The Houston Texans stunned the Los Angeles Chargers in a 41-29 upset at home. With ten starters out due to COVID-19, the Texans elevated 11 practice squad players and signed a new kicker during the week in order to field a team for Sunday's game.
"I thought [OC] Tim [Kelly], [DC] Lovie [Smith] and [ST] Frank [Ross] did a great job on all three phases, the most complete game we've had this year," Head Coach David Culley said. "They put it together. We finally got a score on defense. I knew it was coming eventually."
Houston scored on six of its nine possessions, despite being without several key contributors on offense.
"We had every excuse in the book, with COVID-19, with the holidays, with where the season's going and all that and still coming and step up and make a big-time win like this," DB Justin Reid said. "It was one of my favorite games."
The Texans offense, without its leading weapon in WR Brandin Cooks, recorded 437 net yards of offense (248 passing, 189 rushing). The defensed forced three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble recovery) and scored a touchdown.
QB Davis Mills earned his second-consecutive win, completing 21-of-27 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 130.6 passer rating. WR Nico Collins caught his first career NFL touchdown pass. WR Chris Conley had a team-high 60 receiving yards on three receptions and a touchdown as well. RB Rex Burkhead rushed for a career-high 149 yards on 22 carries and scored two rushing touchdowns.
With eight defensive starters out, LB Neville Hewitt led the defense with 11 total tackles (eight solo). DB Tavierre Thomas scored on a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown. DB Jonathan Owens logged his first two career takeaways, an interception and a fumble recovery forced by DL DeMarcus Walker.
"Those guys went in, and they did their job," Culley said. "They did what the defense asked them to do. And when you do that, you know, the results come... That's a very, very explosive offensive football team.
QB Justin Herbert was 27-of-35 for 336 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 92.1 passer rating. With Ekeler out, RB ustin Jackson led the Chargers with 11 carries for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
The Texans defense held Herbert and the Chargers to pair of field goals, from 50 and 46 yards on their first two possessions. Houston took a 7-3 lead after its opening drive when Burkhead scored on a 25-yard touchdown run to cap off an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive with 6:25 left in the first quarter.
Jackson scored on a 17-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter but was stopped short on the two-point conversion attempt by Reid.
"I saw the motion come across," Reid said. "They ended up going into slot. And the receiver, he trailed off to the left. And the running back came, tried to follow his fullback, bounced outside. I was already outside leveraging. At that point, he only needs a yard. So go and shoot your shot and make a play."
The Texans scored ten unanswered points in the second quarter to regain the lead and never gave it up after that point. Dominik Eberle kicked his first-ever NFL field goal, a 51-yarder, with K'aimi Fairbairn out.
Herbert threw an interception on the Chargers' next drive. Owens picked off the pass, intended for WR Joshua Palmer at the Houston one-yard line. Mills orchestrated a seven-play, 94-yard scoring drive to regain the lead. After a 36-yard pass to WR Phillip Dorsett to get to the Houston 45-yard line, Mills connected with Conley on a deep 41-yard touchdown just four plays later.
"He (Mills) recognized they were slow-playing it and the corner wasn't really getting out," Conley said. "And he gave me a shot. And on a play that wasn't necessarily called that way, we were able to make a big play for six, but on that note, Davis played exceptionally well today."
The Texans headed into halftime with a 17-12 lead.
In the second half, the Texans were scoreless in the third quarter after a missed 52-yard field goal. The Chargers did add a field goal, trailing 17-15 heading into the fourth quarter. However, three touchdowns for Houston and two turnovers by Los Angeles would put the game out of reach for the Chargers.
Burkhead rushed for a one-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. On 3rd-and-6, Mills connected with TE Brevin Jordan on a deep 27-yard pass to get the Texans into the red zone. The next play, DB Tremon Smith lined up at running back and added a seven-yard carry to the Chargers eight-yard line. Burkhead had three consecutive carries before scoring on a one-yard touchdown run. The Texans took a 24-15 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Jackson scored his second touchdown of the day on a nine-yard touchdown run. Herbert added a two-point conversion play to TE Jared Cook . Mills responded with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Collins on the Texans' next possession. Herbert's next drive ended in a 48-yard pick-six by Thomas for the first defensive touchdown of the season for Houston. The Texans took a 41-23 lead with 1:49 remaining.
Herbert threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Palmer with 0:34 remaining, but the Texans ended the game in victory formation after Burkhead recovered the onside kick.
With the win, the Texans improve to 4-11 on the season and travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers in Week 17.
Watch the Houston Texans take on the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium on January 9. Kickoff is at noon. Click here for tickets.
Check out the best photos from the Houston Texans Week 16 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers.