Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP/Shutterstock (13607549bn) Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) avoids a sack by Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Houston, . The Eagles won 29-17 Eagles Texans Football, Houston, United States – 03 Nov 2022
Unless Davis Mills undergoes an amazing metamorphosis over the last nine games of the season, there’s no doubt general manager Nick Caserio will be looking for a franchise quarterback with the Texans’ first pick in the 2023 draft.
In his second season, Mills’ inconsistency has been maddening for the Texans. Their 29-17 loss to the Eagles that dropped their record to 1-6-1 on Thursday night was a perfect example.
In quarterback Jalen Hurts’ homecoming – a game streamed nationally by Amazon — Mills was terrific in the first half and terrible in the second, contributing significantly to a 29-17 defeat that was closer than predicted.
With the Astros playing the Phillies in Game 5 of the World Series, Texans fans kept one eye on Philadelphia and the other on a team coming off one of the worst performances in franchise history against Tennessee.
Coach Lovie Smith’s coaches and players rebounded impressively against the Eagles, the league’s only undefeated team. Once again, the Texans were in a game in the fourth quarter but failed to respond to the opportunity. They trailed 21-17 early in the fourth quarter but collapsed because they’re one of the two-worst teams in the NFL, just behind Detroit.
Mills was a picture of inconsistency, a frequent frustration that’s hard to understand based on how he played over the last five games of his rookie season.
Playing without leading receiver Brandin Cooks, who abandoned his teammates while pouting about not being traded last week, Mills looked as if he had turned a corner in the first half. He faced a defense that was tied for third in the NFL, and he completed 8-of-9 for 90 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. His rating was 147.9, and the Texans went into the halftime dressing room tied 14-14.
That was the Mills the Texans hoped to see this season after the way he closed his rookie year. Mills and the offense were unusually productive in the first half, and the Texans actually scored on their first possession for the first time this season.
“We talked about starting fast,” Smith said. “We haven’t really started fast. The first and the fourth quarter we haven’t played our best ball. But to get that touchdown right away was big for us.”
Unfortunately, the Texans couldn’t sustain it, and another wretched fourth quarter kept them from pulling off the most shocking upset of the NFL season.
With rookie running back Dameon Pierce providing 88 yards in the first half and 139 overall, the Texans unveiled a balanced offense that was so efficient against the Eagles in the first half they must have been shellshocked at the tie.
“Dameon did what he normally does — run hard, an outstanding job,” Smith said. “I thought our offensive line did an excellent job. I thought we got good push.
“We want to be a running team, a physical running attack. Our tailback kind of says it all in what we’d like to be. Dameon’s hard to stop. I wouldn’t want to be a defensive back with him having a full head of steam running downhill, keeping his legs moving (and) moving the pile.”
In the first half, Pep Hamilton called plays that kept the Eagles off balance. The linemen did an outstanding job of blocking. Veteran receivers Chris Moore and Phillip Dorsett did a splendid job of replacing Cooks and the injured Nico Collins.
It’s unfortunate that Mills doesn’t have a playmaker who puts pressure on defenses, but he made good with what he had, engineering a pair of 75-yard touchdown drives. Mills threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Teagan Quitoriano and a 13-yard touchdown pass to Moore.
Too bad Mills had to play a second half.
Good teams make halftime adjustments, and there’s a reason the Eagles are undefeated. In the second half, Mills completed 5-of-13 for 64 yards and threw two costly interceptions. Both were poor passes.
“The turnovers hurt, simple as that,” Smith said. “You take away those turnovers, and I thought we had a game plan that would allow us to win the game.”
The Texans’ defense forced Philadelphia to punt on its first two series of the third quarter, but the offense couldn’t take advantage.
With eight minutes left in the third quarter, Mills threw a horrible deep pass toward to Moore that was intercepted by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and returned 25 yards to the Texans’ 17. Two plays later, Hurts and A.J. Brown – a Texans tormentor when he played for the Titans – connected on an easy 17-yard touchdown pass for a 21-14 lead.
On the Texans’ next series, Mills and Pierce helped them have a first down at the Eagles’ 13. Hamilton called back-to-back running plays for Pierce, but he was smothered for no gain and 1 yard. On third down, Mills threw incomplete. Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked a 30-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 21-17, where it stayed until the fourth quarter.
The Eagles responded by putting together a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with Hurts’ 4-yard pass to Dallas Goedert. When tackle Kurt Hinish was offsides, the Eagles went for two, and Hurts ran it in for a 12-point advantage.
The game was already decided when the Texans had a first down at the Philadelphia 12 with 3:03 remaining. Tackle Javon Hargrave recorded his third sack, leaving Mills with third-and-19. His last pass was intercepted by James Bradberry to secure the victory.
“I’ve got to protect the ball better,” Mills said. “Tried to force some plays when I guess they weren’t there. Just be smart with it. Puts our defense in a bad spot.
“But I think we’re in a good spot. We’re getting better each week. Just got to find a way to get over the hump and finish some games.”
If Mills and the offense are getting better, it’s difficult to see.
Through eight games, Mills has 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s thrown four interceptions in his last three games. As a rookie, he threw five over his last nine starts.
As a starter, Mills has a 3-15-1 record, and two of his victories have been over Jacksonville.
Asked what the offense needs to do to avoid the inconsistency that’s plagued the Texans, Mills said, “Keep straining to sustain drives, limit penalties and limit turnovers. If we do that, I think we can play with anyone.
“My goals are to continue getting better each week (and) protect the football. Could have been better at that with the turnovers but continue leading the guys on offense, do my job and try to find ways to get the ball on an edge to playmakers.”
In fairness, Mills doesn’t have a lot of talent at receiver and tight end, but his line has improved, and Pierce has been a revelation. There’s no excuse for Mills to be so inconsistent even though he’s still in his second season of playing for a team undergoing a colossal rebuild and heading for the first overall pick in the draft.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).