Final Score: Texans 23, Browns 7


CLEVELAND – The Houston Texans waltzed into FirstEnergy Stadium and did what only one other team had done this season -- beat the Cleveland Browns at home. The 23-7 loss to the Texans is Cleveland's first defeat since an Oct. 19 loss at Jacksonville, snapping a three-game winning streak.
Houston might've earned more than just one victory in their trip up to Ohio.
Against a stingy defense in blustery conditions on the road, quarterback Ryan Mallett looked fantastic. On a healthy mix of quick-hitting slants and deep passes, Mallett posted 211 yards and two touchdowns. His first-ever NFL start was as successful as anyone could've predicted.
Even without All-Pro running back Arian Foster, the Texans still leaned on their rushing attack. Alfred Blue ran hard and ran with vision. His 156 yards on 36 carries, which is a Texans' franchise record, started wearing down the Browns defense in the early third quarter. A knee injury to Karlos Dansby certainly didn't help
Leading 17-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Texans opted to go for it instead of the long field goal on a pivotal fourth-and-2. Mallett stood like a statue in the pocket, whipping a pass into the hands of Andre Johnson, with Joe Haden draped all over him. The drive only resulted in a 37-yard Randy Bullock field goal, but it showed the composure Mallett already possesses and the trust Texans coach Bill O'Brien has for his new quarterback. That was the dagger that did in the Browns. A late furious comeback attempt would fall short.
As is normally the case, Houston relied heavily on defensive end J.J. Watt – who forced a fumble, recovered another, sacked quarterback Brian Hoyer and even made a gorgeous snag on a fade pattern for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Many of the Browns players called Watt the best player in the NFL during the week. Number 99 proved those premonitions to be accurate.
The real problem was on Cleveland's side, though. The Browns' offense never quite found its rhythm on Sunday. Third downs were problematic as they converted just three of 15. Several deep throws from Hoyer were off target; others were dropped. Hoyer was also sacked two times and was forcefully knocked down the turf on several occasions. Outside of a 35-yard scamper from Isaiah Crowell, the running game wasn't nearly as effective as it was in Cincinnati. Neither was the offensive line.
The resilient ability to comeback in the fourth quarter, like we've seen all season the end of games for the Browns, just wasn't there against the Texans.
And when the unit did advance the ball into Houston's territory, things went awry. In the first quarter, a promising eight-play, 60-yard drive ended with Billy Cundiff pushing a field goal wide-right. In the second quarter Crowell fumbled just as Cleveland was knocking on the door of the red zone.
Houston was able to recover from a series of mental miscues to still secure the victory. As tremendous as Watt was, he did commit two bone-headed roughing the punter penalties; the latter of which led to a 32-yard touchdown pass from Hoyer to Andrew Hawkins. On a third-down play, Texans center Chris Myers snapped the ball 20 yards over Mallett's head.
The Texans weren't the only team shooting themselves in the foot. In the fourth quarter, Marlon Moore took a kickoff return 100 yards for a touchdown, but a holding penalty nullified a play that could've sparked Cleveland. More than once, Hoyer tripped over his own linemen, resulting in busted plays. Paul Kruger dropped a would-be interception in the third quarter that could've completely shifted the game.
Expect Browns coach Mike Pettine to repeat the same true message he has all season long: wins are never as good as they seem and losses are never as bad. The Browns still sit at 6-4 and in control of their own playoff destiny with a trip to Atlanta on tap for next Sunday.

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