After three-plus years of frustration, mediocrity and uncertainty at the all-important quarterback position, it appears like the Texans have their quarterback of the future right now, as Deshaun Watson has taken the reins under center — following eight different predecessors since Bill O’Brien took over as head coach in the 2014 season.
“The leadership mentality he has, you know he has the pedigree to be great,” Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. “Just the adjustments he can make on the field, on the sideline, going out and correcting it, I haven’t had that in a while.”
On Sunday, Watson was fully unleashed, and the results were stunning — an offensive performance like this franchise has never seen in a 57-14 victory over their division rival Tennessee Titans. Those 57 points are a new single-game franchise record, as is the 43-point margin of victory.
“It makes life a lot easier,” Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and it’s nice to be able to sit back on the bench and watch the offense move the ball down the field.”
Watson looked like a seasoned veteran in his third-ever NFL start, finishing 25-for-34, 283 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He also had a fifth TD on a 1-yard rush, tying the NFL rookie record for most TDs in one game.
“I just keep it simple,” Watson said. “I make sure I take it one play at a time, one step at a time and learn as much as I can from the coaches and veteran guys,” Watson said.
Another key difference between this start and Watson’s previous two was that the dual-threat QB did almost all of his damage with his arm, rather than leaning on his running ability. While Watson’s mobility helped extend multiple plays, he proved he can pick apart a defense with his arm, as he only had four carries for 24 yards and the goal-line TD.
“He really can throw the football,” O’Brien said. “He’s a very accurate passer. He’s got big hands. He can really sling it, and he’s a very smart runner. Running is not all about speed, it’s about instincts and understanding how plays are being blocked and understanding the defense that you’re seeing to weave your way through.”
Watson was near-perfect in guiding an offense that racked up a whopping 445 yards, while the defense held Tennessee to just 195 yards.
The Texans had seven touchdowns, while Tennessee only had nine total first downs, and the Titans were nearly doubled up in time of possession (39:41 to 20:19). The Texans committed only three penalties in the game, and won the turnover battle, 5-1.
“We usually play a lot of snaps on defense, but in this game we didn’t get to play too many snaps,” Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. “I think I was on the sidelines like hollering at the coach one time like, ‘Man, I ain’t on the field enough!’ He was like, ‘J.D., nobody’s on the field right now.’”
Against a Titans offense that likes to ground and pound the football, racing out to a 21-0 lead by the beginning of the second quarter was key and with starting QB Marcus Mariota sidelined with a hamstring injury in the second half, what little hope Tennessee had of mounting a comeback from a 30-14 halftime deficit was snuffed out.
Next up, the Texans will get a chance to shine in a marquee matchup when they host the Kansas City Chiefs in the Sunday Night Football game. Primetime games have not been an area where the Texans have ever shined, but now with Watson (like in many areas), there’s hope.
• Sunday’s game marked the return of second-year starting wide receiver Will Fuller V, who was previously sidelined with a collarbone injury. The presence of his over-the-top speed added a new wrinkle to the Texans offense, and he finished the game with four receptions for 35 yards and two TDs.
“He’s a big part of this offense scoring 50-something points the way we did,” Hopkins, who had 10 receptions for 107 yards and a TD, said. “You can’t just key in on me. You, obviously have to watch Will down the field every play because he has speed that you can’t coach.”
• Praised by many Texans players and coaches, undrafted rookie linebacker Dylan Cole, who is now helping fill in for suspended starter Brian Cushing, got his chance to shine when he hauled in a pick-6 to account for the Texans final TD of the game.
“Oh man, Dylan Cole, one of the greatest liked, personable guys on the team, great guy,” Texans safety Andre Hal, who had two interceptions of his own in the game, said. “I’m happy for him, he did his thing.”
• If there was one play that encapsulated the growth as an NFL quarterback Watson has shown, it came on fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 27-yard line during the first drive of the second half.
Ahead 30-14, rather than kick a mid-range field goal or hand off the ball to a running back, the Texans called a pass play, and Watson executed with a 4-yard dart to Hopkins for the first down.
Eventually the 14-play, 8:09, 75-yard possession ended with a 10-yard TD pass from Watson to Fuller V, and broke the backs of a Titans team already on the ropes.
“He knows what to do with the ball,” O’Brien said. “He knows how to get us into the right play, and that’s what he did.”