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Texans' Culley Reveals Plan for Deshaun Watson Against Panthers

Despite injury to starter Tyrod Taylor, the troubled former Pro Bowl quarterback isn't an option

HOUSTON -- The anticipated absence of starter Tyrod Taylor against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night won't lead to a change in the Houston Texans' approach to embattled Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Taylor will undergo an MRI Monday and likely won't play due to a left hamstring injury suffered during a touchdown run against the Cleveland Browns. Watson, however, will be inactive for the third consecutive game, according to head coach David Culley.

"Before I get asked, Deshaun Watson will be deactivated this week, just like he has for the first two weeks," Culley said Monday at NRG Stadium.

One day after Culley didn't elaborate on how the team would handle Watson against the Panthers, he made it clear Monday morning.

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Watson, who has a standing trade request, a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract and 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints alleging sexual misconduct, will not be playing for the Texans at this time. He likely never will again. Watson no longer practices with the Texans. He comes to NRG Stadium for training, but isn't involved in football activities.

As for Taylor, who is expected to be replaced by rookie Davis Mills against the Panthers, Culley said that he is "day to day."

"He's getting an MRI, he's getting looked at, we'll see later on this afternoon how it is," Culley said. "We'll just take it day to day with him. If he's able to go and ready to go, he'll play."

Taylor completed 10 of 11 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown for a 144.3 passer rating before getting hurt.

"Excellent," Culley said of Taylor's play before the injury. "Obviously when he went down, it was a blow to us. When I went in at halftime and we looked him over and he said he's all right, but I looked him over and looked in his eyes and it was just his competitiveness saying 'I'm OK,' but I kind of knew he wasn't OK. As soon as I realized it, I told him, 'We're going with Davis.' I told him, 'This is about the long haul, not for the short haul.' I told our football team that Davis Mills was going to be our quarterback for the second half, it was like, 'Let's go play,' and they went out there and they did that. To that point, we couldn't have asked for more from Tyrod out there."

The injury changed the complexion of the game as the Texans lost, 31-21, Sunday to the Browns after building a 14-7 halftime lead with Taylor. It also dramatically changes the Texans’ quarterback situation as 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.

"He showed exactly what he has shown throughout training camp for us," Culley said of Mills. "We know he's one of those guys who when a bad thing happens he comes back, he makes a play. He had that (interception and came back next series and played like we thought he would play. It never bothered him at all. Basically, that's what we expect for him."

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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.

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 suffered the injury.

The Texans are expected to get Mills ready to start his first NFL game against Carolina and elevate practice squad quarterback Jeff Driskel to back him up with Watson remaining inactive and still being paid his $10.54 million salary.

"We have Jeff Driskel on our practice squad right now," Culley said. "Depending on what happens as we go later into the week, if we need to, we'll bring him up."

Culley said the emergency quarterback isn't something he's sure about. If they had lost Mills to an injury against the Browns, Culley indicated he likely would have used running back Mark Ingram and run the Wildcat formation.

"Justin Reid is our emergency kicker," Culley said. "He's not our emergency quarterback'

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.

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“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.

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“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.”

In other injury news, Culley said that rookie wide receiver Nico Collins' shoulder injury is "pretty significant."

He said that wide receiver Danny Amendola (hamstring) is day-to-day.

Culley reiterated that Reid (knee) should be fine after leaving the game, going back in and not finishing the road loss to to the Browns, a playoff team last season.

Culley said that offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (ankle), defensive end Charles Omenihu and defensive tackle tackle Roy Lopez are not injured and just got banged up against the Browns.

Culley said that starting cornerback Terrance Mitchell is in the concussion protocol.

The injury to Taylor is a significant blow to the 1-1 Texans.

"We have the utmost confidence in Davis," Culley said. "It was a very physical game. That's the kind of football team we have. Those guys will play 60 minutes and that's kind of been our mantra. They showed when adversity comes they stay the course and gave us a chance."

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.