HOUSTON – Tom Savage’s run as the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans this season might have lasted only two quarters.
If so, head coach Bill O’Brien isn’t saying just yet.
Houston’s offense improved slightly Sunday after O’Brien benched Savage and inserted rookie Deshaun Watson at the start of the second half, but the team still lost its regular-season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 29-7.
The question, now, becomes whether the switch turns out to be permanent.
“We have a quick turnaround right here, so we’ve got a lot of film to watch, a lot of things to get caught up on,” O’Brien said. “The decision to go with Deshaun – it had more to do with, could we find a spark, could we find somebody that could maybe make a play, escape the pocket? I thought that Tom really hung in there and played tough, but we had a hard time protecting him, so I just made the decision to go with Deshaun.”
O’Brien added that he did not know by when he would have a decision made.
He’ll need to make it soon. The Texans face the Bengals in Cincinnati on Thursday.
Under Savage, Houston’s offense gained only 52 total yards on 28 offensive plays and did not score.
“We just weren’t in sync,” Savage said. “That’s just kind of what it was. It was holding on to the ball a little too long, trying to make some plays down the field. And the game is not meant to be second-and-15, sacks and that’s what it is.”
Under Watson, the Texans amassed 151 total yards on 41 plays and put up just seven points.
“It was all right,” Watson said. “It was a learning lesson. Live and learn. First career NFL game, so there is a lot to learn from. Watch the tape and move on.”
Watson completed 12 of 23 passes for 102 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also lost a fumble on a strip sack.
As is the case for most rookie passers, Houston may have to take the good with the bad.
Watson threw a 4-yard touchdown to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on his first drive to cap a 14-play, 75-yard scoring march. But on the ensuing series, he lost a fumble after Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler punched the ball loose. His interception came in the fourth quarter and was forced into triple coverage.
Savage completed just seven of 13 attempts for 62 yards. He often held on to the ball far too long and, thanks in part to shaky play from the Houston offensive line, was sacked six times. O’Brien later admitted that “I wish we would have played faster.”
That could tilt a decision in Watson's favor. Perhaps the most important improvement the rookie showed over Savage was mobility and tempo.
Houston’s play calls helped get Watson on the move and out of the pocket, where he gave the Texans’ offense a different element and allowed receivers to buy extra time to get open.
Still, Houston’s offensive line did not protect Watson well, either, as the rookie was sacked four times.
The upset is a setback for the Texans in the AFC South, who are looking to win the division for the third time in a row. Though Houston struggled defensive as well on Sunday, it boasts a group with plenty of talent. As long as the offense produces, the Texans should at least compete for the division crown.
But consistency at quarterback has plagued this franchise. If Watson leads Houston’s offense against the Bengals on Thursday night, it will mark the ninth starting quarterback O’Brien has cycled through as he opens his fourth season leading the organization.
“I think that’s what (Watson) needed, to go out there and get his feet wet,” Hopkins said. “Even though the circumstances were what they were, he came in and went with the flow.”
Given just how poorly Houston’s passers have fared under O’Brien, that may just be enough to etch him in for the rest of the year.
Lorenzo Reyes, USA Today