HOUSTON - The Texans offense moved the ball all game long, but it was an opportune defense and a strong special teams showing that made the biggest difference in their 29-13 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn made five field goals, pushing his league leading total to 29, as Houston won its ninth straight game. They have a three-game AFC-South lead over the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans who both are 6-6.
"I think these guys did a great job," head coach Bill O'Brien said of his team. "We try to present to them a theme of the week and this week's theme was that Cleveland was ahead of us, because they played Sunday and we didn't play until Monday night, so they had a day and a half lead on us in preparation basically. And it had everything to do with trying to recover as fast as you could, get a jump on the tape with Cleveland, because they do a lot of different things.
"They really try to do what we ask them to do they're a bunch of awesome guys it's been really fun to coach them."
The Texans made it tough for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. With Jadeveon Clowney bearing down on him, Mayfield threw a pass that was one-handed out of the air by Zach Cunningham for an interception. Cunningham was able to run over his one of his teammates and beat Mayfield to the end zone with a 28-yard return plus a dive and stretch of the football to open up a 17-point lead.
"That was a great play," O'Brien explained. "To me that was one of the bigger plays in the game early on. And his ability to get it into the end zone the way that he did was really a great play. He's an excellent athlete. And that really helped us. It was 10-0 at that point and it made it 17-0. Big play in the game."
The turnover gave the Texans a cushion to play a ball control game heading into the second half. Having Cunningham back on the field has been a big plus after he missed two games due to a sprained MCL.
"It definitely felt great for me just to get back out there and play with the guys and be able to do what I can to help the team," Cunningham explained. "I've been missing the past few weeks, so it definitely feels great for me."
The Browns held the ball for only 8:17 in the first half against the Texans and mustered 74 yards of offense. The Texans defense was able to force three interceptions off Mayfield with Cunningham, Johnathan Joseph and Andre Hal as the beneficiaries.
"We talked about it all week that they were, like, plus 14 [in turnovers]. They were tied with Chicago for No. 1 in the league," O'Brien said of creating turnovers on Sunday. "And we felt like if we didn't perform well in that category, we were going to have a long day. And I give credit to our players. They did a great job of really kind of really trying to follow that key to the game."
O'Brien has worked to make sure the Texans appreciate their wins but get them out of their mind in a hurry for their upcoming opponent. It has been a day-by-day approach for the Texans.
"I think the thing that I've noticed with this team is ... that it is a confident team, but it is a team that realizes it's very much of a week-to-week league," O'Brien said of the win streak. "And I think what I've noticed -- and it has to continue -- is that they come in here on Monday, Wednesday, whenever the first day of the week is, and they're ready to review the film, correct mistakes, build on the things we're doing well and flip the page and start getting ready for the opponent that we have to play. I think that's the mindset."
The Texans can clinch the AFC South win a win over the Colts in Week 14.