Expanded Playoff Simulation Part V: Can Houston Make the Super Bowl?by Ryan Potts April 17, 2020 0 comments
Welcome back to the land of 2019. The 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers and 9-7 Los Angeles Rams would have made the playoffs under the new playoff format.
Despite narrowly missing the playoffs, both teams have come under intense scrutiny due to trading their 2020 first-round picks in exchange for a failed attempt at making the playoffs. Here, in an alternate 2019, the Steelers and Rams make the playoffs.
Here is the new AFC Championship Game.
Welcome to the new 2019 AFC Championship Game. With the original AFC champion Chiefs being upset in the first round by the Steelers, and the Titans losing to the Texans in the second round, the AFC is in chaos. The two teams left standing are the fourth-seeded Texans and the top-seeded Ravens.
To read about how Houston got into this situation, go here. They squared off in the regular season with the Ravens playing host to a 41-7 slaughter. After a scoreless first frame, the Ravens outscored the Texans 14-0, 13-0, and 14-7 in the final three quarters, riding a 301-yard performance from Lamar Jackson. Here is the rematch in Baltimore.
After a Houston penalty to begin the drive, Gus Edwards gained a first down. Jackson missed Willie Snead as he came out of his break, and a Mark Ingram carry put the Ravens behind the sticks. On third down, Jackson could only gain five yards before being escorted out of bounds.
DeAndre Hopkins got into the action with an eight-yard catch. Hyde picked up the first down on the next play. Two plays later, the Texans faced a third-and-nine, and Watson overthrew an open Hopkins to end the drive.
To open the next drive, Edwards took a handoff around the edge and picked up 34 yards, negating Houston’s punt. Ingram got going with a pair of runs to pick up 25 yards. On the fourth play of the drive, Edwards once again found the edge, scoring a 13-yard touchdown. After an extra point, the Ravens led 7-0.
Hyde began the drive with a loss of three. Johnson could not find space on the next play, and the ensuing third down saw another incompletion from Watson, forcing a punt.
The wheel of Baltimore rushers landed on Jackson who picked up four yards. Ingram pounded ahead for a first down then a run of nine yards. After getting inside the Houston 40, Justice Hill closed out the quarter with 18 yards on two carries.
Jackson hit Snead for a screen pass, and Snead gained 13 yards. After a false start, Jackson sat in the pocket before slipping through the line and finding the end zone. As Justin Tucker split the uprights on the extra point, the Ravens went up 14-0.
After an abysmal quarter on third down, the Texans finally got into a rhythm. Facing a third-and-eight, Watson hit Hopkins for a 15-yard gain. Two plays later, Watson found Keke Coutee for 15 yards, pushing the Texans into Baltimore territory. The running game came to life with four consecutive productive runs to gain 35 yards. Three plays later, on another third down, Johnson dove into the end zone. A Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal trimmed the lead to seven.
After a terrific drive, the Ravens stalled after Hill and Ingram gained just five yards on the first two plays. Jackson only gained three yards on third down, forcing a critical decision from John Harbaugh. Harbaugh elected to punt.
In good field position after the punt, Hyde plowed ahead for five yards. Watson dumped a second-down pass to Will Fuller who gained 18 yards. After a run of zero yards, Watson hit Kenny Stills for nine yards. After an illegal motion penalty, Watson was sacked by LJ Fort, forcing Fairbairn to try a 47-yard field goal. The Ravens lead 14-10.
Jackson found Mark Andrews for his first catch of the game, picking up 15 yards. After a timeout, Ingram broke around the edge for 12 yards. Jackson hit Marquise Brown for three yards. Edwards ran up the gut for 13 yards, putting the Ravens in field goal range with a minute to go in the half. Jackson missed a pair of throws before scrambling for two yards. On fourth down, Tucker walked out and drilled a 51-yard field goal.
With 24 seconds left in the half, the Texans broke a large return to set them up at the 44. Hyde caught Baltimore napping with a six-yard draw play. Taiwan Jones slipped out to the sideline after picking up the first down. Hyde gained three more yards, and the Texans called a timeout with four seconds left. Fairbairn missed the ensuing 56-yard field goal wide right. The Ravens led 17-10.
The Ravens opened the third quarter with five consecutive runs, gaining 15, 13, 16, 11, and six to push Baltimore to the Houston six-yard-line. On second-and-four, Miles Boykin bobbled a pass in the end zone, dropping the touchdown. After a surprise run on third down, Hill was stopped for a loss. Tucker converted the 24-yard field goal.
The third-down heroics of the Texans continued in the third quarter. After a Hyde and a batted pass, Watson hit Stills for seven yards and a first down. Patrick Onwuasor slipped through to sack Watson on the ensuing first down. Watson hit Hopkins and Johnson for gains of 14 and six to pick up the first. Hyde bulldozed through defenders on his way to 18 yards and another first down. On the next play, Marcus Peters deflected a pass over the middle into the waiting arms of Earl Thomas.
With six minutes to go, the Ravens were up 10. After an Edwards seven-yard run, Hill was stuffed by DJ Reader. Jackson hit the seam, gaining 35 yards through Mark Andrews. After a minimal run and a false start, Ingram put the Ravens in a third-and-manageable situation. Jackson found a hole in the defense and got 14 yards and a first down. Ingram gained nine yards on first down, but two quarterback runs resulted in a loss of one, necessitating Tucker to connect from 35 yards as the quarter ended. The Ravens lead 23-10 with 15 minutes to play.
The Texans started the fourth quarter on their own three after a holding penalty. Two short runs set the Texans up with a third down, and Watson converted the third down with a quick pass to Hopkins. After firing two incompletions in the direction of Stills, Fuller flashed open for 13 yards and another third-down conversion. Hyde and Johnson combined for three yards before an illegal motion penalty pushed the Texans to a third-and-12. For the third time on the drive, Watson found the open man and converted: Fuller for 32.
On the next two plays, Watson hit Stills and Hopkins for gains of 11 and nine. On the ensuing second down, Michael Pierce shed an interior block and flattened Hyde for a loss of three. With under eight minutes to play, Watson tried to force a pass into the end zone. He missed his target, but he found the waiting arms of Jimmy Smith who returned the interception 94 yards before being dragged down at the Houston two.
Jackson threw a screen pass to Ingram who sidestepped a tackler and scored. The Ravens lead 30-10.
With better field position than their previous drive, the Texans began work on a legendary comeback. After a pair of three-yard gains, Watson found Hopkins for yet another third-down conversion. Johnson gained another first down and put the Texans in Baltimore territory. Hopkins hauled in a pass for a gain of six. On second down, Hopkins caught another pass, but he was yanked down before gaining any yards. Watson found no open receiver, but he slipped out of bounds after gaining two yards. On a critical fourth down, Watson’s pass sailed just beyond the reach of Darren Fells.
With a commanding lead, Edwards drove the knife in again as he powered forward for 55 yards in a run that resembled Marshawn Lynch’s famous “Beastquake.”
Two plays later, Ingram found the end zone, extending the lead to 27.
With three minutes to go, the Texans had an approximate win probability of 0.02 percent. Watson hit Fuller for two gains of six to pick up the first down. Jones and Watson picked up first downs on the ground before Hyde added another first down. A pass interference gave the Texans another first down, but the yardage was quickly returned with an offensive pass interference. Hyde got the ball on a surprise run and scampered 39 yards for a touchdown. Houston failed the two-point conversion.
Baltimore needed just one first down to end the game, and Ingram obliged with a 10-yard run. After three Jackson kneel-downs, the Ravens were on their way to the Super Bowl.
Edwards and Ingram split the player of the game nomination as Edwards picked up 155 yards and a touchdown, and Ingram went for 128 total yards and two touchdowns.
The Ravens advance to play the 49ers in Super Bowl 54. Stay tuned for Part VI.