Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Christian Smith/AP/Shutterstock (13435875as) Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) is pressured by Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Morgan Fox (56) as he throws during the second half of an NFL football game, in Houston Chargers Texans Football, Houston, United States – 02 Oct 2022
A 27-7 halftime deficit proved too much for the Houston Texans to overcome in their Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
The game got off to an ominous start for Houston. On their opening drive, Davis Mills badly overthrew Nico Collins on 3rd and 5 from their own 30 and was intercepted by Nasir Adderley at the Chargers’ 45. He returned it 30 yards to the Texans’ 25 to give the Chargers a very short field on their first possession.
Justin Herbert needed only three plays to get in the end zone. On 3rd and 3, he found Gerald Everett for an 18-yard touchdown pass. The Chargers had a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game.
The Texans started to move the ball on their next drive, but a holding penalty against Kenyon Green on a 3rd and 11 from the LAC 44 wiped out a 22-yard completion to Brandin Cooks. Instead of 1st and 10 at the LAC 22, it was 3rd & 21 at the HOU 46. Davis Mills was sacked for a 10-yard loss on the next play, resulting in a drive that gained only 8 yards.
The Texans’ defense would force LA into a three-and-out, and the offense took over and again moved the football. A facemask penalty on Kenneth Murray Jr. of the Chargers would aid the Texans in getting down the field, but the drive stalled at the Chargers’ 28. Houston sent in the field goal team, but Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the 46-yard attempt very badly to the left.
The Chargers would take over at their own 36 and methodically march down the field for their second touchdown. The 9-play, 64-yard drive took 4:22 and was capped off by an Austin Ekeler 10-yard touchdown run. A 14-yard completion to DeAndre Carter on 3rd & 6 from the LAC 40 was the key play on the drive. It was also the only 3rd down of the drive. The Chargers were now leading 14-0 with 12:57 remaining before halftime.
The Texans went three, and out on the next drive, as on 3rd and 5 from their own 30, Mills overthrew Nico Collins by a mile. Collins was wide open behind the defense, and an accurate throw could have been a big gainer.
Los Angeles would punish the Texans for their failures quickly. They needed just 3 plays to go 73 yards in only 1:18. The big play was a 50-yard pass to Mike Williams, where there seemed to be serious miscommunication in the Texans’ secondary. Derek Stingley Jr. had Williams off the line but appeared to pass him off to another defender as Williams cut across the middle of the field. You could see Stingley point to Williams as he broke across the field, but no one ever picked him up. Williams wound up wide open, and Herbert hit him in stride for a big catch and run. Austin Ekeler would break off a 20-yard touchdown run on the next play for a 21-0 Chargers lead with 10 minutes to go before the half.
On the Texans’ ensuing drive, they would have the biggest offensive highlight play of the season. Dameon Pierce took a toss to the right side and broke free for a 75-yard touchdown run on the drive’s first play. Pierce showed vision, burst, and acceleration on the play, which woke up a sleeping (when not booing) crowd. This cut the deficit to 21-7, with 9:48 remaining before the break.
The Chargers continued to work the Texans’ pass defense on their next possession. LA went 77 yards in 10 plays over 5:13 on a drive that resulted in a 23-yard field goal. Herbert hit Joshua Palmer for 25 yards into Houston territory on a 1st and 10 from LAC 32. Herbert then found TE Gerald Everett for 14 yards on a 3rd and 3 from the HOU 36 and again for 16 yards on the next play. The Texans’ defense would hold in Goal To Go, something they have done regularly this season. Dustin Hopkins 23 yard FG would make the score 24-7 with 4:35 left in the first half.
Houston’s next possession would get into Chargers territory and take a bad turn. After converting a 2nd and 15 from their own 40 on a leaping 22-yard catch by TE OJ Howard, the drive came down to a 4th and 1 from the LAC 24. On a play that cannot truly be explained for its sheer horror, Houston chose not to run the ball with Dameon Pierce but roll Mills out to the right to look for a short pass to Rex Burkhead. Protection broke down from the word go, and Mills was sacked for an 8-yard loss by Khalil Mack before Burkhead could ever get into his route. The Texans turned it over on downs at the Chargers’ 32 with just 1:01 remaining before halftime.
Sixty-one seconds was just enough time for Herbert to get the Chargers back into field goal range. On second and ten from their own 32, Herbert found WR Michael Bandy (who was elevated from the practice squad) for a 24-yard gain. Herbert found Bandy again on 3rd and 5 from the Texans 39 between Stingley and Owens for a 25-yard pickup. Dustin Hopkins would hit a 37-yard field goal as the half ended for a 27-7 halftime lead.
The second half began with three straight punts before the Texans broke through on their second possession of the half. Houston drove 87 yards in 8 plays over 4:30. Dameon Pierce had 29 yards on the drive, Mills connected with Cooks for 20 yards on a 3rd and 7 from the HOU 34, and then found Jordan Akins for a 30-yard gain on 2nd and 2 from the LAC 38. The drive would be capped off with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Mills to Rex Burkhead to cut the deficit to 27-14.
The next Chargers drive would last 3:17 and span into the fourth quarter, but it only went for 6 plays and 15 yards before they had to punt.
The Texans’ next possession would see them score their first fourth-quarter points of the season. Going 5 plays and 93 yards in 2:53, Houston found the end zone again as Cooks hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Mills. The score was set up by a 58 completion from Mills to Collins on 3rd and 6 from the Houston 24. Collins was way behind the defense and had to wait for Mills’ underthrown ball to reach him, but was still able to haul in the pass before the double coverage could get to him. It was now 27-21, and the Texans crowd was back in the game.
The Chargers would fumble the ensuing kickoff, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin would recover it at the Chargers 16 yard line. The crowd was buzzing, and Houston had a chance with a very short field to take the lead. However, Mills would be sacked on 2nd and 7 at the LAC 13, and Mills threw too high to O.J. Howard on 3rd down. The Texans had to settle for a 40-yard Fairbairn field goal. It was now 27-24 with 8:30 remaining in the 4th. The building was getting loud. There was excitement the Texans could pull off a fourth-quarter comeback after being so terrible in the fourth quarter in their first three games.
It would be short lived.
Starting from their own 16 yards line, the Chargers would go 12 plays, 84 yards, and take 6:02 off the clock on the drive that would seal the game. It was a drive marked by the Texans’ defense being unable to get off the field. First, a 13-yard pass from Herbert to Williams on 3rd and 2 from the LAC 24. Herbert then converted 4th and 2 from the LAC 45 when he hit Ekeler on a short pass in the flat that saw the running back rumble for 21 yards. On 3rd and 6 from the HOU 30, Herbert would find Williams again for 11 yards. The drive would finish with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to Ekeler on the exact same play they ran on 4th and 2 earlier in the drive. It was a play the entire building knew what was coming, except for the Texans’ defense. It expanded the lead to 34-24 with just 2:28 remaining.
On the ensuing drive, following two incompletions with Mills under pressure, he was sacked on 3rd and 10 for a 6-yard loss. The Texans would have no choice but to go for it on 4th and 16 from their own 19. Under pressure, Mills spun away from a defender and then threw a balloon up for grabs in the middle of the field into heavy coverage and was intercepted by Bryce Callahan. That would essentially seal the game.
The Chargers took four knees on their final possession and ran the clock down to 16 seconds before turning it over on downs to the Texans at the HOU 32. The Texans ran a handoff play to Pierce to end the game.
It was another disturbingly inconsistent game for the Texans in nearly every facet. Mills continues to make poor reads in RPO, miss wide-open receivers down the field and is too willing to dump it down to the short receiver. The run blocking is hit or miss, and the pass protection may have been the worst it was all season. The defense gave up chunk plays on the ground and was destroyed in pass coverage. The lone bright spot was the play of Dameon Pierce, who continues to be a wrecking ball who fights through tackles for extra yardage.
Houston will try to garner their first win of the season when they travel to Jacksonville Sunday.