Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michael Ainsworth/AP/Shutterstock (13661400b) Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith looks on from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, in Arlington, Texas Texans Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 11 Dec 2022
The Houston Texans’ coaching staff made all the right decisions, until they had a chance to seal the game with 3:20 left.
This Houston Texans game was not like the others. Houston played tough, smart, and fast. They forced turnovers. They smartly utilized both Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel to situational strengths.
They had players like Chris Moore and Amari Rodgers step up. The defense made a defensive stand and forced a pair of turnovers. Houston was perfect on special teams.
Yet they still lost, and the manner in which they lost was soul crushing.
Leading 23-20 late in the fourth quarter, throwing from his own end zone, Dak Prescott misfired on a pass intended for tight end Dalton Schultz that was intercepted by Tremon Smith at the Dallas 11-yard line and returned to the 4-yard line. This should have been when the Texans stepped on the Cowboys’ throat and sealed the game.
Instead, it would be the first time the Texans’ coaching staff would make bad decisions all day.
With Dameon Pierce banged up, the Houston Texans decided to give the ball to Rex Burkhead instead of Dare Ogunbowale. To this point, Ogunbowale had only one carry, and Rex had none. However, between the tackles is the weakest part of Burkhead’s game, yet Pep Hamilton and Lovie Smith made Rex the choice. It was the first time in the game the coaches chose to put a player in a position that was not to their strength.
Burkhead would lose a yard on a first-down carry.
On second down, Driskel found Chris Moore for 4 yards to the 1-yard line. Moore tried to squeeze in between two defenders into the end zone and had to get between two defenders to get to the one. Moore was terrific all game and nearly got into the end zone.
On third down, the Texans went back to Burkhead between the tackles. You already know what happened. He lost 2 yards.
On fourth down, Burkhead and Driskel appeared to be on different pages. Rex ran one way on the snap, and Driskel turned the opposite way. Driskel kept the ball himself on what appeared to be a broken play and was stopped at the 2-yard line. Turnover on downs.
To start a drive at the opponent’s 5-yard line and not score when there are under four minutes to go, and you have the lead is unforgivable. At the very least, they needed to kick the field goal and stretch the lead to six.
It was a chip shot field goal, and Ka’imi Fairbairn, who already had a pair of 50-yarders. Making it a six-point lead with 3:25 remaining in the game would have forced Dallas to score a touchdown and do so off a kickoff with negative energy instead of doing so with positive energy following a defensive stop at the 1-yard line.
With the field goal kicked and a six-point lead, even if Dallas gets a touchdown, the Texans only need another long Fairbairn field goal to win.
Instead, the Texans failed to score, and Dallas went the length of the field for a touchdown. Now a three-point lead was a four-point deficit. Houston needed a touchdown with 45 seconds to go and no timeouts.
They quickly got close to what would have been field goal range, but of course, a field goal would not do since they passed on kicking the field goal on the previous possession. After a sack, Davis Mills would have no choice but to heave a Hail Mary to the end zone. His prayers were not answered.
One 4-yard drive inside four minutes to go. It was the only time the Texans’ coaching staff got it wrong all game.
It broke them.