Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock (13648904bp) Houston Texans tight end Teagan Quitoriano (84) drops a pass and recovered by Cleveland Browns safety John Johnson III during the first half of an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans in Houston Browns Texans Football, Houston, United States – 04 Dec 2022
Offensive turnovers and special teams gaffes ruin strong effort from the defense.
It was a game that was circled on the calendars of every Houston Texans fan from the beginning of the season. It was probably highlighted by the team itself. This was the day that former savior turned pariah Deshaun Watson would return to Houston officially as the enemy.
Entering the game at 1-9-1, this was easily the game with the most emotion riding on it for fans. Likely for some in the organization, but considering the heavy turnover of the Texans’ roster and front office, maybe not as much for them as fans would hope.
None of it mattered. The Texans still found ways to hurt themselves en route to a 27-14 defeat to Watson and the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns would score three return touchdowns in the game, completely undercutting a strong effort from the Texans’ defense.
The game got off to an ominous start for the Texans. On the first play of the game, quarterback Kyle Allen rolled out and, under pressure, threw a pass down the right side for tight end Teagen Quitoriano. Quitoriano made a diving attempt to catch the ball, even securing his hands underneath the ball as he went to the ground. However, he lost control of the ball, and it popped into the air, where Browns free safety John Johnson III snatched it for an interception at the Browns 43. It was not Allen’s fault, but it was still an interception.
The fluky play would not hurt the Texans on the scoreboard, as the defense forced a three-and-out. Fans booed Deshaun Watson and the Browns every single play of the drive, something that would happen the entire game.
Houston got the ball back at their own 28, and after a pair of incompletions, they punted.
Cleveland took over at their own 30, and on second-and-5 from their own 35, Watson would connect with WR Anthony Schwartz. Schwartz was stripped from behind by Texans CB Tavierre Thomas, and Desmond King II recovered the fumble at the Texans’ 47 and returned it 15 yards to the Browns 38.
Houston only managed 13 yards over the next eight plays, but they would get a 44-yard field goal from Ka’imi Fairbairn to take a 3-0 lead with 8:02 remaining in the first quarter.
On the Browns’ next possession, they would try to answer. They drove 73 yards in nine plays before the Texans’ defense came up big in the red zone, as they have so many times this season. On first-and-10 from the Texans 11, Deshaun Watson threw a pass into the end zone intended for Amari Cooper that was intercepted by Texans rookie safety Jalen Pitre. Pitre returned the ball to the Texans 26. It was his third interception of the season.
Then the Texans’ offense got to work. They drove 73 yards in 12 plays, but on first-and-goal from the 3-yard line, they never gave the ball to Dameon Pierce once. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Texans lined up in an I-formation with Pierce as the deep back and attempted to throw a pass to fullback Troy Hairston. The play did not evolve cleanly, Allen had to drift out of the pocket, and the pass to Hairston was incomplete. Hairston took a big hit to the ribs on the play and was forced out of the game. He did not return. The Texans came away empty-handed.
Despite the offense failing again, the defense would once again step up.
On second-and-10 from their own 1-yard line, Texans DL Roy Lopez tackled Browns RB Nick Chubb in the end zone for a safety. The Texans now had a 5-0 lead with 11:53 to go before the half, and they were about to get the ball back.
On the free kick, Desmond King fielded the ball at the Texans 1-yard line and returned it 50 yards to give Houston starting field position at the Browns 49-yard line. Houston was in a position to take control of the game with a touchdown on this drive.
Instead, they went three-and-out and punted.
The Texans’ special teams got the job done as Cam Johnston hit a beautiful high punt that Tremon Smith downed at the Browns 1-yard line, pinning Cleveland deep yet again.
The Browns would pick up 35 yards over seven plays before punting again. Houston would go three-and-out again, and then disaster struck.
Donovan Peoples-Jones fielded Johnston’s punt at his own 24, broke three tackles, and took his return 76 yards for a touchdown. The Browns had the lead without an offensive point. It was 7-5 Cleveland with 3:41 before the half.
Neither team would do anything with the football the rest of the quarter; that is how they went into the half.
The Browns got the ball first in the second half, and Fairbairn’s kickoff went to the 1-yard line to force Cleveland to return the ball. Jalen Reeves-Maybin made a terrific coverage tackle on Jerome Ford at the Browns 13-yard line and forced Cleveland to start deep in their own territory. The Browns would pick up 41 yards over their next eight plays before the drive stalled at the Houston 46, and they had to punt.
Corey Bojorquez’s punt was a terrific coffin corner punt that was downed by the Browns at the Texans 3-yard line. King, for some unknown reason, shoved a Browns defender in the back right in front of an official and was penalized for an illegal block in the back, moving the ball back to the 1-yard line.
Houston took over, and another disaster occurred.
On second-and-10 from their own 1, for reasons only known to Pep Hamilton and the Lord, the Texans called a quarterback sneak. It was a decision that brought back memories of former Giants head coach Joe Judge calling back-to-back quarterback sneaks on second-and-11 at his own 2-yard line and then again on third-and-9 at his own 4. Those decisions all but sealed Judge’s fate as he was fired two days later.
The play went as poorly as one could expect, with Kyle Allen fumbling the ball and Browns CB Denzel Ward picking it up and taking it in four yards for the touchdown. It was the worst possible outcome for the worst possible call. It was the kind of call that gets coaches fired. It gave the Browns a 14-5 lead with 10:10 remaining in the third quarter despite the defense having not allowed any points.
Houston would answer back with a field goal. Going 59 yards in seven plays, the Texans stalled out in the red zone and settled for a 35-yard field goal from Fairbairn to get back within one score at 14-8 with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter.
After both teams traded punts, the Browns would get their first offensive points of the game in the fourth quarter. Following an 11-play, 42-yard drive, Cade York connected on a 43-yard field goal to extend the Browns’ lead to 17-8 with 9:36 remaining in the game.
Do you know how they said bad things happen in threes? Well, disaster struck the Texans for the third time next.
On the very first play of the Texans’ next possession, Kyle Allen was under pressure while trying to set up a screen. He threw the ball directly into the hand of a defender, the ball popped up, and Browns linebacker Tony Fields II caught it for an interception and walked 16 yards into the end zone untouched for the Browns’ second defensive touchdown return and their third overall return touchdown of the game. It was now 24-8 Browns with 9:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Browns had 10 points in six seconds.
The teams would trade quick punts before another miscue would cost the Texans. Desmond King fumbled a punt return at his own 26, and it was recovered by Fields at the Houston 33. The Browns only gained eight yards of offense on the drive, but it was enough for a York 42-yard field goal to extend the lead to 27-8 with 4:03 remaining.
The Texans would get a late garbage time touchdown as Kyle Allen would connect with WR Nico Collins for a six-yard touchdown pass with 1:57 to go in the game. They would attempt a 2-point conversion that would fail. This would make the score 27-14 Browns.
Cleveland took over and went right into victory formation to run out the final 1:57.
With the win, the Browns improve to 5-7. The Texans fell to 1-10-1.
It is the seventh straight loss for the Texans.
Next week, the Texans take a four-hour ride up I-45 to take on the Cowboys in Dallas. That game is Sunday, Dec. 11, at noon.