Still searching for their first win of the season, the Houston Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers at home.
"After four games we can't talk about being close anymore, but if you watch the game, we talk about a lot of opportunities," Head Coach Lovie Smith said. "It seems like we've done that each game. Not there yet. You know, 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.
Down by three touchdowns in the second quarter, the Texans rallied in the second half but ultimately fell short of a comeback. Late in the game, Houston found the end zone twice with a big takeaway on special teams, but could not overcome a Chargers performance that included four touchdown drives on the day, including three by Austin Ekeler.
"On the defensive side, I mean, the first half, again, we didn't start well," Smith said. "Of course, that was definitely the case. We like to move it up. Big plays in the passing game really hurt us."
Dameon Pierce had a career day in the loss, rushing for 131 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries. Davis Mills completed 26-of-35 for 246 yards with passing touchdowns to Rex Burkhead and Brandin Cooks, but also two interceptions.
On the third play of the opening drive, S Nasir Adderly picked off Mills' pass for an early Chargers takeaway. Three plays later, Justin Herbert threw a touchdown pass to TE Gerald Everett for a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter. Ekeler rushed for his first two touchdowns on back-to-back drives in the second quarter as the Chargers pulled away with a 21-0 lead.
The Texans fired back just 12 seconds later when Pierce broke through into the open field for a 75-yard touchdown run.
"Absolutely, it was crazy," Brandin Cooks said. "As we talked about, it takes one play to be able to get the team going, and that run, to be able to make a guy miss like that and be able to strike down the sideline, got the whole team amped up. From there on it gave us some juice. I think that was a defining play to be able to keep us going and moving the ball in the right direction."
The Texans defense went on to hold L.A. to a pair of field goals, three punts and fumble on their next six possessions. Houston's offense scored 17 unanswered points in the second half.
Mills threw two touchdown passes to get the Texans within a score, down 27-21 early in the fourth quarter. A 30-yard catch by TE Jordan Akins set up first-and-goal for an eight-yard touchdown pass to Burkhead. On the next drive, Mills went deep to Nico Collins on a 58-yard throw to set up a touchdown pass to Cooks.
"It's funny because we've repped that play to Nico so many times in practice, and I think we've only really thrown it one or two times, so it's awesome to come out and see him make a huge play, and we know what he is capable of," Mills said. "Same thing with Akins. They brought cover zero. I think that was a fringe play for us. Brought cover zero. We actually called that play three times on that same drive, and that was the only look where we had where I didn't have to kill out of it and get to something else. He ended up making a play and putting us in good position to score."
Special teams forced a fumble on the kickoff return. M.J. Stewart punched the ball out and Jaylen Reeves-Maybin recovered to give Houston a 1st-and-10 at the Chargers 16-yard line. Fairbairn added a 41-yard field goal and the Texans inched closer, down 27-24 with 8:30 left in the game.
Herbert sealed the win for the Chargers on the next series, finding Ekeler for his third touchdown of the day.
The Texans fall to 0-3-1 and will travel to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars in Week 5.