Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 3: Panthers 24, Texans 9 — Four Winners, Four Losers

It turned into a long night for the rookie quarterback.
It turned into a long night for the rookie quarterback. Photo by Eric Sauseda
You could feel it in the second half of the game last Sunday in Cleveland, when Davis Mills replaced Tyrod Taylor and his gimpy hamstring, that the 2021 season just figuratively got a whole lot longer. Every dynamic element and every propensity that offensive coordinator Tim Kelly had to push the creativity envelope went out the window with Taylor on the sideline.

Thursday night's 24-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers was the continuation of that second half against Cleveland, in which the Texans fought hard, but couldn't run the football, despite copious efforts to do so. We will dig into Thursday night's game over the next several paragraphs, but just know that it's going to probably get worse for the Texans before it gets better, with Buffalo, New England, Indianapolis, Arizona, and the Rams coming up in October.

For now, here are the winners and losers from Thursday night's downer of a game against the Carolina Panthers:

WINNERS


4. Tyrod Taylor's (tongue in cheek) MVP candidacy
For a rookie making his first start against the best pass rush in the NFL, Davis Mills was fine. I mean, he is going to need to generate more than nine points in a game in order to remain a starting quarterback in the league, but at 19-28 for 168 yards with no turnovers in a game where the Texans' running game was putrid, there were some encouraging things Mills did out there. The sad part of all this is that, when you envision what things looked like with Tyrod Taylor under center, it becomes depressing to imagine what Thursday night might have yielded with a healthy Taylor. Taylor, a career journeyman, was a difference maker.

3. 2020 rookie defenders
The 2020 rookie class was practically a null set last season, with just five players, and the fewest number of snaps for a rookie class in the entire league. After training camp, there are only three players remaining from the class, but the good news is that all three — Ross Blacklock, Jonathan Greenard, and Charlie Heck — are flashing potential as future contributors. On Thursday night, Blacklock and Greenard for their first career sacks against Sam Darnold and the Panthers.

2. Chuba Hubbard
When Christian McCaffrey went out with a hamstring injury in the first half, it appeared the Texans might be on the right end of the injury luck this week. Without their straw to stir the drink, the Panthers kind of limped into the locker room with back to back possessions ending in punts. Enter Hubbard in the second half, the prolific Oklahoma State Cowboy, who ended the game with 11 carries for 52 yards, including several big carries on the Panthers' two second half touchdown drives.

1. Sam Darnold
Let me tell you that if you're a New York Jets fan and you didn't get to see the game on Thursday night, I would hold off on watching it. You will want to kill yourself after watching Sam Darnold look every bit like a former third overall pick in the draft, and look nothing like the overwhelmed scrub whose routine poor performances led the Jets to trade him to the Panthers and draft Zach Wilson. Darnold made some huge throws in the second half and finished the game 23 of 34 for 304 yards.

LOSERS

4. Texans running game
I don't care which quarterback is under center, the Texans can't average under three yards per carry and expect to win NFL football games. On Thursday night, the Texans had 17 carries for 42 yards, which is completely unacceptable. In particular, Phillip Lindsay had yet another putrid effort, with seven carries for five yards. There is no way that Scottie Phillips, who was inactive for the third straight game, doesn't bring more juice to the running game than Lindsay is bringing right now.

3. Christian McCaffrey fantasy owners
Hey, if you own McCaffrey in fantasy, and now you're watching him limp off the field for the second straight season, I feel for you. I was a McCaffrey owner in 2020, in which he played just three of 16 regular season games. When he's on the field, he is absolutely special, but it's beginning to look like he is going to be a highly paid, walking injury. On Thursday, a hamstring took him out of the game after just seven carries for 31 yards.

2. David Culley, risk avoider
For the second straight week, Culley made a decision that displayed a conservative side that will be a problem when he is coaching the inferior team. On a 4th and 4 at the Carolina 39 yard line early in the second half, Culley chose to punt the ball back to Carolina. Nine plays later, the Panthers would score a touchdown to go up 14-6, and the Texans would never be closer than eight points the rest of the way.

1. Texans OVER 4.5 win bettors
To circle back to the point I was making in the introductory portion of this post, the degree of difficulty of this season skyrocketed with the injury to Tyrod Taylor, and if you decided to put your money where your mouth is, and take the OVER on Texans getting 4.5 wins, I promise you that you were anticipating this Carolina game being one of those five (or more) wins. The longer Taylor is out, the harder it will become to get the requisite number of wins, and over the next five weeks, the Texans are facing a handful of the best defenses in football. Davis Mills baptism by fire continues in Buffalo a week from Sunday.

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 afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast