Sean Pendergast

NFL Preseason Week 1: Panthers 27, Texans 17 — 4 Winners, 4 Losers

Tom Savage did enough last night to keep Deshaun Watson at bay in the Texans' QB competition.
Tom Savage did enough last night to keep Deshaun Watson at bay in the Texans' QB competition. Photo by Eric Sauseda
In the last 48 hours, I've had nine hours of sleep, driven nearly five hours each way back and forth to Louisiana to attend a funeral, and did a postgame show for a preseason NFL football game into the wee hours of Thursday morning. I tell you all of this to tell you that there will be no long preamble to the winners and losers from last night's 27-17 Texans loss to the Carolina Panthers.

So let's get right to it...


4. Tom Savage
After two three-and-out series of indecisiveness, Savage settled in on his third drive against the Panthers second-team defense, and went 8 for 8 throwing the football, with the drive ending on a 16-yard touchdown run by Alfred Blue. The best part of the drive was Savage's response to adverse down and distance situations caused by two holding penalties — a 1st and 21 after a Jay Prosch hold and a 1st and 18 after a Breno Giacomini hold. (The odds of that occurring with Brock Osweiler at QB last season were approximately 3,720 to 1.) In the end, all things considered, Savage did just enough to keep the Deshaun Watson fire at a gentle bonfire level, as opposed to the raging inferno it would have been had Savage not generated some offense.

3. J.J. Watt's back
Watt played one series, and got out with his back intact. Mission accomplished. There were plenty of folks surprised that Watt would play at all, but I will repeat — he needs to work a normal preseason workload so the Texans know if the back is healthy or not with time to plan in case it isn't healthy. I have ZERO problem with the Texans giving Watt a normal veteran's workload in the preseason.

2. Alfred Blue
I don't know if Blue is under fire to retain his job. This coaching staff really seems to like him FAR more than the average Texans fan. Lamar Miller is the starter, the Texans drafted D'Onta Foreman, and Akeem Hunt has had a really good training camp. However, if Blue plays the rest of this preseason the way he played in the first half last night, he should be just fine. His stat line, five carries for 33 yards and a touchdown, was nice, but it was his decisiveness and burst that were noticeable, and on his touchdown run, he carried two defenders into the end zone with him. (Of course, Blue has shown these traits before, and then the next week comes out and has like four yards on seven carries.)

1. Deshaun Watson
I'll refrain from out-and-out hyperbole, because Watson's evening was spent largely against second and third team defenders. That said, Watson continues to show flashes of skills that the Texans have literally NEVER had at the quarterback position, with his ability to extend plays, improvise and hurt the opposition with his legs. To this point, the closest things the Texans have in team history to Watson's 15-yard touchdown scamper are this...

...and this...

It hasn't been a great history for this team in the "QB athleticism" department. To be clear, there were throws I'm sure Watson would like back. He missed multiple seam routes on overthrows. However, for a rookie, this was about as good a debut as you could expect, given the talent surrounding him and opposing him. This probably deserves its own post, but my feeling at this point is that O'Brien is committing coaching malpractice if he doesn't mix in some reps with the first team for Watson over the next two weeks.


4. Special teams tackling
The Texans finished the past two seasons dead last in special teams DVOA, and, sadly, they appear to have picked up right where they left off, particularly in the first half. On multiple kick/punt coverages in the first half, there were at least three missed tackles, and Eddie Pleasant (who's actually had a great training camp) went back in time to 2014 and 2015, when he was a penalty machine, nearly decapitating a Panthers punt returner about two seconds before the football arrived. Somebody please keep Larry Izzo away from sharp objects.

3. Jay Prosch
There are very few NFL teams that employ a fullback. The Texans happen to be one of them. So when you're the ONLY fullback in camp, like Jay Prosch, you need to block your freaking butt off. Instead, in the first half, Prosch had a hold that negated a nice Alfred Blue gain, and missed a block on a 3rd and 1 run by D'Onta Foreman. You had one job, Jay Prosch.

2. Robert Nelson
I said this about Nelson in my last 53-man roster prediction:

Nelson is the non-lock in this article who came closest to getting "lock" status. He was very solid all week last week (including a pick of Savage in 11-on-11), and they also gave him some opportunities in the return game. 
Then Nelson got murdered for two touchdowns in man coverage against something called a Damiere Byrd, which sounds more like an exotic feathered creature than an NFL wide receiver. The moral of the story, as always, is I am an idiot. Also, Nelson did nothing to quell the fears of Texans fans in the event Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson or Kevin Johnson goes down with an injury.

1. Bad signs
Seriously, if you're not a hardcore football fan, have someone who is read your sign before you make a fool of yourself on national television...

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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