That one is going to sting for a while. The Texans had a two-game winning streak against the Patriots and for a sliver of time on Sunday, it appeared that perhaps a third win in a row was going to happen. Then, the Patriots found the secret winning sauce and took a 25-22 win back to Foxborough. Here are my Harris Hits for this gut punch loss to the Patriots:
I've now started my Harris Hits three different times because every time I start, I get frustrated thinking how to encapsulate what we just saw at NRG Stadium. That game was really all over the place with as many different twists and turns as we've seen in a game in quite some time. So, as I sit thinking about the game, I'm really encouraged by some things we saw yet there are some things that are just gnawing at me that led to the loss.
One aspect of this game that I'm thoroughly encouraged about is the bounce back performance by rookie QB Davis Mills. He was outstanding in nearly every single facet. He threw for more than 300 yards. He threw three touchdowns and had another one dropped in the end zone. He finished with one of the highest ratings in the league (141.7) one week after he had one of the lowest in the loss at Buffalo. He made one clutch throw after another. He completed two passes for a first down on fourth down. In fact, on one of those fourth downs, he took what was supposed to be a run to RB Mark Ingram II and fired a perfect strike to WR Brandin Cooks for a first down near midfield. Mills just seemed in charge from the first play to the last and appeared to have confidence for days.
How impressive was his performance? Eric Edholm from Yahoo Sports tweeted this:
"Only four rookie QBs have thrown for 200+ yards, 2+ TD in a game against a Bill Belichick coached Patriots team. Davis Mills did THAT before the 2:00 warning before halftime."
That speaks volumes as to what Mills did, and can do going forward. I talked to him after the game and he just exudes calm and poise befitting a guy that knows exactly where he's headed. I was sure he would bounce back after that Buffalo performance, but I didn't expect him to do quite what he did against a top five defense in the league.
He did get plenty of help and some of that help came from an unlikely source. I've been a huge fan of WR Chris Moore for a long time and was stoked when he came to Houston this offseason. He made some plays in Training Camp/preseason that I hoped would get him on the 53-man roster but he didn't make it on cut down day. He eventually made the practice squad and I was hoping that he would get another shot at some point again. Fortunately, Sunday was that day.
Patriots CB J.C. Jackson was tracking Brandin Cooks all over the field, so when QB Davis Mills scrambled to his right and uncorked a long ball in the second quarter, I initially saw Jackson. As such, I thought Mills threw it to Cooks. Then, I saw a taller, more angular figure in a deep steel blue jersey leap up in the air with designs on making one heck of a catch. That was Moore and he snatched that pass right off the top of Jackson's head, landed on his feet and sprinted to the end zone. I was so happy for Moore just getting the shot to make a play of that caliber and then even more so that he finished it with a touchdown. He ended the day with five catches for 109 yards and that 67-yard touchdown. Now, he'll tell you he should've had two TDs on the day and he'll think about that other one late in the first half for sure. However, he turned in a magnificent day when the Texans needed it badly from its receiving corps.
The co-leading receiver on the day was RB David Johnson. The way that OC Tim Kelly used Johnson today is how we imagined Johnson would be used as a Texan when he joined in 2020. Mills targeted Johnson six times and completed five throws to Johnson for 46 yards. Johnson was a problem for the Patriots and they couldn't really figure out how to cover him. Those Johnson-created mismatches will help Davis Mills in the future as they did on Sunday against New England.
The Texans want nothing more than to find foundation pieces for this 2021 season and beyond. One of those players who made a significant impression against the Patriots was DE Jon Greenard. He had the hit of the day when he planted a Patriots ball carrier in the NRG Stadium turf. He also landed another sack (his second of the season), a QB hit and two TFLs. The Texans 3rd round selection from 2020 is starting to show what he's truly capable of as an edge defender in this Texans defense.
With the Texans ahead 12-6, the Patriots, unfortunately, strung together a fantastic drive. Pats RB Damien Harris seemed to chalk up a touchdown that would've tied the game, but CB Terrance Mitchell punched at the ball just as Harris approached the goal line. Mitchell knocked the ball out as Harris crossed into the end zone. As a scrum ensued, the officials shot their arms up in the air signaling touchdown. But, I was standing behind the end zone and I saw that the ball came out immediately upon Mitchell striking the ball. What I couldn't tell exactly was when the ball came out. It was clearly out but I thought at first glance that Harris had scored. Fortunately, it was originally called a touchdown and that precipitated a replay. After looking at nearly every angle, the officiating crew decided that Mitchell indeed had knocked it out before Harris scored.
Mitchell's play stood out on so many levels, but it goes back to doing the little things. Mitchell and other defenders have told us often that DC Lovie Smith demands that his defenders pull, tug, punch and rip at the ball at least 20 times a game. Mitchell is becoming the new Peanut Punch King. He punched one out at Buffalo that the Texans couldn't recover. But, on Sunday, the Texans DID recover in the end zone that saved a Patriots touchdown from going up on the board.
The other takeaway for the Texans was another Lonnie Johnson Jr. interception. For the second consecutive game, Johnson picked off an AFC East quarterback. The Texans then scored two plays later on one of the most fun plays we've seen from this Texans offense in a while.
After a Mark Ingram II run picked up seven yards, setting up 2nd-and-3, Mills turned and handed to Ingram again. He danced as it appeared he was looking for a hole then he darted to his left side. Mills told me after the game that Ingram could have actually killed the play by just taking what the defense gave him, keeping the ball in his hands. When he darted left, Mills thought the flea flicker was off. Then, Ingram turned and tossed it back to Davis and as the rookie QB told me, Ingram gave it right back to him perfectly right on the laces. Mills then lofted a beautiful parabola to WR Chris Conley who was wide open down the right side of the field. That was Mills' third touchdown on the day.
The first Mills touchdown on the day came at the end of a ten minute drive to start the game. The Patriots deferred their decision to the second half, giving the Texans the ball right out of the chute. Mills marched the Texans offense all the way down the field but faced a 3rd-and-1 at the New England 11-yard line. Mills took his drop and two tight ends ran up the field on the right side. Antony Auclair sprinted up the seam, but the way the defenders were situated, it created an issue for Mills on the throw. There was a defender coming from the inside, so Mills had to turn Auclair around with his throw. Mills essentially back-shouldered Auclair and the tight end whirled around to make one heck of a catch for his first touchdown as a Texan. I've seen a ton of drives from the sideline the past eight years and seen so many end in a field goal from that spot. Mills and Auclair made sure that wasn't going to happen.
The loss stings even more when you consider - dropped touchdown pass, two missed extra points, a punt was blocked, a couple of interceptions dropped and a missed field goal in the fourth quarter. Any of those items go the other way and we're probably celebrating a third-straight win over the Patriots. On this day, though, that didn't happen and the Texans ended up with an L as a result. Tough, TOUGH day because there were so many great things that happened in this game, but the result stunk. On to Indy next week - see ya then, everyone!
The Texans will host the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8 and kickoff is set for noon CT. Click here for tickets.
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