HOUSTON - Tyrod Taylor allowed the dreaded thought to briefly cross his mind, the natural ‘not again’ moment simply because of what has transpired in the past.
A year ago, the Houston Texans veteran quarterback was supplanted by Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert when Taylor suffered a rib injury and a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung with a pain-killing injection. Taylor never regained his starting job as Herbert emerged as the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year. A similar scenario happened with the Cleveland Browns when Taylor suffered a concussion and top overall pick Baker Mayfield replaced him.
Unlike those past situations, though, Taylor had the strong support of Texans coach David Culley and the entire organization when he suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain while running for a touchdown against the Browns in the second game of the season.
Now, Taylor is the 1-7 Texans’ starting quarterback again heading into Sunday’s road game against the Miami Dolphins as he tries to end a seven-game losing streak. The Texans were 1-0 with Taylor under center and were leading the Browns at halftime when he had to leave the game.
Now, Taylor is the Texans’ QB1 again as he replaces rookie quarterback Davis Mills after the third-round draft pick from Stanford went 0-6 as the starter.\
“That’s the initial thought when it happened, maybe in Cleveland, but that thought hasn’t necessarily resonated since then,” Taylor said. “Yeah, it was unfortunate that it happened, but at the time, I can’t control it. Have to shift your mindset to getting back healthy and doing the things day in and day out so you stay on track so I can get back out and perform at a high level and do what I needed to do to help our team win and put us in winning situations.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity. I’m always thankful for the opportunity when I get a chance to lace up my cleats and compete, do what I love to do, what I’ve always done. Obviously, I was looking forward to coming back. Coach said early on that I would be the starter when healthy, and I’m thankful that he stood by that. I’m excited to lead the guys out this weekend, and excited to get back on the playing field and just compete.”
Taylor will be officially activated from injured reserve-designated for return after launching his 21-day practice window last week.
A former Pro Bowl selection with the Buffalo Bills, Taylor is 4-2 all-time in starts against Miami Dolphins with 10 touchdowns, no interceptions, 112.2 passer rating, 72.8 completion percentage
“That’s important but the thing is he was our starting quarterback and he got hurt,” Culley said. “He’s back healthy now and he’s starting. The fact that he’s been our leader going into the year, will that help us? I hope so. We’ll see.
“Any time you lose your starting quarterback, it becomes a setback. He’s a starting quarterback for a reason. We lost our leader, we lost a guy that this football team believed in. He was actually doing his job to that point, of what we expect our quarterback to do.”
Called a “breath of fresh air” by safety Justin Reid and someone who provides “electricity,” to the huddle, Taylor plays the game with a smooth, multidimensional style. He’s an accurate passer who has the mobility and elusiveness to make plays off script and improvise.
Taylor hasn’t had any setbacks with the hamstring, regaining his flexibility and explosiveness.
"Hamstrings are tricky," Taylor said. "Typically, you feel good mentally before you actually feel better physically. So, you try to test it, you do as much as you can, but at the same time, you also have to listen to your body. You don't want to put yourself at a bigger risk coming back too early."
The Texans' only victory of the season was when Taylor was under center in the season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since Taylor got hurt while running away from Myles Garrett for a touchdown run against the Browns to produce a halftime lead, the Texans have lost seven consecutive games and are 0-6 with Mills, a third-round draft pick from Stanford.
Taylor completed 10 of 11 passes for 125 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 144.3 passer rating before having to leave the Browns game at halftime after hurting while running for a touchdown with defensive end Myles Garrett swiping at his left leg. 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.
“It’s huge,” veteran running back Rex Burkhead said of Taylor’s return. “He’s definitely a leader of this team, has done great things in this league for a while now. Just having his presence out there in practice, his command in the huddle, and just overall on the plays, it’s great.
“I’ve always been a big fan of his from afar throughout the league. Just loved his consistency he’s always played with. He’s just a great leader, great quarterback, very humble guy, and a pleasure to go to work with every day.”
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On the touchdown, Taylor knew it was bad right away.
“Yeah, I knew when I got around the corner, if you watch that play closely, and I’ve watched it a number of times, you can actually see my left leg like I don’t want to put too much pressure on it,” he said. “The touchdown celebration, I’m not a guy to celebrate but it was kind of weird. A lot of people didn’t understand it, but I knew I was injured at the time. Tried to jog of the field, was still in pain. ‘
“Didn’t necessarily know what it was, just knew something wasn’t right with the hamstring. Went back on for the two-minute drive, got flushed out of the pocket one time and tried to accelerate and that’s when I tried to get to the halftime and see what the doctor said. Obviously, I didn’t want to come out. Coach made the decision, but it was best before I go out there and injure it more.”
Mills was sacked a season-high five times, including 1 1/2 times by Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and twice by Leonard Floyd and hit nine times overall during a 38-22 defeat Sunday at NRG Stadium as the Texans lost their seventh consecutive game.
Mills rallied the Texans a bit while orchestrating a hurry-up offense in the fourth quarter with the game already out of reach and the Rams having already pulled starting quarterback Matthew Stafford after three quarters while holding a commanding 38-0 lead. It wasn’t nearly enough, though, despite Mills completing 29 of 38 passes for 310 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a 106.3 passer rating.
Mills has passed for 1,357 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions for an 80.2 passer rating. He’s been sacked 20 times.
“It’s been invaluable experience for him,” Culley said. “He’s grown from it. He’s going to be better for it. It’s going to help him in his future having gone through what he’s gone through.”
“Just to this football team in general, we play to win. Basically, our future is now, from that standpoint. This football team is looking to win the next game, and that’s all that matters.”’
The Texans haven’t had a good running game and traded leading rusher Mark Ingram to the New Orleans Saints for a 2024 seventh-round draft pick and paid $250,000 of his salary to account for the Saints’ salary-cap situation.
Having Taylor back could provide a spark for a team that has been outscored by an NFL-leading 122 points as there have been several lopsided defeats to the Buffalo Bills (40-0), the Indianapolis Colts (31-3) and the Arizona Cardinals (31-5). The Texans hadn’t scored a offensive touchdown in 11 consecutive quarters before a touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams after falling behind 38-0 in a 38-22 loss.
Taylor couldn’t hide his excitement at practice to be back on the field leading the team
"I think our trainer told me, I guess he read our numbers or my numbers from practice and was like you must have been excited just to be back out there," Taylor said. "Yeah, I felt like a little kid running around and being able to just be myself. So, you definitely miss it when you're not out there. Being back on the field doing something that I love to do, something that I’ve been doing since I was five years old, obviously that’s a wonderful feeling. Just to be able to compete and be back around the guys, stepping back into the huddle last week and even more this week has just been a feeling that you can’t necessarily describe.
“I’m happy to be back. It means a lot. From the players, from the coaching standpoint, upstairs, everyone was encouraging just throughout the process. Obviously, it was unfortunate, but to have everyone behind me and supporting me while I battle to get back on the field definitely means a lot to me.”
Taylor said he maintained his skills and “feels sharp,” after multiple throwing sessions with quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton.
Most of all, Taylor feels grateful. This is a significant moment for him to have the football back in his hands.
“Times of adversity obviously they test our character, but they also test your faith,” he said. “I’m a man of faith. I truly believe things happens for a reason whether you can understand it in that moment in time. But it’s opportunity for you to be better moving forward. That’s something that I hold near to my heart and I continue to stand on that.
“I think that this time in these six weeks has obviously made me a better player, got a chance to watch other guys throughout the league but it’s also made me a better person mentally. It’s made me a better leader. Things happen for a reason, just got to roll with the punches sometimes.”