Tom Savage leads Texans to comeback win over Jaguars
With Brock Osweiler reaching a new low against one of NFL's worst teams, the Texans finally changed quarterbacks Sunday and the long-awaited, lustily cheered decision to send Tom Savage onto the field in place of the struggling starter resulted in a 21-20 victory over Jacksonville at NRG Stadium.
Lamar Miller sliced in from the 1 with 2:51 left, capping an eight-play, 52-yard Savage-led drive and Nick Novak added the winning PAT as the Texans improved to 8-6 and kept a share of the AFC South lead. Tennessee, also 8-6, defeated Kansas City 19-17 with a 53-yard Ryan Succop field goal on the final play of that game.
The Texans, who next host Cincinnati on Christmas Eve night, close out the regular season in Tennessee on Jan. 1.
Despite playing without four starters on defense because of injuries, the Texans held Blake Bortles to 92 yards on 12-of-27 passing. The Jaguars gained only 150 total yards with just nine first downs as Jadeveon Clowney delivered the best game of his brief, injury-plagued career, coming up with a sack, two quarterback hits and three tackles for lost yards.
But it would be safety Quintin Demps' team-high fourth interception of the season – the Texans only takeaway all day – that secured the victory, letting them get the ball back with 61 seconds left and run out the clock.
Savage completed 23 of his 36 passes for 260 yards in his first regular-season appearance since Dec. 14, 2014, when he replaced the injured Ryan Fitzpatrick. But Savage, a fourth-round draft pick in 2014, got hurt that day as well and also wound up spending all last season on injured reserve.
"Really, I was just pumped to go in there," Savage said. "The guys did a good job of rallying around me and making some good plays for me. Each week, I'm prepared to be the starter. That's kind of the mindset you have so when you go in there, you're not startled. This team deserves someone who'll go in there and perform. I got a little dry mouth at first, but I shook it off and just tried to execute the job.
"The line did a heckuva job. The receivers made some big plays for me. The protection was great. Lamar (Miller) and (Alfred) Blue ran their tails off. My job was to get the ball to (everybody) and let our athletes make plays."
Novak included. In addition to his winning point-after, he booted four more field goals – he's 32 for 37 on the season – and the Texans also scored on an unusual safety to dispatch the 2-12 Jaguars, who have now lost nine in a row. The Texans have won their last 10 games against division opponents, five of them this season.
The loss cost Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley his job. It was announced he'd been fired before the team's charter flight had left Houston.
Osweiler, signed away from the Denver Broncos in March for a contract worth $72 million, completed six of 11 passes for only 48 yards and two interceptions before coach Bill O'Brien gave him the hook. Osweiler's 16 picks on the season left him one shy of Philip Rivers' for the most in the NFL going into Sunday's game, but the San Diego Charger had at least thrown for 27 touchdowns, too, compared to Osweiler's 14.
For the moment it's unclear if the Osweiler era is over – at least for this season – but O'Brien had clearly seen all he could stomach by the middle of the second quarter following the second turnover that led to the 1-yard Bortles touchdown run that gave Jacksonville a 13-0 lead.
Questioned about being benched after the game, Osweiler said, "I haven't had much time to think about it. The only thing that's on my mind is that this football team found a way to win a big football game. It was a gritty victory, a tough victory. I thought our crowd stayed in it the whole game. It was as loud as I've ever heard (the fans) down the stretch. That's the story."
Both Osweiler picks – coming about three minutes apart after Jacksonville had managed an NFL-low three through its first 13 games – led to Jacksonville points. Jalen Ramsey returned the first one 35 yards to the Texans 25 and Jason Meyers ultimately kicked a 50-yard field goal. Telvin Smith's then gave Jacksonville the ball at the Texans' 37 and, four plays later, Bortles was in the end zone.
The latter came on a particularly ill-advised pass and apparently forced O'Brien's hand, although he later declined to say who would start against the Bengals.
"We always make decisions (based on what's) the best way to win a game," O'Brien said. "That's what we did today. Today, it worked out OK. (Savage) completed passes. He took care of the ball. He was decent at getting us in and out of the huddle. I think that needs to speed up, but overall he managed the pretty well."
Osweiler tried to put a positive spin on what had transpired, saying, "As a competitor any time you don't play well and you get pulled out of a game, of course there's disappointment. That's a natural human reaction. And of course you want to be your best for your teammates. I love this football team. I love every single player in this locker room, the coaching staff, the McNair family, (general manager) Rick Smith for giving me this opportunity. You're disappointed because you feel like you've let them down."
Osweiler added, "Tom had a huge day. He's worked extremely hard. He's been a great friend, a great teammate. Obviously, there's disappointment, but there's also joy and happiness that this football team won a game it needed to win."
Savage had seemingly directed a scoring drive of his own on his first regular-season series in more than two years, but an official replay of Akeem Hunt's 2-yard touchdown run concluded that he'd lost possession of the football before he broke the plane of the goal line. It couldn't be determined whether the Texans or the Jaguars recovered the fumble, so the ball was placed at the half-yard line. Miller was stopped for no gain on third down and Savage's fourth-down fade pass to DeAndre Hopkins was overthrown.
At least that failure helped get the Texans get off the snide with 1:49 left in the half. Tight end Neal Sterling was called for holding in the end zone on Jacksonville's subsequent punt, resulting in an automatic safety. Savage then parlayed good field position into a 6-play, 40-yard drive that the ever-reliable Novak capped with his first field goal, a 39-yarder that trimmed the Jaguars' lead to 13-5.
Another Novak field goal, a 45-yarder at the end of a nine-play, 57-yard drive, got the Texans to within five points eight minutes into the third quarter, but the Jaguars' Marqise Lee took the kickoff that followed 100 yards untouched down the right sideline for the touchdown and a 20-8 lead.
The Texans cut the spread back to 20-14 with Novak field goals of 43 and 27 yards and the defense again did its part, putting the ball back in Savage's hands. After he delivered, the defense, cheered on by the injured J.J. Watt spectating from the bench for the first time since his season was cut short after three games, forced Bortles to first turn the ball over on downs, then throw the interception on his last desperate pass.
"None of us panicked (when the Texans trailed 20-8)," Clowney said. "I don't think anyone hit the panic button on our sideline. The defense knew that we had to go out there and keep making stops and try to create turnovers for the offense. We had a lot of good three and outs. (The offense) came out and put some drives together and we just kept playing defense.
"I'm just trying to stay healthy and keep fighting. I've got the guys' backs and they've got my back. We go out there and fight and don't worry about the outside noise. We just worry about what's in the locker room and continue to fight every week."
Besides Watt, the Texans were missing cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ribs) and linebackers Whitney Mercilus (back) and John Simon (chest) on defense.
"We've got a lot of great guys who can make plays," Clowney said. "When you've got guys go down, other guys can step up and make plays and try to help you out, too."
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