HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans lost the AFC South lead this weekend thanks in large part to penalties and mistakes.
“I think these games come down to penalties,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “We have too many self-inflicted penalties. We’ve got to fix that. I think that anytime you lose yardage, that hurts you.”
The Texans had 10 penalties for 54 yards Sunday, including three that extended the game-sealing scoring drive for the Indianapolis Colts, who won 30-23.
Houston’s penalty problems began early, with illegal formation penalties on two plays on its first drive to force a punt. But it wasn’t just the offense that was penalty-prone. Houston’s defense also had two penalties on one drive in the first quarter to give the Colts two first downs.
“We’ve got to stop doing that,” O’Brien said. “I think that comes down to us coaching it better, demanding more and guys just trying to be locked in and play more consistent.”
The Texans had a first down from the 14 early in the second quarter before a false start penalty and a holding call pushed them back and made them settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown that would have made it 7-7.
Houston trailed by 5 in the third quarter when a flurry of flags on one drive helped the Colts get in the end zone. Keion Crossen was called for defensive holding early in the drive to give Indianapolis a first down. Houston’s most egregious penalty of the day came later in that drive when the defense stopped Indy on third-and-12 but linebacker Benardrick McKinney was called for unnecessary roughness for hitting a defenseless player when he delivered a huge blow to Eric Ebron away from the play.
That gave the Colts a first down at the 6 and after another defensive holding penalty on the next play, Jacoby Brissett threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to make it a two-score game.
Star defensive end J.J. Watt was asked about the frustration of having a team stopped and giving them another shot because of a penalty.
“It’s not fun, that’s for sure,” he said. “But you control what you can control and you go out there and try to get after them again and do the best you can. We will watch the film and try to get those things corrected because we obviously just can’t be giving away first downs.”
On top of all the penalties, Houston had two turnovers on fourth-quarter interceptions by Deshaun Watson. The second one came when Houston had a chance to tie it in the final minute, but Watson’s pass was deflected by receiver Keke Coutee and Darius Leonard grabbed it just before it hit the ground to secure the victory.
Houston’s run defense continues to be one of the team’s strengths. The Texans haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 23 straight regular season games and held Indianapolis to a season-low 62 yards rushing on Sunday. The Texans are allowing just 84.3 yards rushing a game.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offensive line had done a good job of protecting Watson over the past two weeks, not allowing a sack in back-to-back games for the first time since 2014. But the unit struggled again, giving up three sacks and allowing Watson to get hit six other times. The group, which has allowed 21 sacks this season, got a boost with the addition of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, but has had to play with different combinations around him because of injuries.
Receiver DeAndre Hopkins had his best game since Week 1. He had 106 yards receiving and caught his first touchdown pass since grabbing two in Houston’s opener at New Orleans.
“He’s a reliable guy,” O’Brien said. “He’s a fast guy. He’s a good route runner. He’s got good hands. Tough. Does a lot of good things.”
McKinney led the team with eight tackles, including two for losses. But his unnecessary roughness penalty hurt the team, a mistake a veteran shouldn’t make.
CB Phillip Gaines was carted off the field with what appeared to be a lower leg injury. … WR Will Fuller left during Houston’s first series with a hamstring injury and did not return. O’Brien didn’t provide details on either injury Monday.
100 — Kenny Stills had 105 yards receiving in his return from a hamstring injury to go along with the 106 yards receiving Hopkins had to give the Texans two 100-yard receivers in a game for the first time since Week 4 of last season.
The Texans need to play cleaner football and Watson must take better care of ball. He has had four interceptions combined in the last two games after tossing just one in the first five games. The Texans will have a chance to do that at home against the Raiders on Sunday before making their first trip to London for a division game against the Jaguars on Nov. 3.