LAS VEGAS – Davis Mills rolled to his left, creating a passing lane before firing a strike to his intended target: Texans wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.
It was an impressive moment as the Texans’ second-year quarterback delivered an accurate spiral for a 25-yard touchdown pass.
It was a different, more commanding version of Mills than what had been seen previously this season.
Although the Texans ultimately came up short during a 38-20 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium, the defense was the primary culprit as they allowed three second-half touchdown runs to star running back Josh Jacobs.
Mills turned in his most impressive performance of the season, though, and provided some encouragement toward his bid to establish himself as a long-term answer at the position for the 1-4-1 Texans.
Mills completed 28 of 41 passes for a season-high 302 yards for two touchdowns and one interception. His errant pass, intended for tight end Brevin Jordan, with the Texans in catch-up mode late in the fourth quarter, was intercepted by safety Duron Harmon and returned for a touchdown.
“I think he did great,” wide receiver Brandin Cooks said. “He came out playing fast, just playing free and making great decisions. It was a step in the right direction as an offense.”
Mills spread the football around, connecting with nine different receivers.
Unlike losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Chicago Bears when Mills threw a total of four interceptions, the former third-round draft pick from Stanford was a part of the solution against the Raiders. He wasn’t the problem. It was the defense.
The Texans converted 9 of 15 third downs.
“I thought as an offense as a whole, I thought we played really well,” Mills said. “We only got stopped maybe three times, including that final drive. Made a big step up converting third downs and I thought that just allowed us to keep drives alive and move the ball. I thought we were efficient, just got to find a way to finish.
“We were seeing it really well. We got a little extra time this week with the bye to game plan third down, so everyone was on the same page. We had a lot of reps at it during the week and we just went out and executed and did our jobs. The offensive line protected really well with their guys up front who were putting stress on us, but I thought we stood up to the challenge and we were moving the ball on third down and getting conversions.”
And Mills’ touchdown pass to Dorsett, which gave the Texans a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, was perfectly placed between two Raiders defensive backs. Dorsett bobbled the accurate throw and then hauled in the touchdown.
The Texans had a season-high 404 yards of total offense as rookie running back Dameon Pierce rushed for 92 yards to complement Mills’ passing.
“Offensively, we saw signs of what we can be,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “Defensively we just didn’t play well enough, kind of simple as that. I thought first half-wise we were in pretty good shape, but second half we didn’t do what we needed to.”
The Texans averaged 6.2 yards per offensive play.
“Davis did a great job, getting everybody the ball, different receivers, finding targets that were open, checking, making plays,” Pierce said. “That’s the Dmilly we know and love. Kudos to Dmilly. He’s doing a great job leading this team and commanding this huddle. This thing is coming together, and it’s going to come together real soon.”
Mills played significantly better, and his teammates took notice.
“Balling,” offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil said. “He needs to keep it up. DP (Pierce), too. The offense is doing well. We’ve got to keep stacking.”
Mills had time to throw. He was only sacked once. The Raiders had three quarterback hits. Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby had no sacks and two quarterback hits. Texans right offensive tackle Tytus Howard effectively prevented him from making a big impact.
“We felt we did a pretty good job moving the ball consistently throughout the game. we just got behind and couldn’t catch up,” Howard said. “I think as an offense we took a step forward. I feel like I did pretty good. I held him from the quarterback all game.
“There was a play here and there, but, for the most part, I think I won that matchup. Building off it, try to be better every week. The goal is to win the matchup every week and be the best I can be.”
The interception was something Mills recognized shouldn’t have happened, but it wasn’t a concern compared to what was going on defensively.
“Obviously, tried to force it a little bit on the interception, tried to make a play so we could keep moving the ball and try to get a chunk on that play,” Mills said. “Just got to be smart with the football there. But other than that, I mean we were still moving the ball, just not enough.
“Just got to come together as a full team. Everyone is going to strain and fight to the finish. Whenit comes down to it, it’s on us as players.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.