Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 1: Texans 37, Jaguars 21 — Four Winners, Four Losers

Tyrod Taylor did something Deshaun Watson could never do — win a season opener.
Tyrod Taylor did something Deshaun Watson could never do — win a season opener. Photo by Jack Gorman
For the last several months, the specter of Deshaun Watson has hung over the Houston Texans. Whether it was in his actual physical presence at Texans practice, or whether it was in the headlines with various turning points on his legal and professional situations, the biggest Texans topics have centered around a guy who has no desire to be a Houston Texan.

Well, in his debut as Watson's replacement on Sunday, Tyrod Taylor did something that Watson couldn't do in his four seasons as a Texan — win the opening game of the season. Granted, the degree of difficulty for Taylor, in terms of the opponent, was far lower than New England in 2018, New Orleans in 2019, or Kansas City in 2020, all on the road, by the way. However, this is supposed to be a season where EVERYTHING is difficult for the Texans, so forgive me if I will spend the next six days basking in the afterglow of the rare "easy breathing" blowout win for this team.

David Culley outcoached Urban Meyer, Tyrod Taylor outplayed Trevor Lawrence, and the Texans hung an embarrassing 37-21 loss on a Jacksonville Jaguars team that was celebrating all kinds of hope, mostly centered around Lawrence, the top pick in last spring's draft. As there are with every game, there were winners and losers, so let's relive the magic of an unexpectedly dominant Sunday for our local football franchise.


4. David Culley
Everybody loves David Culley. That is undeniable. He is an incredibly upbeat, likable man. Culley is the walking, talking version of pizza, in that you add him to any social situation, and it immediately becomes better and happier. Throughout training camp, though, we'd seen a Texans team whose operation at practice was very crisp and precise. The most encouraging thing about Sunday was the order and attention to detail was evident in the Texans' sideline operation, and there was logic in virtually everything Culley decided to do, from the two minute offense, to time out usage, to the dominance in time of possession. Culley absolutely outclassed Urban Meyer.

3. Brandin Cooks
A couple years ago, the Texans were a team with a slew of Pro Bowl players, or at the very least, players who could argue they belong in Pro Bowl consideration. The Bill O'Brien roster decimation, along with the eventual Deshaun Watson exodus, has left this team pretty much star-less. Brandin Cooks is one guy who, at the very least, has string together high level regular seasons in his seven seasons in the league (across four different teams). On Sunday, he not only put up numbers he made two HUGE downfield plays that set up Texans scores, including a first quarter DeAndre Hopkins style high-pointing of a deep ball from Taylor. Cooks finished with 5 catches for 132 yards.

2. Joey Slye
Texans GM Nick Caserio is going to continue to do a couple of things, regardless of how this team is performing in 2021 — he will continue to churn the roster via trades and waiver pickups, and he will continue to look to better position the Texans to be players in free agency and the draft in future seasons. To that end, I have a hard time believing that Caserio wants to continue paying Ka'imi Fairbairn $4 million a year to kick for this team. Fairbairn's contract is not really ejectable until after the season, so with his missing the game on Sunday with a muscle pull, backup kicker Joey Slye got a chance to make three field goals and four extra points. I firmly believe that days like Sunday are a soft "tryout" for Slye, who could be a cheaper replacement for Fairbairn in 2022.

1. Tyrod Taylor
It's hard not to be happy for Taylor, who has seen his last two chances to start in the NFL curtailed by injuries before being handed over to anointed rookies, Baker Mayfield in 2018 and Justin Herbert last season. On Sunday, Taylor was the polar opposite of Lawrence. He was in total control, poised and largely accurate. It helped that the Texans were in very beneficial down and distance situations all afternoon long, as Taylor is not one of the more prolific downfield passers. They were only in 2nd down and more than ten yards three times all day, and were only in 3rd down and more than five yards once. The Texans did a great job of staying ahead of the chains all day long.


4. Maliek Collins
It wasn't a perfect performance for the Texans on Sunday, but the only Texans player of whom I can be critical enough to land him in the "Losers' category would be defensive tackle Maliek Collins, and it's a shame, because he was one of the Texans' best players in training camp. Unfortunately on Sunday, he had two terrible roughing the passer calls, both on third down, and both leading directly to touchdown passes within the next two plays. In fact, both Jaguar touchdowns scored in the first 59 minutes and 55 seconds of the game were aided by Collins' mistakes. Collins will make some plays for the Texans this season, but he has to show more discipline in games when the opponent is superior to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

3. James Robinson fantasy owners
For those of you that own Jags RB James Robinson in fantasy football,  know that I AM ONE OF YOU! I am not feeling good about this at all. Not only do the Jaguars look like a team that is going to be playing from behind A LOT this season, and thus, throwing the football quite a bit, but one game into the season, Meyer is giving more work to one of his former college student-athletes at Ohio State, former Texan Carlos Hyde (9 carries), than he is to Robinson (just 15 carries). Bad day for us, people. Bad day.

2. Urban Meyer
I will admit that I actually wanted Meyer as the head coach for the Texans. Meyer's ability to immediately turn around every college program he's ever coached, and at Florida and Ohio State win the national title, were enough to convince me that he's just one of those guys that success follows around like the minions chasing Forrest Gump for his jog around the country. As it turns out, I may be a bit off on this, because OI am not sure Meyer survives the amount of losing this Jacksonville team is going to do. The play calling was questionable, the amount of operational errors was astounding, and the 2021 Jags look like the 2020 Jags with better hair and a stronger arm. The Jags are actually somewhat fortunate in that, over the next five weeks, they only play one playoff team from 2020, but the downside is that all of them are viewed as superior to the team that just smoked them by 16 points.

1. Trevor Lawrence
Look, the Houston Texans are going to see plenty of Lawrence over the next decade ir so. Unlike other highly drafted Jaguar quarterback "solutions" in recent years, like Blaine Gabbert and Blake Bortles, Lawrence's pedigree and tools are impeccable. The question is "How quickly can he get up to the speed of the pro game?" If the Jags' preseason games exposed some chinks in the armor, Lovey Smith came in with medieval weaponry and turned those chinks in the armor into a suit of twisted metal with gargantuan dents. Lawrence was only sacked once (hey, Whitney Mercilus is still alive!) but the Texans defensive line provided enough clutter and distraction to force Lawrence to be off about a foot either way in certain precision throws. Lawrence finished 28 of 51 for 332 of the emptiest yards the Texans will give up all season. The Texans' three interceptions off of Lawrence matched their total for the entire SEASON in 2020.

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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