HOUSTON – Jerry Hughes knew what was coming, advanced knowledge for the Texans’ veteran defensive end after studying a few previous screenplays.
Reading the eyes of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan, Hughes sniffed it out. He dropped into the passing lane on a throw intended for running back Jonathan Taylor and darted in to bat the football to himself for the second interception of his career.
“It was a good play,” Ryan said. “He was engaged kind of when I let it go and just disengaged as the ball was coming out. It’s part of football. It sucks because it was a really good call. I think we had action. I think we had it set up pretty good. I’ve got to find a better passing lane. I’ve got to find a way to make that completion. It was a good play, though.”
Hughes’ interception led to a touchdown Sunday during the Texans’ 20-20 tie in an overtime game at NRG Stadium.
And Hughes was thinking big after the turnover, hoping for a touchdown, if not a longer return, but he got tackled by Ryan after a 14-yard return.
“Just a lot of green field,” Hughes said. “I wasn’t sure how close Taylor was to me, so I felt like if I could kind of get Matt to kind of open his hips and run the opposite way, I should have a lot of green grass to score. But I guess he made a tackle, and that doesn’t really happen too often on d-linemen, so I’ve got to be better.”
It was a strong debut for Hughes, who grew up in Sugar Land and was a standout running back at Fort Bend Austin before starting at TCU and being drafted in the first round by the Colts. The 34-year-old had a sack and forced fumble on Ryan in the second quarter. He’s the third player in Texans franchise history to record an interception, a forced fumble, and a sack in the same game after Dunta Robinson in 2004 and DeMeco Ryans in 2006, and the first player to do so all in the same half.
“What do we like about Jerry? I would say everything,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said recently. “This guy has been a rock star since the day he arrived. When you see a player from afar, you really don’t know exactly sort of what makes him tick. He was a pain in the ass for us in New England, I would say almost more in the running game than he was as a pass rusher because of his ability to rip inside and be disruptive, kind of split double teams. He was hard to block, and he was always out there.
“There’s a reason why he’s made it this far. He’s very diligent. He’s very professional. He has good leadership. Players respect him. He can still perform I would say at a pretty good level. I mean, that’s the most important thing, because it’s about production. Jerry has done a great job., Jerry has been awesome to work with, he really has.”
Hughes finished with two sacks, the 10th time in his career he has recorded at least two in one game.
What Hughes and the Texans didn’t get was a victory.
Ryan rallied the Colts back from a 20-3 deficit with 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
It was a collapse, and the defense looked extremely tired, which coach Lovie Smith acknowledged.
“We’ve got to learn how to close games out,” Hughes said. “We were up on those guys at the start of the second half. In the fourth quarter, we’ve got to shut the door as a defense. When you’ve got someone on the run, when you’ve got your foot on their neck, you’ve got to be able to squeeze and just solidify the game. We didn’t do it this evening. We’ve got to learn from this game so we can figure out ways to close games because that’s the only way you’re going to win in the NFL is in that fourth quarter.”