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Watson's career night propels Texans past Dolphins

Houston had few problems Thursday evening, as the Texans (5-3) extended their lead in the AFC South and their five-game winning streak with a 42-23 win over the visiting Miami Dolphins (4-4) to kick off Week 8. Here's what we learned:

  1. Last we saw the Texans on prime-time television, they barely skated by the middling Dallas Cowboys and played gun-shy at the goal line, generally unable to cash in on their scoring opportunities. That was not at all the case on Thursday night. Paced by a brilliant night from Deshaun Watson, Houston smashed the visiting Dolphins with a 28-point second half. Watson threw more touchdowns (5) than incompletions (4), the first time the Texans signal-caller has thrown five TDs in a victory. DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller roamed free in Miami's secondary in the second half, combining for 206 receiving yards and three scores before Fuller exited with a knee injury. Even Lamar Miller -- in a revenge game no less -- ran through a crumbling Dolphins front seven for 133 yards, his second-consecutive 100-yard game.

Those stats are all well and good, but the most important number from Thursday evening: Zero. Zero sacks of Watson, who came into Thursday with bruised lungs and as the most frequently sacked quarterback in the league. It's all coming together for Houston, who have won five in a row for the first time since 2012 and now lead the AFC South by two games in the win column.

  1. Speaking of revenge games... Brock Osweiler's return to Houston wasn't quite a disaster; after all, it wasn't reminiscent of his worst moments as a Texan from that unforgettable 2016 season. But the Dolphins quarterback, in his third game in place of Ryan Tannehill, didn't do enough to keep Miami in the game during Houston's second-half onslaught, overthrowing receivers and leading too many field goal drives. Osweiler's 56.8 completion percentage is his lowest as a Dolphin so far, and the best throw of the night came from Danny Amendola. With Tannehill's return nowhere in sight, Miami has to wonder if the playoffs are possible if Brocktober never ends.
  1. Hopkins wondered this week, "Who's Xavien Howard?" when asked for comment on the Dolphins cornerback's assertion that Hopkins "likes to push off a lot." The wideout learned who Howard was in the first half when, with the rising corner draped all over him, Hopkins was barely targeted, recording just two catches on three targets.

But the receiver erupted in the second half. Hopkins' most impressive catch of the game, or dare I say his career -- a one-handed grab that he corralled mid-air to his lower glutes -- was called back thanks to a penalty. "That wasn't pass interference there," Hopkins told NFL Network after the game. "I'm going to count that catch. That's a catch in my book."

After that moment, the All-Pro played like a Nuk possessed. Hopkins caught four balls for 74 yards in the fourth quarter, including two touchdowns. Hopkins-Howard I wasn't quite Beckham-Norman I in regards to extracurriculars, but it was a competitive bout for three quarters. Still, Hopkins, split decision.

  1. On the game day roster for just the third time this season, DeVante Parker made the case for more playing time. Way more playing time. Less than a week after his agent criticized Adam Gase for mischaracterizing the receiver's availability, Parker was activated with Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills injured and recorded six catches for a career-high 134 yards. (46 came on a Madden-glitch carom, but hey, points for being in the right place at the right time.) Considered trade bait before Thursday night, we'll see if Miami chooses to swap him for pieces now that its receiver depth is limited.
  1. If you were a Texans defender, it's likely that you were injured on Thursday night. Among the wounded: CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle), LB Zach Cunningham (knee), LB Peter Kalambayi (concussion) and DE Jadeveon Clowney, who was looked at by trainers late in the game. Fuller exited with a knee injury, too. Injuries tanked Houston's season in 2017. Hopefully, Thursday night's setbacks aren't a sign of things to come.
  1. Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke's GIF-worthy tablet-smash said it all. Miami crumbled in the second half, allowing big play after big play mostly due to breakdowns in the secondary. On more than one occasion, Bobby McCain and T.J. McDonald mistakenly traveled with the same receiver, leaving wide open spaces for Fuller and Hopkins. The Dolphins allowed over 400 yards for the third consecutive game and for the fifth time in six games.

Asked if he is considering any staff changes, Gase told reporters, "I haven't even thought about that. In my head, I'm saying that I don't see that happening. We need to go back and figure out what is going on to where we're giving up these massive amounts of yardage in the run game."

  1. Shh. Don't tell anyone but J.J. Watt leads the league with eight sacks and looks as dominant as ever. Just ask the three Dolphins -- Ja'Wuan James, Nick O'Leary, running back -- asked to block him on any given play. The same could be said for these Texans, who from the depths of 0-3 have risen into a legitimate contender in the AFC.

"You start off 0-3 and outside the whole world is falling, but inside we knew what we had," Watt told NFL Network. "And the thing is these guys, [including] myself, we've been through adversity -- injuries, stuff like that. So we know what it's like to be down and out, and we know how to climb back out of it. We're nowhere where we want to be, but five wins in a row feels pretty good."

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