Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 5: Patriots 25, Texans 22 — Four Winners, Four Losers

The Texans wasted the best QB performance of the season from Davis Mills.
The Texans wasted the best QB performance of the season from Davis Mills. Photo by Eric Sauseda
We knew coming into the 2021 NFL season that the Houston Texans were going to lose games. Lots of them, actually, and at 1-4 on the season now, they are firmly on pace (if not behind pace) to finish right around Las Vegas' forecasted four win total for the 2021 season.

David Culley has been largely a sympathetic figure during this recent attempt at rebuilding the Texans. Nobody within the Texans' fan base or media covering the team see Culley as the long term solution. He is holding the spot for an eventual home run hire to see this through a new era of winning football. That is the dream.

However, when Sundays roll around in the fall, on that given day, most diehard Texans fans would like to see their team win. Moreover, they would like to watch a head coach, even one who is a sympathetic placeholder, make decisions that maximize their team's chances of winning the game. On Sunday, for the first time in his five game tenure as the Texans head coach, David Culley was the primary reason the team lost its game.

Through a series of coaching blunders and head scratching decisions, from about the middle of the third quarter on, Culley was the catalyst for the team squandering a 22-9 lead and turning it into a 25-22 Patriots win. Have no fear, we will document those gaffes below. In the meantime, let's get to some winners and losers from a Sunday that saw the Texans fall to 1-4 in the David Culley Era.


WINNERS
click to enlarge Davis Mills was largely cool under pressure on Sunday. - PHOTO BY ERIC SAUSEDA
Davis Mills was largely cool under pressure on Sunday.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
4. Davis Mills
It's a shame Culley botched the in-game and end-of-game decisions so badly on Sunday, because this was a true coming out party for Davis Mills. In a battle between two rookies, Mills and Patriots first round pick Mac Jones, Mills had the better day statistically, with over 300 yards passing, three fourth down conversions, three TD passes, and (most importantly) no turnovers. This was against a legendary head coach who had forced opposing rookie quarterbacks into a 64.3 passer rating in his career as a head coach. Mills' passer rating on the day was 141.7. At the very least, Mills made the conversation about "Who should be the starting QB for the Texans once Tyrod Taylor returns from injury?" a much more interesting one.

3. My Aggie friends
We interrupt some NFL chatter with an acknowledgment of the biggest upset of the college football weekend. Congratulations to the Aggies of Texas A&M for their 41-38 win over what many were touting as an invincible Alabama Crimson Tide. In an electric night at Kyle Field, the Aggies were able to snap Nick Saban's 20-game wining streak as Alabama head coach, and recalibrate a season that was in danger of sliding into the abyss. Even better, they managed to upset Alabama in a game where former Texans head coach (and now Alabama offensive coordinator) Bill O'Brien is being made the scapegoat for some shoddy play calling. Put it this way — Saturday night, Bill O'Brien was trending on Twitter. When you're an assistant coach for an SEC team on a Saturday night, you're NEVER trending for what a genius you are. Quite the opposite, as O'Brien found out (if he knew Twitter existed).
click to enlarge Chris Moore emerged as a nice alternative to Brandin Cooks in the passing game for Davis Mills. - PHOTO BY ERIC SAUSEDA
Chris Moore emerged as a nice alternative to Brandin Cooks in the passing game for Davis Mills.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
2. Alternative weaponry
Back to the Texans, as we look for the positives in Sunday's loss before we get to the more depressing stuff — while Davis Mills had been mostly horrible in his ten quarters as starting quarterback, he wasn't getting much help from the running game, nor were many solutions (not named Brandin Cooks) emerging in the passing game. On Sunday, in his first game as a Texan, WR Chris Moore (5 catches, 109 yards, 1 TD) had the first 100 yard receiving game for a Texan-not-named-Brandin-Cooks since David Johnson against the Colts in Week 15 last season. Chris Conley was able to add 84 yards receiving and a touchdown, and blocking tight end Antony Auclair got into the act with his first career touchdown. Mills spread the ball around to seven different receivers, with Cooks held to just 3 catches for 23 yards.

1. Bill Belichick
It sounds crazy to say this about a game against a non-divisional foe, especially one forecasted to be as bad as the Texans, but this was a really important game for the Patriots and Bill Belichick. The Patriots' legendary head coach has struggled enough without Tom Brady as it is (8-11 over the last two seasons, coming into Sunday), but if the Patriots were not able to eke out the comeback yesterday, they would have been the ones limping home with a 1-4 record. The difference between them and the Texans (well, one of MANY differences) is that the Patriots spent ungodly amounts of money this offseason on free agents. They spent like a team that plans on wining a Super Bowl. For now, they remain barely on the fringe of the playoff picture, but 1-4 would have been a disaster.

LOSERS

4. Texans kicking game
Texan fans, you're familiar with the team's kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, right? I know maybe you needed to get reacquainted with the Texans' placekicker, since he's been out for most of the season with a muscle pull, and in his return last week against Buffalo, his services were not required in a 40-0 loss. Well, the third highest paid kicker in the NFL (yes, you heard that right) reintroduced himself to Texan fans on Sunday in the worst way possible — by missing two extra points and kicking a kickoff out of bounds. And that was just in the first 17 minutes of the game. He tacked on a 56-yard field goal miss in the fourth quarter, as well! What's not to love! Ironically, with all of that failure n the place kicking game, the play that turned this game was this debacle of a punt with the Texans leading 22-9 in the third quarter:

A team like the Texans cannot have a kicking game doing stuff like this. They're not talented enough offensively, defensively, or ... well ...  anywhere.

3. Charles Omenihu
As the season continues to unfold, it will be fascinating to see which holdovers from the O'Brien Era continue to work their way out of favor with new management. Some of the discards of O'Brien Era players have made a ton of sense, but some seem a little more personal, which brings us to the weekend that defensive end Charles Omenihu had. It started on social media, with Omenihu, out of nowhere on Saturday, retweeting this Deshaun Watson tweet from January 15, 2021:
Watson tweeted that a week after his trade request began bubbling up in reports. Shortly after that, Omenihu tweeted the following, in a tweet that has since been deleted: “I know the talents I’ve been given so I’m never worried if nobody else got me God got me.”  Whatever the genesis of Omenihu's emotions were, it ended with this:
And here was David Culley's explanation for Omenihu being tagged INACTIVE for Sunday:
What a weird team, man.
click to enlarge David Johnson and the Texans running backs are still having trouble finding success. - PHOTO BY ERIC SAUSEDA
David Johnson and the Texans running backs are still having trouble finding success.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
2. Texans running game
Davis Mills deserves even more credit for his 300+ yards passing on Sunday, when you consider that the Texans' running game was just as ridiculously awful as it's been all season. 24 carries, 67 yards, an absurd 2.8 yards per carry. Somehow, this franchise, which in 2020 had the worst run game I've ever seen in all my years watching football, has managed to become worse at running the football. David Culley will blame penalties, because that's the easy (and somewhat lazy) thing to do, but it's so much more than a few undisciplined plays with guys grabbing opponents. There is an intrinsic toughness issue, and some serious communication problems happening on this offensive line. OL coach James Campen was supposed to be a massive upgrade over Mike Devlin. Thus far, this still looks very Devlin-like.
click to enlarge Davis Culley, pictured here in much happier moments than the end of the fourth quarter yesterday, - PHOTO BY ERIC SAUSEDA
Davis Culley, pictured here in much happier moments than the end of the fourth quarter yesterday,
Photo by Eric Sauseda
1. David Culley, game manager
I will boil the turning points in this game down to three episodes, all of which are tied to head coach David Culley:

1. 10:28 remaining in 3Q, 4th-2 at HOU 36, Cam Johnston's aforementioned zero yard punt
Johnston started this play by coming up to the line of scrimmage, as if the Texans were going to run a fake. He then backed off but didn't go back far enough to accept the snap at normal length. Johnston wound up punting the ball off of his teammate's head. Literally. It was a case of the Texans getting way too cute, up 22-9 at the time, and the end result was they handed the Patriots good enough field position for them to kick a field goal even after going three and out. The decision tog et cute with the "fake punt look" falls on Culley.

2. 13:29 remaining in 4Q, 4th-4 at NE 38, Ka'imi Fairbairn's missed 56-yard FG
In a game where the Texans had converted three fourth downs, all with Davis Mills passing the football, and in a game where Fairbairn was super shaky (again, TWO missed PATs), Culley BURNED A TIME OUT to decide to have Fairbairn kick (AND MISS) a 56 yard field goal. The Texans were up 22-15 at the time. The miss gave the Pats the ball at their own 46 yard line. Four minutes later, the game was tied.

3. 1:52 remaining in 4Q, 2nd-GOAL at HOU 4, Culley fails to allow NE to score a TD by accepting penalty
This one is a little more complex, but stay with me. As the Patriots were moving the ball at will on the Texans throughout most of the second half, you have to accept at some point that they are going to score in the waning moments, if they have the ball. If you're David Culley, what you want to make sure of is the Texans have enough time to answer their score. There reaches a point where actually ALLOWING the Patriots to score makes some sense, so you know at least you'll get the ball back. The Patriots DID the Texans that service, scoring a TD to go up 29-22 with 1:52 to go. Just one problem — the Patriots committed an illegal shift. The CORRECT thing for Culley to do there would have been to decline the penalty, allow the TD, and then try to go score a tying TD with 1:52 to go. Instead, Culley accepted the penalty, and the Patriots decided to grind the clock into dust and kick a game wining field goal with 17 seconds left. Just horrible, horrible case of malpractice by Culley, and the first big sign that he is in over his head.

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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