By Elwyn Henderson
The 0-2-1 Houston Texans returned home to NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday to take on the 1-2 Los Angeles Chargers. Houston had been close to victory in all three of the games they played to begin the season but simply were unable to close the games out. Head Coach Lovie Smith said after each game that he liked his team and once they learned how to close out games they would become a good team. That was what he hoped would happen on Sunday, but sadly Houston was behind the 8-ball from the outset and ended up losing the game by the score of . With the loss the Texans dropped to 0-3-1 and the Chargers evened their record at 2-2 with the win.
The Chargers won the coin toss to begin the game and elected to defer to the second half, giving the Texans first possession in the game.
Houston began at their 25 following a touchback of the Dustin Hopkins kickoff. The possession turned disastrous when Davis Mills threw an interception on third down to Nassir Adderly who grabbed the ball at his 45 and returned it to the Houston 25.
It took just 1:28 and 3 plays for Justin Herbert to find the end zone. He hit Gerald Everett from 18 yards out with exactly 12 minutes left in the first quarter. Hopkins added the extra point and the Chargers had a quick 7-0 lead.
The Texans began their second possession at their 28. They were aided by a defensive pass interference that moved the ball down to the LA 43. Mills connected with Brandin Cooks on what appeared to be a first down but a holding call brought the ball back and Mills was sacked for a 13-yard loss on the next play, forcing a Houston punt.
Houston looked to on the board with 2:23 left in the quarter when Ka’imi Fairbairn attempted a 46-yard field goal, but the kick was hooked left and no good and the score remained 7-0.
The Chargers took advantage of the miss and put together a 9-play, 64-yard drive that took 4:22 off the clock. The drive culminated when Austin Ekeler ran into the end zone from 10 yards out with 12:57 left in the first half. Hopkins was true on the PAT kick and the visitors increased their lead to 14-0.
Houston punted away again on their next possession and the Chargers found the end zone for the third time in the first half. The score came on a 20-yard TD run by Ekeler with 10 minutes left in the first half. Hopkins added the extra point and the blowout was on with the home team trailing 21-0. The drive was 3 plays, 73 yards and took a mere 1:18 off the clock.
Houston finally got on the scoreboard after a touchback on the ensuing LA kickoff. It took just 1 play and 12 seconds for the 75-yard score. Dameon Pierce took a handoff from Mills and never stopped until he was in the end zone with 9:48 left in the half. Fairbiarn booted the point after touchdown and Houston closed the gap to 21-7.
Frustrated by their defense allowing the quick score, LA moved right down the field after the Fairbairn kickoff. They appeared headed toward a sure TD, but thanks to an Ekeler fumble that resulted in a loss, Hopkins was forced to come in and kick a 23-yard field goal with 4:35 left in the half, taking the score to 24-7 in favor of the Chargers. The drive was 10 plays, 77 yards and took 5:13 off the second quarter clock.
LA managed one more score before the half came to a close. Hopkins nailed a 37-yard field goal as the clock expired, ending a 9-play, 49-yard drive that took just 57 seconds and advanced the Chargers lead to 27-7.
There was no further scoring until Houston mounted an 8-play, 87-yard drive over 4:30. The drive ended when Mills hit Rex Burkhead on an 8-yard TD pass with 1:12 left in the third quarter. Fairbiarn added the extra point and the Texans deficit was cut to 27-14.
The teams exchanged punts and then on their next possession Houston found the end zone again when Mills hit Cooks on a 13-yard scoring strike with 10:02 left in the game. Fairbairn added the extra point and Houston was within 6, trailing 27-21. The drive was 5 plays, 93 yards and took 2:53.
LA fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Houston recovered at the Charger 16 with a chance to take the lead. Thanks to a strip-sack of Mills, LA forced a 30-yard Fairbairn field goal attempt. The kick was good and the Texans trailed by only a field goal, 27-24.
Just when they thought they might be able to grab their first win of the season, the Chargers shut the door with a 12-play, 84-yard drive that took 6:02 off the clock and ended with a 14-yard TD pass from Herbert to Ekeler with 2:28 left in the game. Hopkins added the extra point and the LA lead advanced to 34-24.
On their next possession Mills threw an interception at the Houston 45 effectively ending any chance of a comeback win. A 15-yard penalty was added to the return after a personal foul on Houston, placing the ball on the 22.
Herbert took a knee four times and Houston got the ball back one more time with 16 seconds left in the game. Mills and the offense came in and ran one play and the game ended with the Chargers claiming the 34-24 win.
Head Coach Lovie Smith faced the media and gave his thoughts prior to opening the presser up for questions from the media members present.
“I thought we were in a good frame of mind to start fast and play our better ball that first half. Just tough when you are playing against a good football team and you don’t, and you get in a hole like we did. I like the way the team fought back, gave ourselves a chance to win at the end, but we didn’t finish. You also need to finish the game, and we didn’t finish the game the way we need to. Along the way some good things happened. Of course, Dameon Pierce ran well throughout, so he gave us a spark throughout. But, some of the other things that cause you to lose games, too many pre-snap penalties again. I’m going to talk about those. Passing game-wise, I thought we had a few big plays, but the consistency wasn’t there. On the defensive side, the first half, again, we didn’t start well. Of course, that was definitely the case. We like to move it up. Big plays in the passing game really hurt us. But, saying all of that, we got ourselves in a position there late. It didn’t help missing the field goal early, the fourth down at the end of the half, not converting on it. With all that being said, we had an opportunity late where we were down one score, and we needed to get a stop defensively, and the two big pass plays doomed us.”
When wide receiver Brandin Cooks came into the team workroom to talk with the media he was asked what the start of the season had been like for the team.
“Frustrating. Close ones, as we all know, pretty much this league comes down to close games. There’s hardly ever any blow-outs, and the great teams find a way to be able to finish. We haven’t been able to do that. Today we just simply as an offense didn’t start fast. The past four weeks has absolutely been frustrating as a competitor, no question.”
Things don’t get easier for the Texans. They travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars next Sunday and follow that up with a bye. The hope is that maybe they can fix some things and get back on the right track after the open week.
After the beak they travel to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders on October 23rd.
There are still 13 games left in the 2022 regular season, but if Houston can’t get a win soon the season will be lost again this year, and Texans fans just may not hang in if that happens.