There's nothing quite like the first time, unless it means a gut-wrenching loss to the Raiders. It was the first time the Texans had ever played in Las Vegas and, for a while, it looked like the Texans were about to leave Vegas with a memorable first win near the famous Las Vegas Strip. Alas, it didn't happen as the Raiders dominated the fourth quarter and sent us back to Houston with an L. Here are my Harris Hits from a wild roller coaster of an afternoon at Allegiant Stadium.
The frustrating aspect of this loss to the Raiders was that the Texans had a number of important forks in the road, especially in the fourth quarter…and they all went sideways. Fourth and one, jumped offsides on defense. Fourth and one, false started on offense. Missed tackles all over the field. Bad gap discipline on defense. It's one thing when the other side just dominates the action in all phases but the Texans gave the Raiders a number of gifts throughout the final 15 minutes, in particular.
The Texans' offense came out of the chute better than it had all year long. The first drive of the first five games went like this…
three and out, punt
three and out, punt
three and out, punt
INT on third down
three and out, punt.
On Sunday, though, QB Davis Mills strung together a nine play 54-yard drive that bogged down at the Las Vegas 21-yard line. No worries, FINALLY, it's going to be points on the first dr…then Kai'mi Fairbairn missed the 39-yard field goal attempt. The operation didn't seem to be 100% clean and Fairbairn pushed it right. The Texans offense rebounded in major fashion throughout the day, but that field goal attempt, which is nearly automatic for Fairbairn, went wide right and cost the Texans an early 3-0 lead.
The Texans' offense allowed Cam Johnston to punt one time. Once. When was the last time that happened? Furthermore, that one punt came with just over 11 minutes left in the game.
The Raiders punted twice in the first half on back-to-back drives in the first and second quarter. Then, Armageddon. The Raiders scored on four straight touchdown drives, starting with WR Mack Hollins TD catch with 0:25 seconds left in the first half. Two ten play drives. Two seven play drives. Four straight touchdowns. The Texans defense had given up 28 points or more in just one game and the Raiders piled up 28 on four straight possessions. All four drives went 75 yards or more. It was a breakdown at the exact wrong time.
For three and a half quarters, I thought QB Davis Mills played his best football of the season. The TD throw that he made to WR Phillip Dorsett was THE hardest I've seen him throw a football since he arrived in Houston. He LASERED that throw into Dorsett who split the cornerback and safety in cover two. He stood in the face of the pass rush, stayed strong in the pocket and delivered all day long.
He even made plays outside of structure. On one play in the first half, he got a little pressure and flipped, literally, flipped the ball out to RB Dameon Pierce who picked up six yards on first down. Could very easily have been a sack or an incompletion but Mills picked up a six-yard completion with some ingenuity. Loved it. On the first drive of the second half, he spun out of a pressure, rolled to his left and threw a dime to Phillip Dorsett on the sideline for a big first down. His touchdown throw to WR Chris Moore was pristine anticipation and accurate understanding. Mills delivered the ball to the only spot where Moore could snatch it and sprint into the end zone. Mills finished with 302 yards, his best statistical performance of the year. He completed multiple passes to eight different receivers. But, the enduring image will be the pick six that he threw to Duron Harmon that essentially ended the afternoon…unfortunately.
TE Jordan Akins continues to make key plays for this offense. He finished the day with three receptions for 68 yards. His first reception was a 19-yard catch and run on third down and four in the first quarter. His second catch was a 39-yard catch and run in the third quarter on third and three. His final catch of the day came on fourth and nine for ten yards. Two third down conversions and one key fourth down conversion. Akins has been fantastic and perhaps better than at any other time in his career.
I'd love to find some silver linings on the defensive side of the ball, but they were few and far between. The Texans got beat on pin and pull toss sweep, counter and isolation. Those three runs aren't sexy. They aren't pretty; it's just big boy football. The Texans defense didn't set the edge at all. The front seven couldn't get off blocks and get to the ball. Sure, DL Maliek Collins was out for most of the game, but the defense had no answers for Josh Jacobs and the Raiders' run game.
There were so many pivotal moments in this game, but one that stood out to me was a third and 11 in the fourth quarter. The Texans trailed 24-20 and a Raiders' field goal would've kept the Texans within just one score. On that third down, Raiders QB Derek Carr threw short to All-Pro WR Davante Adams just four yards down the field. Texans LB Christian Harris, playing in the first game of his career, seemed to be in the perfect position to make the tackle, well short of the first down. It couldn't have set up better but Adams dodged Harris and sprinted forward for ten yards. He didn't pick up a first down, but because he got it to a fourth and one, Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels felt compelled to turn to Josh Jacobs on fourth and one.
Then…the Texans jumped offside. On the subsequent first down, Jacobs went 15 yards for a touchdown. 31-20.
So, at 24-20, the Texans faced a fourth down, decided to go for it…and false started. That led to Johnston's only punt of the day. That in turn led to the three play, nail in the coffin sequence - Adams third down reception/Texans offside on fourth and one/Jacobs TD. It's one thing to physically get beat but it's quite another to GIVE things away.
Speaking of Harris, the rookie from Alabama stepped into the game and played a ton more snaps than perhaps anyone anticipated. He had one tackle where he scraped into the gap and made a strong solid tackle. That was a lightning bolt of flash from the rookie. He's still finding his way into this defense and that'll eventually happen. This Raiders game was the first football game he played since the National Championship game against Georgia on January 10, 2022. Ten months between game action? Yeah, he'll get better for sure and there should be plenty of excitement about what he can do.
Really hated seeing WR Nico Collins go out of the game after Dorsett's touchdown. He left with a groin injury and the Raiders just didn't have anyone to combat Nico's size and strength. Their defense seemed to focus their coverage on him after he caught two passes in the first half. His early emergence opened things up in the passing game. WR Brandin Cooks got wide open on the deep crossing route in the third quarter that led to Phillip Dorsett's touchdown.
The Josh Jacobs-Dameon Pierce tete-a-tete was all that and then some. The two backs are nearly twins - thick trunk, never go down easily, tackle breaking skills, vision, explosiveness and twitch. Each is the full package. For the first three quarters of the game, they were in "can you top this?"-mode. Jacobs sliced through the Texans defense. Pierce shook defenders for a first down run. Jacobs spun off a Texans LB. Pierce ran through a Raiders arm tackle. It was a real joy watching those two young warriors battle as if it was an intense rap battle between two brilliant wordsmiths.
When RB Dare Ogunbowale got into the game at RB, he excelled. He finished with five receptions for 54 yards. He looked quick and explosive. He made guys miss in space. He ran with power. I really, REALLY liked what Ogunbowale did in a cleanup effort. Before you say, what does it matter? In 2019, former Texans RB Taiwan Jones hadn't played but one or two snaps at RB all season, but in the finale that didn't matter because the Texans had clinched, Jones impressed to the point that the coaching staff found a way to use him in the Wild Card playoff game against Buffalo. I'm sure you remember his name from THE key play of that OT win. I'm not saying that he'll create a moment like THAT against Tennessee this week but being impressive at any point catches eyes and creates opportunities. Here's hoping Dare did that and then some on Sunday afternoon.
There's not not a ton more to say. This one had me more frustrated than any other loss this season. The offense just couldn't generate points at Denver. The defense couldn't stop the run against the Bears. No one had answers for Justin Herbert and the Chargers. But, this one was more about breakdowns in discipline at key times in a winnable game against an explosively potent offensive machine. Maybe the Raiders were going to continue to exploit the Texans defense anyway, but what happens if the Texans get that fourth and one in the fourth quarter when it was 24-20? Who knows? Time to charge on and get one this week against Tennessee.