Deshaun Watson has won many a battle for the Houston Texans and, thanks to the guys flanking him on either side, Week 12 produced yet another victory. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
With control of the AFC South hanging in the balance, receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, making his triumphant return after missing the last three games, torched the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) to propel the Texans (7-4) to a win and sole possession of first place in the division.
Hopkins and Fuller are the cream of the crop of Houston’s receiving corps and, with the stakes as high as they were coming in, it’s only fitting that they rose to the occasion. Colts corners Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore did all they could to contain the dynamic tandem but it was to no avail: Hopkins caught six passes (eight targets) for 94 yards and two touchdowns while Fuller went off for 140 yards on seven catches (11 targets).
"It helps me out a lot. Him being a fellow receiver, having a speed guy like Will Fuller. It takes the pressure off of me," Hopkins said on "TNF Postgame" on NFL Network. "They got to go man more than they want to and you seen the result of that today."
Like Hopkins said, "TNF" was a full-on exhibition of what happens when the Texans combine the danger that is Fuller’s speed with Hop’s toughness. It was bewildering at times to see just how much separation both were able to create in their one-on-one matchups and how the Colts safeties offered little to no help over the top.
Hopkins’ two scores came just off the strength of him simply beating the coverage, something Watson touched on after the game.
"You got to give the Colts the credit. They did a good job of containing and trying to double and switch up the looks but [DeAndre Hopkins] did a hell of a job to come down with those two touchdowns," Watson said. "You got to give him that credit. He basically checked to those plays and I was on the same page with him."
Fuller also lobbed praise Hopkins’ way, speaking on the star wideout’s game-changing ability in a humble, "I’m just trying to get like you" kind of way.
"The second touchdown, I just walked to him and said, ‘I’m not even going to celebrate because that’s what I expect.’ Hop’s the best receiver in the game," he said. "That’s what I expect from Hop. He’s gonna be consistent. You see his numbers every year. That’s what you’re gonna get from Hop."
Surprisingly, this was only Hopkins’ second multi-TD outing of 2019 but his gravity has still impacted several games, such as Fuller’s 217-yard day in Week 5. Unlike the Falcons who mostly held Hopkins in check with double teams, the Colts gave up huge chunk plays multiple times to both.
According to Next Gen Stats, Watson was 4-of-4 on passes that traveled 30-plus air yards, racking up 160 yards and the two TDs. His perfect deep-ball day counts for the most completions of 30-plus air yards without an incompletion of any QB in a game since 2016. Oh and, as you might’ve figured out, all four went to either Hopkins or Fuller.
Next Gen Stats also confirmed that the 51-yard third-quarter completion between Watson and Fuller is the third-longest by air distance this season (59.4 yards). Fuller’s presence has influenced Watson to throw deep more than twice as often than when he’s not in the lineup (18 percent when Fuller’s available, 8 percent when he’s not).
"He just opens up a lot of different things. His speed, route-running, you have to respect him," Watson said of Fuller’s return. "Just him and his addition and moving Kenny [Stills] around, having those guys, I mean, those three are the best trio in the league. When those guys are playing on a high level, it makes my job a lot easier and it was good to see him back in action and make some great catches for us."
Fuller hammered home that same point, saying, "Just trying to put fear in the DB’s heart. Just running my route hard every chance I got. When Deshaun throws me the ball, that trust really gets me going too, so just got to keep it going."
Having lost three of the last four meetings against the Colts, including the Week 7 matchup in Indy that Fuller was injured in, the Texans desperately wanted to get a leg up on their division foe. Hopkins suggested Thursday’s showing has implications that extend beyond the AFC South race.
"A lot of playoff teams, they end up playing in January. They got that one-two punch, I feel like you got to have that one-two punch," he said. "I’m not the fastest but I make things happen but Will is a speedster, man. The combination between Will and myself, I don’t feel like many secondaries can matchup well against that."
The Texans’ next test comes in 10 days when the mighty Patriots (9-1) visit Houston. If Hopkins’ proclamation is to be believed, there’s probably no better measuring stick in the NFL to go up against.
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