EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – The Houston Texans were trailing late and facing a second straight loss after a nine-game winning streak.
Deshaun Watson wasn’t having it.
The cool-headed, playmaking quarterback threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins with 2:15 left, lifting the Texans to a 29-22 victory over Sam Darnold and the New York Jets on Saturday night.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s able to stay controlled in those situations,” Hopkins said about Watson. “He’s done that before in big games in his career. On the sideline, everyone was composed. Nobody panicked.”
No one was more in control than Watson.
“The game is never over for me,” he said. “The plays are never over sometimes. I just go out there with the ball in my hands, put the load on my shoulders and lead the team to victory. I’ve been doing that my whole life and I have to continue to do that at this level.
“Every game comes down to a final drive. You’ve got to be able to block out all the noise, lock in and try to lead the team to victory.”
After Darnold and the Jets took their first lead of the game on Elijah McGuire’s 2-yard touchdown run, the Texans (10-4) answered right back.
A holding call on cornerback Morris Claiborne on third down prolonged the drive, and Watson completed passes of 20 and 3 yards to Demaryius Thomas and 7 yards to Hopkins to get to New York’s 14-yard line. Watson then found Hopkins streaking down the left sideline and launched a pass the receiver somehow came down with despite being tightly covered by Claiborne.
“I wouldn’t want any other quarterback in this entire universe other than him,” Hopkins said. “The things he can do, staying in the pocket after taking hits and deliver balls on the money — not a lot of quarterbacks can do that.”
Hopkins rolled an ankle on the play, and Watson and Alfred Blue helped him to the sideline as the Texans celebrated. The receiver was OK, though, and finished with 10 catches for 170 yards and two TDs.
Watson finished 22 of 28 for 294 yards and the two scores to Hopkins.
Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 40-yard field goal — his fifth kick of the game — made it 29-22 with 54 seconds left. Darnold and the Jets (4-10) had one more opportunity to try to tie —or win— but Houston held on.
“To go out there against a good Texans team, it would’ve been awesome to be able to get that win,” Darnold said, “but we just came up short.”
The loss ruined what was a terrific night for Darnold, who made plays with his arm and legs all game. The No. 3 overall pick was 24 of 38 for 253 yards and touchdown passes to Robby Anderson and Andre Roberts.
The rookie quarterback set up an impressive 15-play, 73-yard go-ahead drive late, during which he converted three third-down plays and a crucial fourth-down opportunity.
Browns 17, Broncos 16
In Denver, with John Elway watching from his suite at Mile High Stadium, Baker Mayfield capitalized on the Broncos’ depleted cornerback corps and dubious coaching decisions.
Mayfield’s 2-yard TD toss to Antonio Callaway with just under 12 minutes left provided the winning margin for Cleveland (6-7-1), which kept alive its slim hopes of ending the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
The Browns still have a shot at their first winning season since 2007 and even their first playoff berth since 2002 thanks to their first win over Denver (6-8) since 1990.
Combined with a win on the road against Cincinnati last month, Cleveland has multiple road victories for the first time since the 2014. season
“I think the tough environment, winning on the road’s the most important thing,” Mayfield said. “If we don’t take care of business tonight — and obviously we have to move on and take care of business next week — none of that matters.”
Callaway’s touchdown made it 17-13 and came with safety Justin Simmons in coverage because the Broncos were down five cornerbacks.
The Broncos responded with a 13-play drive that ate up more than seven minutes, but after Phillip Lindsay was stuffed for no gain on third-and-1 from the Cleveland 6, Broncos coach Vance Joseph sent in kicker Brandon McManus for a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down.
“I wanted points there,” Joseph explained. “We had about 4:35 left. We had one timeout and the 2-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there.”
Nick Chubb reeled off a 40-yard run on the first play of Cleveland’s final drive.
But the Broncos came up with a big stop on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 10 when Cleveland interim coach Gregg Williams went for it — and Chubb was dropped for a 2-yard loss by Adam Gotsis.
The Broncos got the ball back at their 13 with 1:49 remaining and reached the 50-yard line with 52 seconds left. But a spike, two incompletions and a sack by defensive back Peppers of Case Keenum all but ended Denver’s playoff hopes.