Well, this wasn't what we wanted to see from the good guys on Sunday. The Chargers flew back home to Los Angeles with a 34-24 win on a day that saw the Texans cut a 21 point lead to three in the fourth quarter. But, Chargers QB Justin Herbert and RB Austin Ekeler made all the plays they needed in the fourth quarter to leave with a victory. Here are my Harris Hits from a rough afternoon at NRG Stadium.
When RB Dameon Pierce took a toss from QB Davis Mills with ten minutes left in the second quarter, it didn't initially look like more than just a regular toss play. Then, WR Nico Collins pinned Chargers DE Chris Rumph II to the inside. TE O.J. Howard did the same to LB Drue Tranquill. Then, rookie FB Troy Hairston absolutely nailed All-Pro S Derwin James, I mean, just BLASTED him. Pierce had a ton of room to run, embarrassed the safety trying to make a tackle and then sprinted faster than his Combine time of 4.6 all the way to the end zone. The rookie finished with the best rushing day of his career for the third straight week. This time, he ran for 131 yards and another touchdown.
He also had six receptions…for eight yards. I didn't know that was even possible. Six catches for EIGHT yards?!? Wild.
It was not a great start for QB Davis Mills but once the Texans fell behind by three scores, Mills was forced to go to the air, often. I actually think trailing forced him to press the issue a bit more and that paid off in the second half, until the game ending interception. In the second half, he was 13-19 for 176 yards and two touchdowns. He let it go a little bit over the last 30 minutes and that seemed to open things up for the entire offense.
After the Pierce TD run in the first half, though, Mills found a bit of a groove. He hit Rex Burkhead for one of his two touchdowns on a beautifully conceived pick, uhhh, rub route down inside the ten yard line. He seemed less concerned with the chaos in the pass rush around him for the most part.
On that Burkhead touchdown, it was a wonderfully constructed pass route for six. OC Pep Hamilton had a bunch to the left side of the formation, but Burkhead was aligned on the right of the formation. The bunch essentially cleared to the other side of the field. The Chargers' defenders eyes went with the crossing bunch receiver routes. As they did, Burkhead leaked out to the left side of the formation where he stepped initially inside to go with those routes. One of the Chargers defenders collided with one of the Texans receivers and it caused a natural pick for Burkhead who was wide open for his first touchdown of the season.
The interception to start the game came courtesy of one guy who wasn't in a Chargers uniform last year - Khalil Mack. He looped inside and was able to get right into Mills face as he tried to throw downfield. The pass, predictably, fluttered in the air just long enough for S Nasir Adderley to pull it down and set up the Chargers for their first score.
The deep ball to Nico Collins was the best throw Mills has made all year long. Watching him in the pocket on that throw, he was so calm and poised as he reached back and let one fly. Collins split the CB and the S and was two steps behind them as Mills threw it about as far as he could. Nico ran right through it for a 58-yard catch, establishing a major confidence boost for the entire offense.
So, thinking back, that was an incredible three play sequence. Mills went deep to Collins for 58 yards to the Chargers 18-yard line. On the next play, Mills threw a dart to Brandin Cooks for his first touchdown of the year to cut the lead to 27-21. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, special teams ace M.J. Stewart plastered kickoff returner/former Texan DeAndre Carter and the ball came loose. Texans LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin recovered and it was the loudest I've heard NRG in a while. Three plays - 58-yard catch, Cooks TD catch and ST takeaway on ensuing kickoff.
Alas, a sack ended any hope of scoring a touchdown to take the lead, but a Kaimi Fairbairn 40-yard field goal cut the Chargers lead to 27-24. But, that's as close as the Texans got as Justin Herbert answered with a 12 play, 84-yard drive, culminating in an Ekeler 14-yard game clinching TD.
The Texans were unable to stop the Chargers on a fourth and one as Herbert sprinted right and found Ekeler wide open for the first down. Then, the Chargers touchdown came on the exact same play from 14 yards out as noted above. Tough day for the coverage units as Herbert was on the money, bad rib cartilage and all.
The throw that Herbert made to Gerald Everett for the first points of the game was one of the best I've seen in that building. Texans rookie DB Jalen Pitre couldn't have been in better position but Herbert threw that pass so perfectly that Everett couldn't help but make the catch. The ball stuck to him, more than he caught it. An absolute beauty. As Andre Ware said after that TD throw, "I'd hate to see that throw when Herbert's 100% healthy." No kidding, Dre.
Alright, that's going to do it for this one. It's this close but that's been too far away for a W in the first quarter of the season. Hopefully that'll change in Duval County next week against the division leading Jaguars.