John McClain: Texans find yet another way to lose a close game

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Trask Smith/CSM/Shutterstock (13673070ac) Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith during a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans in Houston, TX NFL Chiefs vs Texans, USA – 18 Dec 2022

John McClain: Texans find yet another way to lose a close game

Blowing opportunities to win games in the fourth quarter has been a habitual problem for the Texans all season. But being in position to pull off shocking upsets against Super Bowl contenders has been a possibility for only two weeks.

Seven days after the Cowboys almost needed defibrillators to shock them back to reality, the Texans put on another impressive performance against the Chiefs. For the second consecutive game, the Texans played beyond their capabilities – and the Chiefs beneath theirs – before suffering another heartbreaking defeat.

Losing 27-23 to Dallas was tough enough, but falling 30-24 in overtime to Kansas City was even more difficult considering the circumstances at NRG Stadium on Sunday. The Texans were missing six starters, including four on offense – running back Dameon Pierce, left guard Kenyon Green and receivers Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins – against a bona fide Super Bowl contender.

Sunday’s game should have been a blowout, but the Dallas game should have been lopsided, too. Instead, the outmanned Texans hitched up their pants and showed a resolve that had been missing during the second half of the season. Unfortunately for coach Lovie Smith, his assistants, and their players, the ultimate result was a ninth consecutive defeat that dropped their record to 1-12-1.

Considering the players he lacked on offense, Pep Hamilton got as much as he could have gotten out of his game plan that utilized quarterbacks Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel for a second consecutive game. It wasn’t Hamilton’s fault that Mills lost a fumble in overtime that set up the Chiefs’ winning touchdown on Jerick McKinnon’s 26-yard run to elevate their record to 11-3. Until that point, Mills had two touchdown passes and another rushing in his most impressive game of the season.

Mills’ fumble was the Texans’ only turnover. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. The defense had forced the Chiefs to punt when they got the ball to start overtime. Mills, who ran for a 17-yard touchdown, didn’t secure the ball, and it was stripped by end Frank Clark and recovered by linebacker Willie Gay at the Texans’ 26. One play later, Jerick McKinnon scored the winning touchdown.

“I thought Davis did some good things throwing it (but) ball security, it’s paramount,” Smith said. “You have to have it, especially in that situation. It’s a tough back-and-forth game. Once you got to overtime, who could have the best ball security? Or looking at the other side of the ball, who can take the ball away? Just unfortunate for our team.”

And unfortunate for Mills, who accounted for all three touchdowns, including two on passes to tight ends Jordan Akins and Teagan Quitoriano. He also ran for a 17-yard touchdown, the longest of his career. Driskel didn’t contribute as much as he did against the Cowboys. Hamilton should stick with Mills in the Christmas Eve game at Tennessee.

Asked about Mills’ performance, Smith said, “First off, we just can’t look at one play. I understand that (fumble) was a critical play. Critical mistake there at the end. You have to look at the body of work. I’m talking about the body of work on this game.

“Would our opinion be a little different now if we had driven down (and) not turned the ball over that last time? I know we didn’t, so it’s (Mills’ performance) good and bad. That’s how our play at the quarterback position has been most of the year.”

The Chiefs had only one sack when Driskel ran out of bounds rather than throw away the ball. It was the third consecutive game in which the linemen didn’t surrender a sack. It helped when right tackle Tytus Howard moved to left guard to replace the injured Kenyon Green, and Charlie Heck was inserted at right tackle. As long as Green is out, Hamilton should stick with that lineup.

“ (Chiefs defensive tackle) Chris Jones is as good a defensive player as there is in the league, so we thought that moving Tytus to guard would help us in a lot of different ways,” Smith said. “I thought that gave us a chance.”

Not only did the changes in the offensive line benefit the pass protection, but it helped the run blocking, too. Without Pierce, the running game appeared to be kaput, but Royce Freeman came off the practice squad and went into the game third team behind Dare Ogunbowale and Rex Burkhead. Freeman didn’t have a carry this season. He got 11 against the Chiefs and produced 51 yards, a 4.6-yard average.

“Royce has waited patiently,” Smith said. “I thought he took advantage of his opportunity. There was a period of time (when) I felt pretty good about how we were blocking up front and how he was running.”

The Texans deserve praise for playing as well as they have the last two games, but they’re not good enough to pull out hard-fought victories. They don’t have enough talent to beat the Cowboys and Chiefs, and they’re still mistake-prone enough on offense to prevent them from overcoming those mistakes.

“They’re coming to the games and giving (us) a chance to win at the end,” Smith said about his players. “We still haven’t finished a game the way we need to get a win, but we’re building. Offensively, when it comes down (to) the end, and you have over 20 points, there are some things we did well.

“The league is about wins and losses, but does playing two good teams back-to-back give you encouragement as you try to finish the season on a positive note? There are some positives to build on. The teams we played have a chance to win it all. Eventually, you’ve got to get over the hump.”

The close losses to the Cowboys and Chiefs offer signs of encouragement to a team that was barely competitive over the previous six-game stretch. Eventually, the Texans may get over the hump, but Smith and his staff might not be around to witness it.

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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1 Comment

  • 2 weeks in a row i have injoyed watching the texans battle. I sure hope they play as well at Tenn. I truely hate the titans.
    Lovie seems nice but i do’nt want him back next year….

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