchdown drive. On the Titans’ second 75-yard TD march, all Henry did was gain every yard: 22 on a screen pass and 53 rushing, including a 1-yard dive into the end zone for a 14-13 halftime lead. Those were Tennessee’s first points in the final two minutes of the opening half since Week 8.
He led the NFL in rushing this season with 1,540 yards in 15 games, the fourth-most rushing yards in franchise history. Henry also ran for 16 TDs, second most in team history.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel, a star linebacker for New England who won three Super Bowl rings, is a rare member of the Belichick coaching tree to defeat the Patriots’ longtime coach head to head. Another of those, Houston’s Bill O’Brien, also did it this season — and the Texans advanced to the divisional round earlier Saturday by beating Buffalo in overtime.