Dameon Pierce a bright spot, but Mills’ mistakes unravel Texans in 29-17 loss to Eagles

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP/Shutterstock (13607549ao) Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) carries against Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox (29) in the first half of an NFL football game in Houston Eagles Texans Football, Houston, United States – 03 Nov 2022

Dameon Pierce a bright spot, but Mills’ mistakes unravel Texans in 29-17 loss to Eagles

The Houston Texans did not enter the 2022 season with high expectations, but there was certainly hope for improvement after last year’s 4-13 debacle of a campaign. Davis Mills showed enough promise at quarterback that Houston decided to improve elsewhere, hoping that he could be the guy to lead them into the future. Heading into his second season at quarterback, the expectation was that Davis Mills would improve after throwing 10 interceptions in 13 games and going 2-11 under center. Now through nine games in 2022, it is getting harder to argue that improvement is going to show up. 

Mills threw for two more interceptions tonight, one of which set up the Eagles for a one-play touchdown drive and one of which halted a promising trip into the Philadelphia red zone that could have pulled Houston within a score. His completion percentage, passer rating, and yards per attempt have all gotten worse year over year – and his record as the Texans’ quarterback now sits at 3-17-1 through 24 games. He made some notably excellent throws against the vaunted Eagles’ defense tonight, including 25+ yard passes to Chris Moore and Phillip Dorsett – but the mistakes were too loud to overcome. 

Houston’s defense, which entered the game allowing the third most yards in the league overall and far and away the most rush yards in the league, continued to struggle as well. Jalen Hurts picked apart the Texans’ secondary whenever he had time, completing 21 of 27 throws for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Miles Sanders averaged 5.5 yards per carry and ran for a touchdown of his own. 

If nothing else, the Texans looked crisp on offense in the early going despite wideout Brandin Cooks’ voluntary absence and Nico Collins’ injury. Davis Mills completed all four of his passes on their opening drive, including a beautifully lofted 34-yard pass to Phillip Dorsett that put Houston on the Eagles’ six-yard line. Mills’ final throw of the drive was rookie tight end Teagan Quitoriano’s first career reception, a two-yard touchdown to put the Texans ahead early. 

The Texans’ defense played with energy early but could not get off the field on third or fourth down on Philadelphia’s opening drive. The Eagles wound up driving 91 yards over 18 plays, a marathon of a drive that ate up more than half of the first quarter. Miles Sanders punched in the tying score on fourth and goal from two yards out, the fourth time on the opening drive alone that the Eagles converted on third down or later. 

Houston’s offense scuffled on its next few possessions, punting twice while only picking up one first down, but a strip-sack of Jalen Hurts by Steven Nelson allowed Jaleel Johnson to recover the ball and keep it 7-7 into the second quarter. The Eagles’ offense held onto it on their next drive though, gashing the Texans’ defense for 79 yards over 10 plays for a 14-7 lead, this time via Kenneth Gainwell’s four-yard scamper. Philadelphia ran for 56 yards on the go-ahead drive, evoking painful memories from Tennessee’s steamrolling of the Texans last weekend. 

After falling behind late in the second quarter, Texans’ offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton decided to feed his rookie running back repeatedly on the ensuing drive. Dameon Pierce started to physically dominate the Eagles’ defense, cutting them apart for 54 yards rushing on just five attempts. Davis Mills finished the job from inside the red zone, connecting with Chris Moore on a 13-yard touchdown pass that was called off, reviewed, and eventually confirmed to tie the game. Pierce finished the first half with a bruising 88 yards, including 75 after contact. 

Coming out of halftime tied 14-14, Houston’s defense looked stout early in the third quarter. Philadelphia’s offense produced a total of six yards over its first two drives of the half, punting twice – but it was Davis Mills’ first mistake of the night that changed the momentum. Facing a third down from his own 24, Mills saw the pocket collapse around him on a play that appeared likely to result in a sack. Instead of covering the football and living to fight another day, Mills attempted an off-balance, ill-advised pass that resulted in an easy interception by CJ Gardner-Johnson and an instant red zone chance for the Eagles. Jalen Hurts took advantage, immediately connecting with star wideout AJ Brown for a 17-yard touchdown to put Philadelphia ahead for good. 

Houston’s offense kept fighting, as Dameon Pierce and Rex Burkhead ran the ball effectively behind solid offensive line play to set up another opportunity in Eagles’ territory late in the third quarter. This time Philly’s defense stiffened in the red zone, and the Texans settled for a 30-yard Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal to make it 21-17. 

Needing a stop as the game moved into the fourth quarter, the Texans’ defense couldn’t get one. Jalen Hurts led a masterful 10-play, 75-yard drive, mixing an effective run game with four back-breaking completions to Dallas Goedert, the final of which extended the lead from four yards away. After an offsides penalty on the Eagles’ extra point attempt, Jalen Hurts punched in the two-point conversion with a sneak to make it 29-17. 

The Texans’ offense scuffled in the final minutes, punting in short order on one drive and throwing away an opportunity in Philadelphia’s territory with Davis Mills’ second interception as the two-minute warning arrived.

The 29-17 loss is Houston’s third in a row, and their second time losing by double digits in the last three weeks. Davis Mills’ inability to take care of the football did the Texans in, a continuing trend that has now seen him throw eight interceptions over the last six games. 

The Texans are now 0-3-1 at home, last winning at NRG Stadium on December 26, 2021. There were some positives to glean from the predictable loss – notably Dameon Pierce’s career high 139 rushing yards on 27 carries and four sacks of Jalen Hurts. The Texans head back on the road next week, where they will take on the 6-2 New York Giants at Metlife Stadium.

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