Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 1: Colts 20, Texans 20 β€” Four Winners, Four Losers

Jerry Hughes (55) had two of the biggest plays of the game for the Texans.
Jerry Hughes (55) had two of the biggest plays of the game for the Texans. Photo by Jack Gorman
Even with an NFL franchise as young as the Houston Texans, it's not often you can attend a home game and say that you saw something you've never seen your NFL team accomplish before. However, that's exactly what happened on Sunday, as the Texans were involved in their first tie in franchise history, a 20-20 tie with the Indianapolis Colts.

Now, there are two types of ties in the NFL. There's the kind of tie you feel okay with, where perhaps you scrambled back from a deep deficit, maybe against a superior opponent, and you are able to avoid a loss, stealing something resembling victory from the jaws of defeat. Then there's the type of tie the Texans were involved in on Sunday, the kind you don't feel so great about.

In Sunday's game, the Texans coughed up a 20-3 lead in the fourth quarter, through a combination of offensive ineptitude, defensive weariness, and one monstrous turnover. On top of that, there was curious decision making from the coaching staff in terms of both personnel (Why is Rex Burkhead getting 19 touches?) and in terms of game management (Punting to accept a tie, Lovie?).

More on both of those in a minute, but maybe we should rejoice, as the Texans sit tied with the Colts at 0-0-1 atop the AFC South. The season is weird already.  Here are your winners and losers:

WINNERS

4. Jerry Hughes
Hughes was signed late in free agency by the Texans, and he's already made a big impact in the locker room, as he was named one of the team's five captains last week, On the field, his presence was felt significantly throughout the preseason, and that carried over into Sunday, as Hughes had two of the biggest plays of the game β€” a second quarter interception that thwarted a Colts drive in Houston territory, and then a strip sack that again scuttled the Colts' subsequent drive. Hughes finished his Texans debut with two sacks and a tackle for loss to go with his pick.

3. O.J. Howard
Another free agency pickup making his debut, Howard was signed by the Texans late in the preseason after he was let go by the Buffalo Bills. The former first round pick out of Alabama has had a hard time getting his career on track since entering the league in 2017, and an Achilles tear in 2020 certainly didn't help. On Sunday, he only caught two balls but both were catches for the Texans' only two touchdowns of the afternoon. If Howard can be a dynamic pass catching option, this will be huge help for Mills.

2. Chris Moore
Moore only had three catches for 31 yards in the box score, but all three catches were chain movers for the Texans. The Texans receiving corps is largely thought to be Brandin Cooks, with a bit of Nico Collins, then who the hell knows? However, if Moore can replace "who the hell knows" with his name, like he did Sunday, it will be fun to see. If he can shake free for some deep shots, that will help. Moore flashed that a bit last season. The Texans' only real downfield shot on Sunday was a flea flicker to Brandin Cooks for 42 yards that was severely underthrown by Davis Mills.

1. Jonathan Taylor
Reportedly, the Colts are working with their analytics team to determine the optimal number of times Taylor should be touching the ball without getting all the tread taken off his tires before he turns 26 in a couple years. It's an interesting storyline, and it makes me wonder where carrying the ball 31 times in a tie against the Texans fits into that calculus. Taylor was bottled up early by the Texans defense, but after the Mills fumble in the fourth quarter, with the Texans leading 20-6, on the next two Colts drives, both for touchdowns, Taylor carried the ball 7 times for 62 yards. When he needed to be, he was a diesel on Sunday.

click to enlarge
Lovie Smith's decisions in overtime on Sunday angered many Texan fans.
Photo by Jack Gorman
LOSERS

4. Whoever is backing Rex Burkhead's usage
Look, I don't have a problem with Burkhead getting a few touches in this offense. Aside from Dameon Pierce, there isn't a ton of talent in this running back room. However, I will remind the Texans that PIERCE IS STILL THERE! For some reason, Lovie Smith saw fit to giving Burkhead, who is old and slow (not a great combo), 19 touches to Pierce's 12 touches. Neither guy ran the ball all that great, but there's no way Burkhead should be the one in the game on a 3rd an 1 at midfield in overtime. The play on 3rd and 1? A very predictable two-yard loss that set up Lovie Smith's decision to punt.

3. Davis Mills late game closer
For three quarters, Mills was really good. I wouldn't go as far as to say he was outstanding, as he missed a few easy throws and underthrew Cooks badly on the flea flicker to start the second half. However, he did complete 20 of 29 for 214 yards before his fumble set up the Colts' comeback. After the fumble deep in Texans territory, Mills was 0 for 4 with two sacks taken on the next three drives. The Texans as an offense ran just 16 plays the rest of the game after that fumble for a meager 24 yards. Unacceptable in every way.

2. Lovie Smith, conservative coach
Lovie Smith did such a great job rallying the fan base during the offseason. It was impossible to find someone who didn't have great feelings about Lovie, at least to where they liked his experience and demeanor. Perhaps, it was "wait and see" on the strategic stuff in season. Well, it's no longer "wait and see." It's "we saw, and we are pissed." Texan fans are livid Lovie decided to punt in overtime at midfield on 4th and 3 with 24 seconds to go, understandably so. I would submit that his conservative nature opened the door for the comeback earlier in the game, too, as Smith chose to punt on 4th and 3 from the Colts 36 yard line, up 20-3, early in the fourth quarter. In that situation, either go for it or attempt a field goal! This was not Lovie's best day as a head coach.

1. These poor bastards in Miami
Hey, if you're a Texans fans still angry over the loss, just be glad you're not the people who own these cars...

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast