HOUSTON - You can't win them all, right?
The Houston Texans started hot Sunday. But as quick as the team was able to produce points, it gave them back in the second half. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones led New England on four scoring drives in the final 30 minutes to propel the Patriots to a 25-22 win.
A winnable game turned into a heartbreaking loss.
But not everything was terrible. For a franchise coming off its worst loss since its inaugural season, Houston played hard. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills looked efficient for most of the game, and nearly guided Houston to its second win of the season.
Defensively, there's work to be done. Our 10 observations from Sunday's loss in NRG Stadium:
1. Davis Mills' hot start - One would never know Mills as a turnover machine based on his first half. The rookie looked poised in the pocket and never rushed through his progression. Mills finished 12 of 16 through the first half with over 200 passing yards and two touchdowns. On the first drive, he connected with four different Texans' targets before finding tight end Antony Auclair for the 11-yard touchdown. On the ensuing series, he connected with wide receiver Chris Moore for a 67-yard touchdown. Mills averaged 12.6 yards per throw. He also picked things up where he left off in the third quarter, finding receiver Chris Conley for a 37-yard touchdown.
2. There's a second half, Houston - As efficient Houston was for the first 30 minutes, the team imploded in the second half. Mills only threw for 92 yards - 37 on one play. The Texans converted just once on third down and picked up three total first downs. The team finished with 113 yards compared to the 247 yards to begin the game.
3. Mac Jones looks like a pro - Fans will say Mills' success is warranted in his race to become Houston's next franchise QB. It's expected that Jones, the first-round quarterback from Alabama, will be the heir apparent of Tom Brady. He's giving the folks back in Foxborough plenty to talk about. Jones finished 23 of 30 for 231 yards. The biggest play on the afternoon for New England came in the fourth quarter. Jones orchestrated a near flawless drive, going 2 of 2 passing with both throws to tight end Hunter Henry.
The final throw was a 13-yard completion to the back of the end zone for a touchdown. A tight spiral in the one location only a receiver can get? That's what coaches look for in the face of a the franchise.
Jones would go on to connect with three different receivers to set up another Nick Folk field goal with just 17 seconds remaining. He controlled the time of possession and gave Houston little to no chance to bounce back.
4. No Tunsil, big problem - Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil left the game with a hand injury during the second quarter. Protection for Mills became a problem following after backup Geron Christian entered the game.
Christian, a former left tackle and third round pick from Clemson in 2019, struggled against Patriots' pass rusher Matthew Judon, and allowed two sacks with Houston in the red zone. The Texans would settle for a 33-yard field goal from Ka'imi Fairbairn after losing 11 yards on both plays.
Houston already was playing down an offensive lineman following Marcus Cannon being placed on the injured reserve Saturday. Second-year tackle Charlie Heck held his own, but he did allow three pressures on the afternoon.
With a rookie quarterback, protection is key. No, it wasn't the worst performance, but should Tunsil miss time it could become a problem over time.
5. Special team questions - Who are we to question special teams coordinator Frank Ross from the peanut gallery? Then again, what was he thinking on the Cam Johnston punt?
Keep in mind up to this point in the game, the Texans had gone for every fourth-down conversion when out of scoring range. When he took the field, Houston looked to be punting in a regular formation.
But then, Johnston went under center. Was Houston trying go for the surprise sneak? Instead, Johnston backed up about six yards and tried to get the punt off for a quick play. It was blocked by New England.
6. Meet the "other" Texans weapons - Most fans know who Brandin Cooks is by now thanks to his five seasons of over 1,000 yards. Did you know another receiver's name on the roster?
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Chris Moore, who was elevated from the practice squad prior to Sunday's game, had more than just his touchdown reception. He recorded five catches for 109 total yards, including two gains of over 15. Chris Conley, who has been regarded as the Texans' best blocking wide receiver, grabbed a much-needed fourth down conversion from Mills for a gain of 40.
Moore averaged 21.5 yards per catch. Conley averaged 28 yards per play and finally found the end zone.
Cooks played the secondary role with three catches for 23 yards. Should Houston have won, he likely wouldn't have minded.
7. Pass rush, you there? - The Patriots were playing without four of their usual starting offensive linemen. Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu were placed on the COVID-19 list earlier this week while tackle Trent Brown headed to the IR. Fellow offensive lineman Shaq Mason was ruled inactive prior to the game.
This should have been an easy win for the Texans' pass rush, right? Wrong. They recorded only one sack on the afternoon, coming from Jonathan Greenard on the final offensive drive.
The only way to win games in close battles is by affecting the quarterback's mind. Jones had all day to throw and on plays he didn't, he maneuvered just enough evade any pressure.
8. Lonnie Johnson starting to heat up - In last week's 40-0 loss to the Bills, Houston elected to start Johnson over Eric Murray. On the first defensive play of the game, he intercepted Josh Allen and returned it 32 yards back into Buffalo territory.
This week, he recorded another big play.
During the third quarter, Jones threw into double coverage. Johnson was able to get his hands on the football for his second pick of the season. Thanks to it, Houston would connect on a flea-flicker touchdown pass to Conley to extend its lead.
Since becoming a full-time starter, Johnson has tallied 17 total tackles, three pass breakups and two interceptions. He should remain opposite of Justin Reid for the remainder of the season.
9. Fairbairn or Fairbad? - Houston elected to waive kicker Joey Slye following the return of Fairbairn. Maybe they could come to regret that.
Fairbairn missed two early extra points and a 56-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have extended Houston's lead by 10.
Should both PATs and field goals be made, the final score might have been 28-25, thus seal a second win for the Texans on the season.
10. Where from here? - It was valiant effort from Houston overall. No one will deny that if the first half consistencies carried over, maybe the Texans improve to 2-3 and salvage their season.
The Texans will hit the road for two weeks with trips to Indianapolis to face the Colts and out west to take on the Arizona Cardinals. A win at Lucas Oil will keep Houston in the AFC South race for at least another week. A victory over the undefeated Cardinals would have Houston at 3-4, and right in the conversation of a middle-tier franchise.
Both are tall tasks to accomplish, but neither are out of the realm of possibility. Culley needs to make sure he get his players finishing games as fast as they start them.