Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 2: Browns 31, Texans 21 — Four Winners, Four Losers

When Tyrod Taylor left the game injured on Sunday, it was curtains for the Texans.
Photo by Jack Gorman
When Tyrod Taylor left the game injured on Sunday, it was curtains for the Texans.
Coming into the 2021 season, Las Vegas had set the betting line on at least a half dozen of the Houston Texans' 17 regular season games at a spread where the Texans would be underdogs of double digits or more. The first game in that category took place on Sunday in Cleveland, and the Texans did indeed lose by double digits, with a final score of 31-21.

However, if we've learned anything about this season's edition of Houston Texans through the first two weeks of the season, it's that they will fight you until the final minute. Ultimately, the talent deficit sets in, especially (a) with as many bodies as piled up on the Texans' injury list on Sunday, and (b) when one of said bodies belongs to quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

The Texans went into the locker room tied at 14-14 with one of the better teams in the league on the other side of the ball, and reeling a little bit. The Texans were getting the ball to start the half, but Taylor evidently had tweaked a hamstring on a roll out late in the first half, and Davis Mills' NFL career would begin about two months before the Texans had probably planned.

So the Texans now sit at 1-1, still in first place in the AFC South, but with a Thursday game this week against Carolina, getting to 2-1 is going to be tough sledding. Let's get to winners and losers from Sunday:


WINNERS

4. Mark Ingram
The box score says Ingram only had 14 carries for 41 yards, but I swear that 39 of those 41 yards came with five Cleveland Browns climbing all over his back. Whatever fight this team has, you know a lot of that comes from the style of leadership Ingram brings to the locker room and the huddle. Check out the "Mic'd Up" feature from the season opener against the Jaguars:
Players like Ingram are why I'm hoping this team hangs in and competes for something — division crown, a playoff spot, pride — far longer than the experts think they will.

3. David Mills learning curve
When Tyrod Taylor went out with the hamstring injury, the vision of Davis Mills trotting out onto the field to start the second half was harrowing. It didn't get much better for the remainder of the game, although Mills did seem to find some level of relative competence in the fourth quarter. Whatever positives Mills could take away from his NFL debut, he will need to carry those with him, if Taylor is going to be out for an extended period of time. The Texans' next four games are against Carolina (2-0, with a great defense), Buffalo (Sean McDermott), New England (Bill Belichick), and Indianapolis (road game against Matt Eberflus). This is not baptism by fire, it's baptism by inferno.

2. Deshaun Watson news hounds
So let me interject this question before you ask it, because I know it's coming — "So the starting quarterback is injured... um, don't they have LAST SEASON'S STARTER on the roster already?" Yes, very fair question, reader. And I know your next question is "If Tyrod Taylor is hurt, why not ask Watson to play?" also, a very fair question and a tactic that makes a lot of sense, because if they do that, one of two things likely happens, and both things help the Texans — either Watson says "no, I won't do that" and he can be suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, or he says "SURE!" and the league likely steps in at that point and places him on the Commissioner's Exempt List, opening a roster spot. (In other words, the least likely thing is that he actually PLAYS for the Texans, even if they do ask him.) Also worth mentioning, the Dolphins lost 35-0 to the Bills on Sunday. They have been the most active suitor for Watson's services, so we will see if those rumors bubble up again.


1. Cleveland Trucking Company (i.e their running backs)
The one thing you knew the Browns could do really well offensively, they unfortunately did when they needed to on Sunday, and that's their ability to pound the football with running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The twosome finished with 146 yards on 24 carries, and really cemented the game on a nine play drive in the fourth quarter that provided the final margin of victory. On that 82 yard drive, the two combined for 54 yards on 5 carries, including a 26 yard scamper by Chubb for the touchdown. That running game is a big reason Baker Mayfield was 19 of 21 for over 200 yards in the passing game.

LOSERS

4. David Culley, game manager
By and large, this team has looked like a better coached outfit than the one that was overseen by Bill O'Brien (and certainly Romeo Crennel) over the last couple seasons. However, David Culley had his first real noticeable game management snafu yesterday in the second quarter. A Brandin Cooks catch and run set up the Texans with a 4th and 2 at the Cleveland 49 yard line, but the Browns were offsides on the play. So Culley had two GOOD choices at that point — accept the penalty and try to convert 3rd and 10, or decline the penalty and go for a first down on 4th and 2. Culley chose... NEITHER. He declined the penalty and then chose to PUNT. A bad decision was exacerbated by Cam Johnston punting the ball into the end zone for a touchback. Rough sequence for the rookie head coach.

3. Andre Roberts
Rougher sequence for kick return specialist Andre Roberts earlier in the game, though. After the Texans' defense forced a punt on the Browns' first offensive series, the Roberts had the ball bounce off his chest on the punt return, and the Browns recovered the muffed punt. It set them up for a room service touchdown to open the game. Roberts made things worse on the subsequent kickoff, fielding it two yards deep in the end zone and returning the ball to the 16 yard line. Roberts is on the team to do one thing — return kicks.  If he is not only not performing that duty well, but turning the ball over, then he has no use on this team.

2. Bill O'Brien, deposed dictator
If there is one aspect of this Texans team from a game planning and in-game coaching standpoint that is night and day form last season, it is the play calling. Tim Kelly, who was the offensive coordinator in name under O'Brien, but had to watch O'Brien screw up the play calling continually, is doing a fantastic job of putting the Texans in position to succeed offensively. There is creativity and logic in the play calls, and the Texans even engineered a touchdown on their opening drive, a rarity in the O'Brien Era! This week against the Panthers will put Kelly to the test, though, as... well, let's get to it....

1. Tyrod Taylor
Make no mistake, Tyrod Taylor is not listed among the "losers" for anything he did. He is listed here because there is no more snakebitten quarterback in recent NFL history. In 2018, he was named the Browns' starter, but was injured in Week 3, and Baker Mayfield has been the starter there ever since. In 2020, Taylor was named the Chargers' starter, but was injured by a team physician who punctured Taylor's lung with a painkiller shot after Week 1. Justin Herbert took over and won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Now, he starts off with two of his best performances as a pro in 2021 for the Texans, but a pulled hamstring will sideline him for at least this week's game against Carolina. It's a shame. Taylor is one of the good guys, and now Texan fans will get an extended look at Davis Mills about two months sooner than is probably optimal.

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