HOUSTON — Jacksonville’s 22-point drumming of Houston’s defense Sunday at NRG Stadium was two parts savagery and one part growing pains.
The savagery came from rookie back Leonard Fornette, who rushed 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. The Texans got All-Pro J.J. Watt, who suffered a season-ending herniated last season, back on a highly-touted defensive line.
The growing pains came from Deshaun Watson, who got his first taste of NFL action after starter Tom Savage was pulled after just two quarters.
As almost an exclamation point to the lopsided win, Jacksonville’s defense drummed both quarterbacks to the tune of 10 total sacks — including a franchise record six in the first half. Calais Campbell, a free-agent offseason acquisition, had four in the first two quarters.
The last sack of the half — one of the strip variety on Savage courtesy of Yannick Ngakoue — resulted in a 91-yard fumble return. It was the first of two strip-sacks by Ngakoue, with the other coming during third a quarter tackle by he and Dante Fowler.
To his credit, Savage played behind a line without veteran left tackle Duane Brown, who is holding out. He was also bereft of injured receiver Will Fuller (collarbone), and suspended receiver Jaelen Strong, out for one game after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
And though Watson (12-23, 102 yds, TD, INT) started fast, he didn’t end that way.
During his first drive and down 19-0 in the third quarter, he completed five of his first eight passes for 37 yards and a score, moving the ball down the field via screens and short throws.
Despite the early success, he was sacked four times behind a porous line, threw a costly interception to Tashaun Gipson and struggled against a new-look Jacksonville defense that may have shown early signs of its blossoming potential.
The Texans didn’t score until the 9:09 mark of the third quarter after Watson’s 4-yard strike to DeAndre Hopkins. Though the upside of the Texans’ rookie is higher, the difference between their play on Sunday was marginal — regardless of crowd reaction.
Watson’s 4.4 yards per pass average compared to Savage’s 4.8 also may give Bill O’Brien a tough decision to make going into a short week and a Thursday night matchup against Cincinnati.
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