HOUSTON – It was practically a microcosm of the Texans’ rocky season, especially its points and yard-challenged offense. Another ugly moment, another costly mistake, another plan gone awry.
Hoping an aggressive approach would trigger a fast start, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton went for a heavy approach on the first drive of the game. On 4th-and-1 at the Texans’ 45-yard line, backup quarterback Jeff Driskel got stuffed by the Jacksonville Jaguars when he tried to run up the middle for no gain.
The turnover on downs immediately led to points as the Jaguars marched for a touchdown.
There were no real highlights for the offense during a 31-3 blowout loss Sunday that snapped their nine-game winning streak over the Jaguars.
The Texans fell to 2-13-1 for the season and finish the year 0-7-1 in home games at NRG Stadium for the first winless home record in franchise history.
Whether it was quarterback Davis Mills being sacked from behind by Josh Allen with the loose football recovered by cornerback Tyson Campbell for a 12-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead or an inexplicable red-zone strategy, the offense looked aimless and discombobulated.
The regression was puzzling to wide receiver Brandin Cooks, especially given how the Texans were coming off a win over the Tennessee Titans and strong performances in narrow losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys. This wasn’t even close.
“No doubt, just because I feel like we had that momentum,” Cooks said. “There’s definitely been strides. So to come out here and kind of revert to what we was putting out there at the beginning of the season is definitely disappointing.”
“I’m speaking for the offense, we didn’t play good football today. Any time you get a takeaway or a couple of takeaways, that’s what you ask for as an offense and not to be able to capitalize or turn those into touchdowns, it’s going to be a long night.”
At halftime, the Texans had just four first downs and 94 net yards on 33 plays. They finished with just 13 first downs and 277 net yards for an average of 4.1 per play as they went 0 for 4 on fourth downs, 6 for 17 on third downs and failed to score on their lone red-zone shot.
“Offensively, we have to get some points on the board,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “We were never able to really establish the run. Pass-wise, for protection to just the entire passing game, it wasn’t our day today. Kind of as simple as that.”
“When you play like that, it’s not going to happen. We’re not going to win one, so there’s nothing else to really say on that. You got to score some points, got to be able to keep them out of the end zone. We didn’t do that today.”
Smith is correct in his assessment.
Mills, who completed just 8 of 16 passes for 58 yards in the first half when the game was being decided, was the Texans’ leading rusher with 33 yards on four carries. The Texans had just 84 rushing yards on 21 carries. He passed for 202 yards on 22 of 40 accuracy for a 69.0 passer rating.
The two-quarterback system didn’t lead to points or much production. Driskel rushed for seven yards on two carries and he completed 3 of 4 passes for nine yards.
“I think, excluding today, I think up to this point I’ve been really successful,” Mills said. “Overall, as an offense I don’t think we played extremely well today. We had a couple of missed opportunities. We were playing against a really talented group of guys who have a chance to be a playoff team in a big game next week. Up to this point it was causing a lot of chaos for defenses. Bringing in Jeff and myself and mixing it up, making it hard for them to kind of game plan against all the different looks we’re bringing.”
Mills had a lot of overthrown deep passes, a handful of them, mostly along the sideline and he averaged just 5.1 yards per attempt.
“We wanted to keep going at them,” said Mills, who finished 22-of-40 passing for 202 yards. “They were covering them up pretty well. But if I saw one-on-one coverage, I wanted to be aggressive and find a way to take it. It just wasn’t our day today.”
Mills had played much better against the Cowboys and Chiefs and delivered a game-winning touchdown pass to Cooks against the Titans.
The Texans didn’t have a sound plan on 4th down in the red zone against the Jaguars down 21-0 in the second quarter.
After a Phillip Dorsett drop on second down of a Driskel pass that could have led to a score if he had secured the football and another incompletion by Mills on third down, Mills lobbed a 4th-and-5 fade pass to 32-year-old running back Rex Burkhead in the end zone and it fell to the ground for another lost opportunity.What happened? Was that the primary option on the play?
“I can’t go into all the details there,” Smith said. “In the end, we had a wheel route with Rex, and we didn’t complete it. When you get down in the red zone, that’s been an issue for us a little bit this year. When you get down into the red zone you’ve got to be able to cash it in, not with just a field goal. Just felt like we needed a touchdown to stay up with them then.”
It was another example of how tough it is for the Texans to compete without Pro Bowl alternate rookie running back Dameon Pierce. The leading rusher among the running backs was Dare Ogunbowale with 21 yards on seven carries followed by Royce Freeman’s 19 yards on seven carries.
“Overall, we’ve got to be able to finish those drives,” offensive guard A.J. Cann said. “We keep coming back to the same story today. We don’t want to reverse and go back to how we started the season. Who knows? If we had converted that 4th-and-1, what might have happened. Next thing you know, we’re down 21-0.
“Everybody is kind of bummed about it. Division game against a team we had already beaten and I’m sure mentally we were thinking we know how to get after these guys. I’m sure people are bummed about it.”
This game wasn’t even close to competitive. The Jaguars proved that they’re the top team in a weak AFC South division and avenged a 13-6 loss to the Texans earlier this year. They can win the division and earn a playoff berth by beating the Titans next week in an AFC South showdown.
“Played against a really good team,” Mills said. “I thought they outcompeted us throughout the game. Just struggled to find ways to execute our job. So, it made it tough to move the football. Props to them, they’re a good team.”
“It’s tough. You make it so far. You make it to the NFL, and you expect that you’re going to have a chance to win every game. And it’s just been a struggle. The record doesn’t show how talented and how good this team is. We found ways to fight and play teams really close all season long.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com