HOUSTON -- Whenever Tyrod Taylor is activated from injured reserve and fully recovered from a strained hamstring suffered against the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Texans' veteran quarterback is expected to regain his starting job.
Taylor was playing at an extremely high level before getting hurt while rushing for a touchdown after being chased and jostled by Browns star defensive end Myles Garrett. A former Pro Bowl selection, Taylor had completed 10 of 11 passes for 125 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 144.3 passer rating that game before having to leave at halftime. Taylor completed 70.5 percent of his throws for 416 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a career-high 122.9 passer rating before the injury.
Since Taylor got hurt, the 1-3 Texans are on a three-game losing streak with rookie quarterback Davis Mills going 0-2 as the starter. He had a respectable performance against the Carolina Panthers with one touchdown and no interceptions, but struggled mightily during a 40-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills last Sunday as he was intercepted four times overall with two interceptions and one completion for three yards and a 0.0 passer rating in the first half. The third-round draft pick from Stanford finished 11 for 21 for 87 yards and a 23.4 passer rating during the most lopsided defeat in franchise history.
Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly was asked Thursday who will start at quarterback when Taylor is back.
"Whatever is going to be best for our team, whatever is going to put us in the best position to win," Kelly said. "It's been pretty evident as an organization that's what we're trying to do here. We're not going to treat that decision any differently."
When asked if the team hopes that will be a difficult decision because of Mills' performance, Kelly replied: "If that's the case, that means he's playing well and making our job tough as far as making that decision. Ideally, it's a tough conversation whenever the time comes."
Mills will start Sunday's game at NRG Stadium against the New England Patriots and impressive fellow rookie Mac Jones, a close friend he trained with before the NFL draft along with highly respected private quarterbacks coach David Morris, the founder of QB Country in Mobile, Ala.
“Not really a huge comment on that," Mills said when asked about the Texans' pending quarterback decision when Taylor returns. "Obviously, I’m just going to put my best foot forward every day and do as best I can to hopefully win games for the team.”
Mills emphasized that he learned a lot from the Buffalo game about not forcing throws into traffic and making sound decisions.
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“I think the biggest thing from last week is just emphasizing protecting the football," Mills said. "I thought I might have forced a throw or two that obviously didn’t end up well. Just being consistent with making smart decisions and putting the team in the best place to win the game is my job, and that’s what I need to keep focusing on.
“When it’s third-and-long, it’s tough playing behind the sticks in those kinds of must-pass situations. The defense knows what you need to do, and it’s easier to stop in the situation. I’ve talked to coach (David) Culley just about making smart decisions with the football. It’s never a bad thing to throw a completion in front of the sticks and punt on fourth down, and play the field position game rather than trying to force something and making a bad decision with the ball. Talked about that, talked about sometimes incompletions are okay, or throwing the ball away or taking a sack, if the situation fits, to protect the football. All those things, just being smart with the ball because you can’t play losing football and still win the game.”
Mills has held multiple conversations with Culley and Kelly about how to handle different situations on the field. Since the Buffalo game, Mills has worked diligently to learn quickly from this early setback and upgrade his play against an opportunistic Patriots defense that included cornerback J.C. Jackson (two interceptions) and pass rushers Matt Judon (4.5 sacks) and Josh Uche (three sacks).
The talks with Culley have bolstered Mills' confidence.
“He’s been great," Mills said. "Just constantly giving me confidence, kind of telling me that there is a reason they brought me here to Houston and are looking forward to my potential, I just got to continue to learn from what I’ve been doing out on the field and grow from it. I was talking about some of the stuff, protecting the football, playing winning football, you can’t shoot yourself in the foot and still win games. So, just limiting the risk of the game and as a quarterback put my team in a position to win the game."
Against the Panthers, Mills produced the second-highest first-half passer rating with a 126.9 by a Texans quarterback making his first NFL start behind Case Keenum’s 137.5 against the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 20, 2013. Overall, though, Mills has 357 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions with a league-low 50.4 passer rating.
A former blue-chip recruit from Atlanta who chose Stanford over Alabama and Michigan, Mills 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.
Now, Mills is leaning on his focused mentality and low-key personality during an early test in his first NFL season.
“I think the big thing, I’ve always kind of learned I’ve been an even-keeled person my whole life and you can’t let the situation get too big," Mills said. "I like to try to remain humble. The biggest thing is I’m playing for my teammates, I’m not kind of focused on myself too much. I’m just trying to do the best I can for them.”