The Houston Texans began the DeMeco Ryans era with a convincing 20-9 win in New England. In their preseason opener, the Texans scored three touchdowns and outgained the Patriots 265-164 in total net yards of offense, despite two early turnovers (one interception, one fumble). Houston's defense held the Patriots to 3-of-12 on third down and just one field goal until the final two minutes of the game.
"Offensively, we want to be in position to take care of the ball better, that's our number one thing," Ryans said. "We have to protect the ball and to have two tonight, that's not not what we strive for. And defensively, we have to pick it up to take take the ball away more."
C.J. Stroud made his first NFL start behind an offensive line without starting tackles Laremy Tunsiland Tytus Howard. Dameon Pierce also did not suit up for the preseason game. Stroud played two series, completing 2-of-4 passes for 13 yards and one interception. He also rushed for six yards on two carries.
"It's tough," Stroud said. "I mean, the competitor in me was like, 'Coach, let me go back out there. Let me fix my wrongdoings.' But like you said, it is just preseason. It's a learning opportunity for myself and really this whole football team. And it was good to kind of see the second group in there."
"We all have things to clean up and get better at," Ryans said. "But I thought it was a good first outing. Good look at live action, so I thought it was good for him."
QB Davis Mills entered the game with 1:52 left in the first quarter and finished the first half with a touchdown pass to rookie WR Tank Dell to give Houston a 7-3 lead at halftime. Mills completed 9-of-12 for 99 yards and touchdown in his preseason debut. Dell finished with a team-high five catches, 65 yards and a touchdown.
"The way Davis drove down in the half to end to end that first half with a score there to Tank, I thought that was really good to see them operate in two minutes, something we've been working on in practice, so it's good to see him come out and just be efficient," Ryans said.
Case Keenum started the second half, leading the Texans on an eight-play, 55-yard scoring drive that ended in a one-yard touchdown run by Dalton Keene. K Jake Bates missed the extra point attempt as Houston took a 13-3 lead with 7:20 left in the third quarter.
On fourth-and-goal early in the fourth quarter, Keenum threw his second touchdown of the game, connecting with WR Alex Bachman on a five-yard pass. The Texans took a 20-3 after the 10-play, 40-yard scoring drive with 9:52 left in the game.
"(OC) Bobby (Slowik) did a great job mixing up, run and pass," Keenum said. "And then even for some of those guys that had just just gotten here too, I thought they played really well, communicated well with some different fronts and things with different personnel that they're running. And yeah, I think we were able to move the ball pretty well overall tonight."
The Patriots scored their first and only touchdown of the night with just 1:54 remaining in the fourth quarter. Rookie QB Malik Cunningham scrambled into the endzone on a nine-yard run. After an unsuccessful two-point conversion, the Patriots trailed 20-9.
The Texans wrapped up their 2023 preseason debut in victory formation. Houston will next host the Miami Dolphins in the second preseason game.