How your faith in Houston sports could be restored after the last week

ByMatt Guillermo KTRK logo
Monday, November 13, 2023
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HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Nothing unifies a city or fanbase more than winning, and if you've stuck with Houston pro sports this far, you've experienced the ecstasy that victory brings, thanks to the 2022 Astros.

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But after the 'Stros fell short of repeating as champs, Houston seemed to be diving back into the fall sporting doldrums.

After all, experts expected the Rockets and the Texans to do little with young cores and first-year coaches. That's not to mention the Dynamo, who hadn't qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs in five seasons, were postseason-bound but to lesser fanfare to any casual fan.

You would be hard-pressed to demonstrate some faith with underachieving teams, but something rare happened.

In one week, the Houston teams actively participating in their league play did what the Astros did last year - they won. The Astros also did something to ensure they could earn their victories by hiring someone beloved by the fanbase.

So what happened during the week of Nov. 6-13?

Texans peel off a second straight impressive win

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud runs for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Cincinnati.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

As of this writing on Monday, the Houston Texans would qualify for the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, but they wouldn't get there without two signature victories, the second of which took place on Sunday, Nov. 12, in Cincinnati.

A week after setting the NFL rookie record for passing yards in a single game, CJ Stroud, the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week, again willed the Texans to a last-second victory after they were behind.

Stroud passed for 356 yards and scored two touchdowns on the ground and in the air against an excellent Bengals team in a 30-27 win.

"The thing about C.J. is just the calmness in the chaos," Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. "He doesn't waver. He's confident he's going to make plays."

Stroud shook off a late interception deep in Texans territory to guide their go-ahead drive.

You're correct. There are plenty of games left, which don't guarantee Houston enters the playoffs. But Stroud's performance, buoyed by offensive skill players and a serviceable defense, has surprised the NFL - and, perhaps, nay-saying Houstonians who have had to suffer through the last few seasons.

Rockets red-hot during undefeated week

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, right, drives around Houston Rockets forward Dillon Brooks, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023.
AP Photo/Michael Wyke

Meanwhile, the Texans' hardcourt cohorts inside Toyota Center had a week that could help melt away the futility felt in the last three post-James Harden seasons.

After starting the season with three straight losses, the Rockets entered the week of Nov. 6 the winners of two consecutive games. With matchups against Sacramento, the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans, and the defending champion Nuggets, Houston would get lucky if they got away with just one win in the following seven days.

Instead, the Rockets, who were betting underdogs in three of those four games, went unbeaten for the week, including a 34-point blowout against Lebron James and the Lake Show.

As of Monday, the Rockets are 6-3 and fourth in the Western Conference, and, yes, it's too early to tell whether Houston plays basketball past the regular season finale on Apr. 14, 2024.

But it's been impressive to watch Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, and Fred Vanvleet unlock the team's potential. Green led the Rockets in scoring in three of those wins, while Vanvleet propelled the team with 26 points in their upset of the Nuggets.

"We're getting better," VanVleet said after their sixth straight victory on Sunday vs. Denver. "We can feel the trend trending upward, we're trying to get more things done that the coaches are asking us to do, and we're executing at a higher and higher level each time out."

SEE ALSO: Fred VanVleet shares wealth, surprises Rockets teammates with gifts as training camp gets underway

Will this successful homestand translate to wins on the road? Clutch City will find out when a three-game trip on the West Coast starts Friday.

By the way, ESPN didn't give the Rockets much chance before the season. They were ranked 26th in the "Worldwide Leader's" preseason power rankings and projected to finish with a 29-53 record.

Dynamo earn redemption, trip to West semifinals

Houston Dynamo forward Corey Baird (11) slides into the stands as he celebrates his goal against Real Salt Lake during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match, Nov. 11, 2023.
AP Photo/Michael Wyke

The only Houston team in the middle of a playoff run is the Dynamo, who entered the week in position to advance in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2017.

A victory on Monday, Nov. 6, would give Houston the first-round sweep over Real Salt Lake, who instead rallied and came out with the penalty shootout victory.

So, the season was on the line for the Dynamo when the best-of-three series returned to Shell Energy Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11 , where Houston held a one-goal lead only for Real Salt Lake to tie and force another penalty shootout.

Houston came up clutch in five rounds of the shootout, with goalkeeper Steve Clark denying a shot. Griffin Dorsey's netter in the fifth round turned into the game-winner after Real Salt Lake missed its final shot.

What does this mean? Houston plays on in its search for the club's third MLS Cup to pair with the U.S. Open Cup it earned earlier in the season.

The Dynamo hosts Sporting Kansas City on Nov. 26 in a single-elimination match, with the winner advancing to the Western Conference Final.

Astros give fan-favorite Espada a chance at managing

Houston Astros manager Joe Espada gets introduced by general manager Dana Brown on Nov. 13, 2023.

Last but not least, the Astros made a move that they hope results in sustained success for the next few years.

On Monday, Nov. 13 , Joe Espada, who was the team's bench coach since 2018, was chosen to succeed manager Dusty Baker. Houston is the 48-year-old Espada's first managing job in the majors.

"We wanted to continue the success here in Houston. ... We came up with the right man for the job. Our fans deserve it," Astros general manager Dana Brown said.

Indeed, Espada, a managerial candidate elsewhere in prior years, represented continuity and familiarity in the clubhouse and with the fanbase.

"I really hoped that I was going to get a chance to stay home and manage this team," Espada said. "I love this city. I love this team. I love this community, and I know I can protect and continue success and continue winning in this city."

SEE ALSO: Who is Joe Espada? Astros give managerial job to longtime MLB coach with international experience

What does Espada bring to the table?

"I was looking for someone with leadership skills, someone who could communicate, someone who would collaborate, and ultimately someone who was humble," Brown said. "I've had a chance to talk to Joe Espada almost the whole year, and we've had great conversations. We hit it off early, and I think, without a question, Joe is a good fit for this job."

'Stros fans would be hard-pressed to believe Espada's hiring means an automatic championship, especially with the 2023 season ending on a sour note. But in the totality of Houston sports right now, the promise is there, just like with the Texans, the Rockets, and the Dynamo.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.