National

NFL Winners and Losers: Texans' grand slam hire of DeMeco Ryans changed everything

At the end of last season, the Houston Texans were about as low as an NFL team can get.

They fired Lovie Smith, a bad hire to begin with, after one season. That was their second straight one-and-done coach, following David Culley, another questionable hire. You can't blame the Texans for making bad hires. It's not like a candidate with any other options wanted to go there.

There was nothing good about the Texans. The Deshaun Watson debacle. The shockingly awful DeAndre Hopkins trade. Horrendous draft picks. The entire Jack Easterby saga that made the Texans a laughingstock. All the losses. The Texans were the worst franchise in the NFL.

It turned out, the one secret weapon the Texans had was a second round pick they made in the 2006 NFL Draft.

DeMeco Ryans liked Houston from his time as a linebacker there. The feeling was mutual. Ryans was one of the more popular players in Texans history. Ryans was a top candidate after some good years as San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator. Had he been drafted by another team many years ago, it's likely that Ryans wouldn't have looked at the Texans. Why would he have? He had a bright future and the Texans did not.

Just keep in mind, if your NFL team is at the bottom this season, that it can change fast. The Texans got lucky that Ryans had good feelings about Houston and that outweighed all of the pitfalls of the organization. Houston also got lucky that the Carolina Panthers took Bryce Young over C.J. Stroud. The Texans took an immediate star at quarterback with the second pick. Though, you also have to credit the coaching staff for his historic development.

And now the Texans might be going to the playoffs. Houston got a huge 22-17 win over the Denver Broncos, which will age very well in the AFC wild-card race. Houston held off Denver's final drive, picking off Russell Wilson in the end zone with less than 10 seconds remaining to seal the win. The Texans are 7-5 this season. That's probably more than twice as many wins as most people predicted for them.

Even if the Texans don't make it to the playoffs this season, the future is bright. Ryans was a great candidate, a former player who related to his players tremendously well and was a great football mind from a strong Kyle Shanahan tree. He made a great hire at offensive coordinator in Bobby Slowik, also from the Shanahan tree. The Texans had a lot of holes on the roster, but some young players have emerged, Stroud has covered up plenty of those issues and Ryans and his staff has done the rest. Young building blocks like receiver Nico Collins, defensive end Will Anderson Jr. and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. had big games in teh win over Denver. Houston is a well prepared team that is putting its players in the best positions to succeed every week. That's coaching.

It's almost too good to be true, a popular linebacker from the team's past returning to completely turn around a franchise that had sunk to the bottom of the NFL. Sounds like a good NFL Coach of the Year candidate.

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 13 of the NFL season:

WINNERS

Tyreek Hill for MVP, even though he won't win: Voters will just take the best quarterback for MVP, but that's not HIll's fault.

Week to week, Hill affects every Miami Dolphins game. He had two huge touchdowns in an easy 45-15 win on Sunday against the Washington Commanders. He had 152 yards and two touchdowns ... before halftime. He was the second player in Dolphins history to score on two 60-yard touchdown receptions in the same game, joining Hall of Famer Paul Warfield, and he did it in a half.

Hill made a goal before the season to get 2,000 yards. He might get there — he's on pace for well over 2,000 after a his 157-yard day Sunday — even if the MVP probably isn't coming his way. A receiver has never won the award. Hill deserves it, though.

Sam LaPorta: Rookie tight ends are not supposed to make an immediate impact. LaPorta is a big exception.

What a draft steal LaPorta has been. The team's second-round pick had 140 yards, a Lions tight end record for a single game, and was a big factor in them holding off the New Orleans Saints 33-28. The Lions took a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and while it's not ideal they had to hold on for dear life at the end, they did. LaPorta kept making big plays as the Saints were charging.

The Lions didn't look good in back-to-back games, losing one of them on Thanksgiving to the Green Bay Packers. They needed a win Sunday and got it. And it's not the last time their new star tight end will be a huge factor in a win.

LOSERS

Tennessee Titans' punt team: You don't often see a punt blocked in the NFL. The Titans gave up two in less than two minutes of game action.

One blocked punt was returned by the Indianapolis Colts for a touchdown. The other was recovered inside the 10-yard line and set up a field goal. That turned a game the Colts looked like they were going to lose into a sudden 25-19 lead. Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse was injured on the second block, which meant Ryan Tannehill had to be the holder on an extra point after the Titans tied the game, and the extra point was missed. Kicker Nick Folk had to punt after the Titans threw incomplete on third-and-12 late in the fourth quarter.

New England Patriots offense, no matter who is QB: Bailey Zappe got his chance to start on Sunday. The Patriots are still waiting for their first points with him as their starting QB.

The Los Angeles Chargers weren't good on Sunday, scoring just six points in the rain. But they only needed to score once to win. The Chargers won 6-0 in a game nobody should ever mention again. The Patriots were awful on offense. They had chances but couldn't take advantage. Late in teh game it seemed Zappe completed a long pass to DeVante Parker, but Parker's foot was out of bounds. That summed up the day.

Nothing is going to improve for the Patriots this season. Their hope is that horrendous quarterback play leads to drafting a much better quarterback in April.