HOUSTON -- Davis Mills lobbed the pass perfectly, delivering a high sideline strike where only Chris Moore could come down with the football.
The Houston Texans rookie quarterback confidently rolled out to his right, buying time and creating a passing lane to connect with the wide receiver between New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson and safety Devin McCourty.
Moore took care of his end of the bargain on a 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Mills got off to a red-hot start Sunday against one of the top defensive strategists in NFL history, Patriots coach Bill Belichick. That included Mills’ 11-yard touchdown pass to blocking tight end Antony Auclair to open the game’s scoring.
Although the Texans were ultimately undone during a 25-22 defeat by special-teams breakdowns, an offense that stalled in the second half and some questionable coaching decisions, Mills’ performance was extremely encouraging as he displayed accuracy, mobility and an ability to throw on the run, completing 21 of 29 passes for a career-high three touchdown passes and zero interceptions for a 141.7 passer rating. It was a big-time game for Mills, especially in light of his four interceptions overall, 23.4 passer rating, and first-half passer rating of 0.0 with one completion and two interceptions just a week ago during a loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“Davis played well,” Texans coach David Culley said. “Davis protected the football. He was very good in the pocket. He ran our offense very well. He knew going into the game that the most important thing for him to do was to be able to protect the football, and he did that.”
Mills joined Texans Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, who remains on the roster while issuing a standing trade request and dealing with legal problems, as the only quarterbacks in the past six seasons to throw for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns in the first half against the Patriots. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is the only other rookie quarterback in NFL history to have three touchdown passes against Belichick.
Mills had zero turnovers and had a better statistical game than his friend, Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who got the win and completed 23 of 30 passes for 231 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 95.3 passer rating.
“I thought I played well, but I had a couple of plays I could have managed the protection a little better at the end when I took a sack when we really needed to put a drive together,” Mills said. “Still room for improvement. Obviously, it's tough.
"You don't want to lose football games ever. It’s a harsh feeling, but I think the guys rallied together. We felt how we wanted to a lot during that game, and we can learn from that and find ways to win in the coming weeks.”
On a 37-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Conley, Mills threw a dart.
Belichick is known for taking away something from every offense. In the Texans’ case, that was wide receiver Brandin Cooks as they limited him to three catches for 23 yards on five targets.
The Texans squandered a resurgent performance from Mills as the Patriots scored the final 16 points for a comeback win.
“No waste at all, we lost the game,” Culley said. “He played well enough for us to win the game. They kicked a field goal to win it. We missed two extra points. We missed a field goal.”
Mills completed 72.4 percent of his throws
And Mills was especially sharp on third and fourth downs as he completed 12 of 13 passes for 209 yards and two scores.
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Mills' confidence and command certainly appeared higher than the debacle in rain-soaked Buffalo.
“I wouldn't say it was going up,” Mills said. “I think I had a steady level of confidence throughout the game. I think the guys around me were making plays and it felt good going out there scoring touchdowns.
“It was just the flow of the game. I thought we had plays we could make out there. Obviously, made some big-time plays in the first half. I think we might have left a little on the plate in the second half, but, overall, we were close.”
When the Texans activate quarterback Tyrod Taylor from injured reserve (maybe after this week) when he’s eligible after missing the past three games with a strained hamstring, the Texans will have a decision to make between him and Mills.
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Could Taylor practice next week and then still be out against the Indianapolis Colts? That seems likely. Culley said that the Texans hope to have Taylor back in the next few weeks.
So, the decision could be delayed until after the Colts game. Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said that “ideally, it’s a tough decision whenever that time comes.”
Mills definitely gave the Texans something to think about.
Mills is the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to finish a game with 300 or more passing yards, three or more touchdown passes and a 140.0 or higher passer rating. He had the 12th-highest single-game passer rating by a rookie quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
“The big thing is last week I did force a couple of throws and it didn't end up in a good result,” Mills said of the Bills game. “Big thing is just learning from mistakes and not making the same mistake twice. I felt like protecting the football was my biggest role, biggest job. I thought we did pretty well with that.”
Mills is also the second rookie quarterback since the 2000 season to post a perfect 158.3 passer rating on third and fourth down.
“Davis did great,” Texans running back David Johnson said. “Changing the play if needed, he did a good job."
Mills gave the Texans reason to be optimistic about his future and their outlook as an offense.
“I think so, I think just kind of going out there and feeling the feeling of making plays and being right there close to winning games at the end,” Mills said. “ I think there's really a feeling of just learning how to win games and finish. And I think we're close, but just didn't do enough.