CLEVELAND – Tyrod Taylor scrambled to his right, racing toward the end zone until he planted while defensive end Myles Garrett swiped at his left leg, injuring his hamstring and stiffly managed to finish off the touchdown run.
That was the moment when the Texans’ hard-luck quarterback suffered yet another injury in a career filled with them in recent years. The setback forced him out of the game at halftime and interrupted a strong first-half performance.
The injury changed the complexion of the game as the Texans lost, 31-21, Sunday to the Cleveland Browns after building a 14-7 halftime lead with Taylor. It also dramatically changes the Texans’ quarterback situation as rookie Davis Mills replaced Taylor and was intercepted once and completed 8 of 18 throws for 102 yards, one touchdown and a 58.1 passer rating in his NFL regular-season debut.
Taylor will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday to determine the severity of the damage to his left hamstring and is not expected to be ready for a Thursday night game against the Carolina Panthers, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Depending on the extent of the hamstring injury, Taylor, 32, could miss a week or two if it’s a Grade 1 strain. A Grade 2 strain could sideline him for four to six weeks and could potentially prompt the team to place him on injured reserve. A Grade 3 pulled hamstring could take up to three months to fully recover from, but it didn't appear to be that serious.
“He has a hamstring,” Texans coach David Culley said of Taylor, who completed 10 of 11 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown for a 144.3 passer rating before getting hurt.. “We’re not sure how severe it is. He does have a hamstring, and it’s severe enough that he couldn’t play in the second half.
“It was actually right before halftime. He came off to the sideline and was running to the left and he kind of pulled up and knew something was wrong. He thought he was okay, but once we got him in, we realized it was something.”
A year ago with the Los Angeles Chargers, Taylor lost his starting job to Justin Herbert when a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung while giving him a pain-killing injection. In 2018 with the Browns, Taylor suffered a concussion and was replaced by Baker Mayfield.
“Losing No. 5 (Taylor) definitely hurts,” center Justin Britt said. “I do not think this is something that, with his career and history I do not think this is one of those scenarios. We trust him.”
Taylor was running away from Browns defensive end Myles Garrett when he got hurt.
When asked about Taylor not playing in the second half, Garrett quipped: “I must have took a lot out of him when I tried to chase him down.”
Will the Texans turn to embattled Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson?
That’s considered an extremely unlikely scenario involving Watson, who has a standing trade request and unresolved legal problems that include 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints, according to league sources. The Texans are expected to get Mills ready to start his first NFL game against Carolina and elevate practice squad quarterback Jeff Driskel back him up with Watson remaining inactive and still being paid his $10.54 million salary.
When asked if there was a chance Watson could play Thursday if Taylor is out, Culley replied: “We’ll have to see.”
Watson is eligible to play because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has opted to not place Watson on the commissioner-exempt list, the equivalent of paid leave, and isn’t inclined to do so unless he’s charged with a crime.
Could trade talks heat up with the Miami Dolphins in the wake of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s rib injury with initial X-rays negative and just regarded as bruises?
Not unless the Texans get what they want in exchange for Watson, which could involve as much as four first-round draft picks and additional draft capital and players.
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A strong-armed third-round draft pick from Stanford, Mills had his moments during the second half of a loss to a playoff team from last season.
Mills threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandin Cooks. He also had a 35-yard completion to wide receiver Andre Roberts.
If the Texans have to turn to Mills, Culley expressed confidence in his ability to run the offense.
“Very confident with him,” Culley said. “Our players when he went in there, I’m talking about they didn’t bat an eye. On our sideline, it was as if Tyrod was in there when he was in there. It was no different. We didn’t really do anything different.”
Mills got better as the game progressed. After the interception on a throw over the middle intended for Roberts, he settled down.
“That’s Davis, that’s the kind of quarterback he’s going to be,” Culley said. “A good lesson for him and a good experience for him to get, especially in this kind of ball game because if we would have made some plays out there, we would have a chance to be in position to win the football game. Part of that was because of him.”
A former blue-chip recruit from Atlanta who chose Stanford over Alabama and Michigan, Mills was was an honorable-mention All-Pac-12 selection who passed for 1,508 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions in five games last season. He set a single-game school record with a 504-yard performance against Washington State. As a sophomore, he passed for 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Although Mills only started 11 games at Stanford due to a knee injury, he showed enough to impress the Texans and be drafted 67th overall.
“As the backup quarterback or the guy that is next up, you always have to be ready for anything to happen,” Mills said. “I felt like I did a good job. I can improve on some stuff. A lot to learn from, but overall I didn’t think I was too rattled or wasn’t ready for the moment.
“It is kind of just finding that rhythm. Obviously, I would have liked to start a little faster, but that comes with some experience. I’m looking forward to what’s next. I thought the whole team rallied. They had a ton of confidence in me. It allowed myself to go out there, have confidence and do my thing.”
Mills displayed poise and toughness while absorbing some hits, including a sack and forced fumble on a hit by safety Grant Delpit that was recovered by offensive tackle Marcus Cannon.
“Just going out there and playing and not letting the moment get too much for me,” Mills said. “I felt like I handled that well and I felt extremely proud of the guys around me. Obviously, I have a lot to learn from this game, my first true regular season game, so looking forward to the next one.”
It was a jolting hit by Delpit, a former Lamar High School standout who transferred to IMG Academy before signing with LSU.
“That one they got me that I didn’t see ended up popping out, I just have to kind of have my eyes ready for that and be able to read the pre-snap (keys) and expect where it’s coming from and go from there,” Mills said.
When Mills entered the huddle as Taylor’s replacement, he got a message from Britt.
“I told him we’re going to be all right,” Britt said. “We did not hesitate. He steps into the huddle and we gave him our full attention and let him control it. They brought him here for a reason. He had a really good camp. If we need him next week, he will be ready.”
Should Mills start Thursday night against Carolina, which appears to be a lock, he expressed confidence that he’ll be ready.
“Of course, that’s probably a decision to see if Tyrod is ready or not,” Mills said. “But going into every game I have to prepare myself like I’m the start. Moving forward, it’s the same thing.”