Mills looks to build on success after 1st NFL win for Texans

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston rookie quarterback Davis Mills got his first NFL win this weekend with a victory over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.

Now he and the Texans (3-11) will look to improve as they close out a disappointing season with three games against playoff contenders. They’ll host the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday followed by games against San Francisco and Tennessee.

Mills, a third-round pick from Stanford, opened his NFL career with seven consecutive losses before throwing two touchdown passes Sunday to help the Texans snap a three-game skid with the 30-16 victory.

“It’s awesome,” Mills said. “It’s a really good feeling, a great feeling for the guys in the locker room … so, we’re ready to build on it.”

Houston’s victory was aided by a kickoff return for a touchdown and a solid defensive performance that came despite missing several starters to COVID-19 protocols.

Mills had TD passes of 22 and 43 yards for the third multi-score game of his career.

“He’s making quick decisions,” coach David Culley said. “He’s not back there holding the ball and when he is holding the ball, he’s stepping up in the pocket and finding his check-downs. That’s something he wasn’t doing as well earlier when he was playing … his clock is starting to tick a lot better now than it was earlier in the year.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Mills is getting better as he gets more experience, and his growth has been helped by the chemistry he has with veteran receiver Brandin Cooks. The eight-year pro caught both of Houston’s touchdown passes Sunday and had 102 yards receiving for his second consecutive 100-yard game and fourth this season.

“(He’s) been extremely consistent all year and that’s why he’s very easy as a target to find because you know he’s going to be in the right spot at the right time,” Mills said.

Cooks has been the team’s top offensive performer this season and has been productive with Mills and Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. He leads the team and ranks 16th in the NFL with 947 yards receiving, putting him within striking distance of his sixth 1,000-yard season.

As important as his play on the field, Culley lauded him for his leadership on this young team.

“He’s so important in understanding … how things are supposed to go,” Culley said. “When things weren’t right in the locker room he’s someone that I could always lean on.”

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Despite focusing on improving the run game week after week, the Texans continue to be ineffective on the ground. Houston managed just 75 yards rushing against Jacksonville and remains last in the NFL by averaging just 77.4 yards rushing a game.

David Johnson returned Sunday after missing two games, but he did little to help the problem, finishing with just six carries for 24 yards.

Mark Ingram remains the team’s leading rusher with 294 yards this season despite being traded to the Saints after seven games.

STOCK UP

Tremon Smith’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ended the longest drought in the NFL and was the first of his career. The Texans hadn’t had a kickoff return for a score since Oct. 4, 2009.

He was thrilled to finally score on a return after having a chance to do it on a kickoff return as a rookie with the Chiefs in 2018, but he was stopped at the 3-yard line.

STOCK DOWN

TE Pharaoh Brown was flagged for holding Sunday to give him seven penalties this season in limited playing time. The third-year player has had two holding calls, two false starts, a face mask penalty, pass interference and an unnecessary roughness penalty this season.

INJURED

Safety Justin Reid missed Sunday’s game after sustaining a concussion Dec. 12 and Culley said he wasn’t sure if he would play this week. … Culley said Monday that he’d know later in the week if the seven starters on the reserve-COVID-19 list could play Sunday.

KEY NUMBER

21 — The Texans held the Jaguars to 3 of 14 on third-down attempts Sunday for 21 percent, which was Houston’s second-best performance this season.

NEXT STEPS

The Texans will keep trying to improve their running game and look for Mills to take another step in his development this week. He’s been great on short passes in his two starts since Taylor was benched, and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly could open the playbook more in these last three games to look for more opportunities downfield.

Houston’s practice squad replacements filled in nicely on defense against the Jaguars, but it will be a tough task to handle a Chargers team that ranks fifth in the NFL in total offense if the team’s starters can’t return Sunday.

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