The Houston Texans (0-3-1) attempted to rally back against the Los Angeles Chargers (2-2) after trailing by as many as 21 points in the opening half but lost 34-24 in the end.
After scoring 17 consecutive points in the second half, the Texans came within three with 8:30 remaining in regulation. Justin Herbert led the Chargers on an 84-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a 14-yard pass to Dustin Hopkins to regain a double-figure lead.
The margin for error for the Texans was paper-thin at this stage of the game. Davis Mills threw his second interception after throwing a deep pass to O.J. Howard — putting an end to Houston's chances of pulling off a comeback.
The Texans faced plenty of opportunities along the way to improve in their execution. Even failing to score a touchdown after recovering a fumble on the Chargers' 16-yard-line with 10:02 left in regulation and instead settling for a field goal is a prime example.
Said coach Lovie Smith on being close in games, but sitting at a winless 0-3-1: "After four games we can't talk about being close yet. We're not there yet. We're not a good football team yet. We haven't gotten over the hurdle.''
Here are three takeaways from the Texans' 34-24 loss to the Chargers.
Austin Ekeler Dominated for Chargers
The start of the 2022 season was a slow one for Austin Ekeler despite recording 20 touchdowns in his previous campaign. He had yet to find the end-zone through three performances and had totaled just 219 yards from scrimmage in those outings.
Ekeler found his form against the Texans with a season-high 109 total yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. No matter what Houston did to slow him down, it wasn't working.
“To get him going today was big,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “He played like a captain today beyond his performance on the field. He really led our football team on offense and just played with the energy that he’s known for and just a complete performance by him.”
Ekeler is looking to use his performance against the Texans as a building block for the remainder of the season. At this point, that's a strong representation of what Houston has been; a team others use to get on track.
“I had a few opportunities today and was able to capitalize,” Ekeler said. “That’s one week, but now, let’s do it again.”
Dameon Pierce Shows Off Potential
The Texans' offense received a major performance from Dameon Pierce as he racked up 131 rushing yards and a touchdown rush on 14 carries. His performance was highlighted by a staggering 75-yard touchdown run — the third longest in Texans history.
The impressive execution from Pierce has helped to solidify himself further as the Texans' featured running back. As noted by JJ Zachariason, Pierce accounted for all of Houston's carries and ran four more routes than Rex Burkhead (first game this season).
"There's a reason why we're starting a rookie running back," Head Coach Lovie Smith said after the game. "Of course, he can run in between the tackles. He can make you miss in the open field, but that's the part of his game that we haven't seen. Running backs going, what was it, 75 yards or so? In the NFL that's hard to do. He is just kind of showing you all of the things that he can do. I don't know exactly how many carries he was able to get today, but he is a guy that we need to continue to feature."
Pierce has now scored a rushing touchdown in consecutive performances. He's now combined for 34 carries, 211 yards, and two touchdowns in his last two games.
Plenty for Texans to Clean up
The Texans remain the NFL's only winless team this season. They did themselves no favors early by throwing an interception on their opening drive, then allowing Justin Herbert to connect with Gerald Everett on a touchdown throw to trail 7-0 early.
The Chargers continued to pour it on and produced the first 21 points of the game. After getting off to a slow start, the Texans trailed 27-7 entering halftime — proving to be too much to overcome.
“We’re not there yet,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “We’re not a good football team yet. Good football teams find a way to win at the end and we haven’t been able to get over that hurdle.”
It was an admirable effort from the Texans in the second half to rally back and at least make it more competitive. Houston outscored the Chargers 17-7 in the second half, but again, digging such a deep hole early on was too much to overcome.
"I like the way the team fought back," Smith said. "But we didn't finish."
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