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Texans’ Deshaun Watson shines again in prime time

Houston rises up against Patriots, plus a potential Super Bowl preview on the road to Miami Gardens

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, one of the league’s best prime time quarterbacks, threw for three touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass to help Houston upset the Patriots 28-22 on Sunday night.

Watson upped his prime time record to 6-3 with the win, throwing for 234 yards passing and touchdown passes of 14, 13, and 35 yards as Houston (8-4) built a 21-3 lead against New England’s vaunted defense. It was Watson’s fifth game this season with at least three touchdown passes, which is tied for most in the NFL.

The highlight of the game, however, came on a trick looked like something you would draw up in the dirt during a pickup game. Watson took the snap and handed off to Duke Johnson, and he gave the ball to Hopkins on a reverse to the right. Hopkins tossed to Watson on an option near the sideline, and Watson dived into the end zone for a 6-yard score. The play put the Texans up 28-9 in the fourth quarter.

New England rallied as quarterback Tom Brady finally began to enjoy some success on what proved to be a frustrating night for the future Hall of Famer. The Patriots pulled to within six, but failed to come up with an onsides kick with 50 seconds remaining.

The wins marked the first against the Patriots for Texans coach and former New England assistant Bill O’Brien in six tries against Bill Belichick. It was also just the Texans’ second win over the Patriots, and first since Jan. 3, 2010.

Brady threw an interception and was sacked three times, hit on 12 other occasions and was seen yelling at his receivers on the sideline after a drive with several incompletions in the first half. He finished with 326 yards.

The game may prove to have a pivotal impact on the AFC playoff picture. New England now falls back to the second seed and must face the Chiefs with an ailing offense and a lingering flu bug.

The Texans, meanwhile, stay a game ahead of the Titans and keep its hold on the AFC South.

Ravens’ Lamar Jackson engineers game-winning drive against Niners

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) is carried off field by his teammates after making a game winning field goal against the San Francisco 49ers in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. Ravens won 20-17. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) [JULIO CORTEZ | AP]

Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson proved he can guide his team to victory in miserable conditions, while San Francisco showed it can compete against a high-caliber team on the road.

Both the Ravens and 49ers took away positives from their hyped matchup, played in a driving rain and stiff wind. But Jackson and his teammates posted their eighth consecutive victory thanks to a last-second field goal by Ryan Tucker, who can claim 15 winners in his eight-year career.

Jackson can boast of no such feats yet, but the second-year player compensated for a miserable passing day by rushing for 101 yards — his fourth this season, a record for quarterbacks. More important, he engineered the winning drive, a 12-play, 39-yard slog which consumed the last 6:28 of the game.

“The weather, it messed with me a lot,” said Jackson who completed only 14 of 23 passes for 105 yards.

The weather also messed with the Niners, but San Francisco can point to its two losses coming on last-second field goals. Now it will spend the week at Bradenton’s IMG Academy preparing for a game at New Orleans, its third consecutive game against a first-place team.

“Hopefully, we can earn an opportunity to maybe get the chance to play (the Ravens) some other time again,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said.

Opportunity knocked?

Several teams had chances to enhance their postseason bids with wins Sunday, but when opportunity knocked, they decided to rely on the security camera and sit on the couch.

Perhaps no team had more at stake than the Eagles, who could have tied the Cowboys at the top of the NFC East with a win against the Dolphins, who entered the day having won only two games. Philadelphia took a 28-14 lead with 11:50 remaining in the third quarter and then proceeded to give up 23 straight points, eventually losing 37-31 at Miami.

As Philadelphia Inquirer columnist David Murphy noted, the Dolphins “had scored 18 offensive touchdowns all season. By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Eagles had allowed them to score five. In a row.”

Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (94) and Miami Dolphins offensive guard Michael Deiter (63), congratulate Miami Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders (7), after Sanders caught a touchdown pass against the Eagles. [BRYNN ANDERSON | AP]

The Raiders could have taken control of the AFC West with a win in Kansas City. Instead, the Chiefs elevated their chances of taking the division with a 40-9 win, and Oakland dropped its second straight.

The Colts could have bolstered their chances with a victory against the Titans. Instead, the Titans continued to surge, moving one game in front of their AFC South rivals. Tennessee, which turned the game by blocking an Adam Vinatieri field goal, now has the same number of division losses as Indianapolis. All those could factor into tiebreaking scenarios.

The Colts, who have lost a number of key players to injury, come to Tampa next weekend to try to right the ship after losing four of five and falling from first in the AFC South to third. It won’t help that Vinatieri has missed 14 kicks this season — eight field goals and six extra points.

And the last shall be first

The three teams with the worst records in the NFL — Cincinnati (1-11), Miami (3-9) and Washington (3-9) — won. Carolina’s loss against Washington may seal Ron Rivera’s fate as the Panthers’ coach. Once poised to make the playoffs and challenge in the NFC South, Carolina has now lost four consecutive games and fallen behind the Bucs in the division standings.

Steelers still in it

Riddled with injuries and inexperience, Pittsburgh erased a 10-point deficit to pull out a 20-13 victory over Cleveland and retain its grip on the final AFC playoff spot.

The Steelers (7-5) beat their rival with the help of a rookie quarterback (Devlin “Duck” Hodges), a rookie running back (Benny Snell) and a defense that limited the Browns to a field goal in the second half. Hodges, who recorded a 95.7 passer rating, joined Ed Rubbert (1987) as the only undrafted rookie quarterbacks to win each of their first two career starts since 1970.

Coach Mike Tomlin will continue his coach-of-the-year campaign in Arizona next weekend.

On the other hand, Freddie Kitchens did nothing to increase his chances of holding on to his job. The first-year Browns coach and his team has failed to live up to preseason expectations, and it led the way in one of the ugliest on-field incidents in league history when Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett hit Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with his helmet, resulting in a season-long suspension for Garrett. More than 30 players were punished and more than $700,000 in fines meted out over the incident.

The smart move was to move away from such an incident, but as Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro noted, Kitchens “threw gas” on the incident when he got caught on social media wearing a T-shirt in Browns colors that said, “Pittsburgh started it.”

The Browns (5-7) still have a chance to make the postseason given that three of their last four games are against the Bengals (twice) and the Cardinals. But if they come up short, Kitchens might be done as the head coach.

Alumni angst

Thanks to the Browns’ Baker Mayfield, the Niners’ Nick Bosa and now the Ravens’ Mark Andrews, Oklahoma-Ohio State may develop into one of college football’s more intriguing rivalries.

It all started in 2017 when Mayfield planted the OU flag at midfield inside the “Horseshoe” after throwing for 386 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-16 Sooners victory over the Buckeyes. Mayfield apologized at the behest of school officials but when asked by GQ this year if the statement was heartfelt, Mayfield said, “Absolutely not.”

Bosa, the Niners rookie defensive end, apparently has a long memory. He mocked Mayfield after San Francisco’s 31-3 victory with an imaginary flag-plant of his own. Given that he had six pressures and four quarterback hits that led to four total takeaways against the Browns, He was allowed.

Andrews, a second-year tight end out of Oklahoma, added the latest exclamation point on Sunday, emulating Mayfield’s infamous flag planting after scoring Baltimore’s first touchdown. I’m not sure why you would want to rile Bosa remains a mystery, but he did it.

All this animosity would make for an interesting match if the Sooners and Buckeyes face off in the College Football Playoffs.

Et cetera

In case you missed it, a Thanksgiving wrapup: The Bears sustained (or resuscitated) their faint playoff hopes by beating the Lions; the Saints clinched the NFC South with a win over the Falcons; and the Bills and quarterback Josh Allen looked legit in beating the Cowboys, a squad that has yet to defeat a team with a record over .500. … All eight of the Chargers’ losses have been by seven points or less. Is this how it ends for quarterback Philip Rivers? … Rams quarterback Jared Goff passed for 424 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 118.0 passer rating in the team’s 34-7 win at Arizona. … Since the Nov. 4 appearance of a black cat at MetLife Stadium, teams with cat-related names (Lions, Jaguars, Panthers and Bengals) had gone 0-12 entering Sunday. The Jaguars and Panthers lost Sunday, but the Bengals snapped the streak by beating the Jets to win their first game of the year.

Ernest Hooper, Times correspondent, compiled from Times news services.