Texans lifeless in 31-3 debacle against Jaguars

Jan 1, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1) runs the ball in for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Texans lifeless in 31-3 debacle against Jaguars

The Houston Texans finished winless at home for the first time in franchise history, falling to the Jaguars 31-3 in their final home game of the season.

It didn’t take long to realize the Houston Texans would not continue their string of improved play in Week 17 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their play did not show any appreciation for the fans who supported them all season long on Fan Appreciation Day at NRG Stadium.

Houston’s first drive of the game ended with a curious decision to go for it on a fourth-and-1 from their own 45-yard line. It was a decision that made no sense whatsoever. They weren’t in a position to score if they were to convert; they were giving away a very short field early in the game if they didn’t. They didn’t.

Jeff Driskel was stuffed on a quarterback sneak, and the Jaguars wasted little time making them pay for their questionable decision.

Jacksonville went 45 yards in eight plays in 3:06. JaMycal Hasty finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, and the Texans were in an early 7-0 hole with 8:24 to go in the first quarter.

Houston would answer with a three-and-out, and the teams would spend their next two possessions each trading punts before Travis Etienne Jr. broke free for a 62-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-0 Jaguars with 12:21 remaining before the half.

Etienne broke through the Texans’ defense with spectacular ease and left everyone else in his dust. This was a noncompetitive defensive play similar to some of the awful play against the run that the Texans exhibited earlier in the season.

On the second play of the Texans’ next possession, this game was all but ended. Mills was hit by linebacker Josh Allen just as he prepared to throw, knocking the ball from his hand before his arm motion began. Mills was already cocked for the throw, and with the ball out of his hand, his arm went forward, essentially throwing the fumble. The ball was picked up by Tyson Campbell, who returned it 12 yards for a touchdown. Jaguars up 21-0 with 11:35 to go before the break.

The Texans followed that mess with another three-and-out. The offense was completely inept after showing promising signs the past three weeks.

At least the Texans’ defense would wake up temporarily, albeit far too late to matter. On the Jaguars’ next possession, Trevor Lawrence misfired on a pass for wide receiver Zay Jones and was intercepted by Desmond King II.

Taking over at the Jaguars 41-yard line, the Texans’ offense failed again. The drive ended fruitlessly on a failed fourth-and-5 from the Jacksonville 10, and again with another curious play call.

Mills lofted a pass to running back Rex Burkhead in the end zone, fading to the sideline. Burkhead could not haul it in, although the pass would have carried him out of bounds even if he did. It was a poor throw on a poor play call, as most teams try to throw end-zone fades to taller, athletic receivers who can highpoint the ball.

Not that it would have mattered if Phillip Dorsett had not dropped what would have been a first-down catch on a pass from Jeff Driskel on second down that hit him belt high in the hands. There was plenty of blame to go around for the Texans’ offense, from the coaches to the players.

It seemed as if the Texans were either playing very hung over from New Year’s Eve or were diligently working to protect their status of having the top overall pick in the upcoming draft. They were not competitive on Sunday.

The teams would trade another pair of punts before the end of the half, which saw the Jaguars go to the break with a 21-0 lead.

At the half, the Texans had run 33 offensive plays and gained a net total of 94 yards. They were 2-for-9 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down.

The Texans’ defense began the second half by allowing the Jaguars to walk down the field effortlessly for another touchdown. Jacksonville went 75 yards in 11 plays over 5:32, culminating with a 3-yard touchdown run by Snoop Conner to take a 28-0 lead with 9:28 remaining in the third quarter.

This game was already in garbage time.

Houston scored their only points of the game on their next possession. A Ka’imi Fairbairn 56-yard field goal finished a seven-play, 37-yard drive that took 3:39. A 13-yard scramble by Mills on a third-and-20 from his own 49 gave the Texans the opportunity for a long field goal to avoid the shutout. Houston trailed 28-3 with 5:49 remaining in the third quarter.

Jacksonville began removing starters and playing backups at this point. C.J. Beathard took over at quarterback for Trevor Lawrence, who was done for the day as the Jags began focusing on keeping starters healthy for next week’s showdown with the Tennessee Titans in a game that will determine the winner of the AFC South.

Beathard led the Jaguars down the field on his first drive, but on a third-and-5 from the Texans 21, he was intercepted by Jalen Pitre. It was Pitre’s fifth interception of the season, the second-highest interception mark for a rookie in Texans’ history (Dunta Robinson, 6, 2004).

The Texans’ next possession would again end on a failed fourth-down conversion attempt. Facing fourth-and-three at their own 49, Mills could not connect with Dorsett, and the Texans ended an 11-play, 39-yard drive on downs.

After forcing a three-and-out against the Jaguars’ offensive backups, the Texans also went three-and-out. They also had their first major special teams misstep of the game.

On fourth-and-15 from their own 5-yard line, Pro Bowl alternate punter Cam Johnston blasted a huge 53-yard punt that Jamal Agnew fielded at the Jacksonville 42. The man Texans head coach Lovie Smith identified earlier in the week as one of the most dangerous return men in the league made a few defenders miss tackles and returned the punt 18 yards to the Texans 40.

Although the Jaguars could only gain 5 yards on the drive, they were close enough for kicker Riley Patterson to connect on a 53-yard field goal to make it a 31-3 game with 6:06 remaining.

Houston’s next drive ended on a failed fourth-and-18 at their own 47. The Jaguars then went three-and-out. Houston’s final possession saw Davis Mills account for 50 of his 202 yards passing as the clock ran out.

With the loss, the Texans fell to 2-13-1. The Jaguars improved to 8-8. Jacksonville can win the AFC South and go to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 with a win or tie next week against the reeling Tennessee Titans. The Texans face the struggling Colts in Indianapolis in their final game next week.

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