HOUSTON (AP) — Since the start of training camp Houston coach David Culley has insisted the Texans would have to run the ball effectively and force turnovers to win this season.
Houston didn’t do either of those things Thursday night and it led to a 24-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Now the Texans will have some extra time to regroup and try to improve before a trip to Buffalo on Oct. 3.
Rookie quarterback Davis Mills made his first NFL start against the Panthers in place of Tyrod Taylor, who landed on the injured reserve Tuesday with a hamstring injury.
Culley thought Mills did a good job in the loss; he threw a touchdown pass and didn’t turn over the ball. But the third-round draft pick didn’t get any help from his running game as Houston managed a season-low 42 yards rushing.
“We were the enemy and not them," Culley said. “In other words, we did not execute some things that we had been executing previously. You’ve got to make some calls that we didn’t get made during that ballgame that put us in some situations where it put us behind the chains where we hadn’t been doing that."
On defense, the Texans were unable get a takeaway for the first time this season while playing without top player safety Justin Reid, out with a knee injury. Reid had an interception and forced a fumble in Week 2. Houston had five turnovers through the first two games after finishing with an NFL-low nine all last season.
“We’ve just got to finish,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “When a quarterback is extending the play, we’ve got to make sure we finish to the ball and finish on the ball. A couple times we had strip sacks and we had to get the ball in those situations. So, it’s just all about finishing.”
Mills and receiver Brandin Cooks displayed an instant chemistry Thursday night with 112 of the quarterback’s 168 yards passing going to the veteran. The steady presence of Cooks, who leads the Texans with 322 yards receiving, helped Mills settle in and look comfortable in his first start. As Mills gets more time working with Cooks, the connection should get even stronger.
Mills said the presence of Cooks helped him against the Panthers.
“Really experienced guy, just instilling confidence in me between every drive,” Mills said. “He’s a trustworthy dude out there that you know he’s going to be in the right spot at the right time and it’s great.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Adding veteran backs Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay gave the running game a boost in a season-opening win over Jacksonville when the Texans had 160 yards rushing. They have struggled to run the ball well since then and had just 58 yards rushing last week before Thursday’s bad showing.
WR Anthony Miller scored Houston’s only touchdown Thursday night on a 1-yard reception in the second quarter. It was his debut with the team after he missed the first two games with a shoulder injury in his first year in Houston after a trade from the Bears.
“It was good to have him back," Culley said. “He brings a little toughness to us."
Andre Roberts has fumbled two punts in the last two games. Roberts lost his fumble in the first quarter last week against Cleveland but recovered the ball after fumbling in the second quarter Thursday.
“That’s unlike him," Culley said. “He’s never had a history of doing that ... hopefully he comes out of it."
Culley said he wasn't sure if Reid or receiver Danny Amendola (thigh) would return for the next game and said he'd know more when they resume practice Wednesday. ... K Ka'imi Fairbairn is eligible to come off the injured reserve next week. Culley said he was doing “much better" and could be ready for the Buffalo game.
2.5 - The number of yards per carry the Texans averaged against Carolina.
The Texans remain committed to the run despite their recent problems in the area and believe they can get back on track to help Mills move the offense more consistently.
Culley thinks they might have played too conservatively against the Panthers in an effort to protect Mills in his first start.
“What we did find that coming out of this game is that he can handle a lot more than what we felt like because of the way he handled himself in this ballgame," Culley said. “And moving forward we just have to get back to doing the things that we had started doing for that first game and a half when Tyrod was starting."
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