Frequently called a generational talent, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence looked more like a raw rookie prone to crucial mistakes during a rocky NFL debutSunday afternoon.
The top overall pick from Clemson lost the first regular-season game of his career as a starting quarterback.
How the Texans confused the towering, strong-armed rookie led to a 37-21 victory at NRG Stadium as Lawrence threw three interceptions while often locking onto and staring down his primary read.
Lawrence was victimized by the Texans’ opportunistic defense, which tied its meager interception total from all of last season. Under new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, the defense has transformed into an aggressive unit as linebacker Christian Kirksey, safety Justin Reid and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves all picked off Lawrence.
Lawrence finished 28 of 51 for 332 yards and three touchdowns for a 70.1 passer rating, but turnovers allowed the Texans to build a commanding 27-7 lead at halftime.
“Whenever you’ve got a young quarterback, first game in the NFL, you want to make it as hard as possible for him,” Kirksey said. “He did some things good, and obviously there’s some things he has to work on, but the kid came out and he did the best that he could. As a veteran defense and guys that’s been in the league, it’s our job to create turnovers and create takeaways like we did. I tip my hat off to my guys.”
This marked the first three-interception game of Lawrence’s career, including his high school days in Georgia and at Clemson.
Accustomed to success, Lawrence was forced to learn on the job in the NFL against fast, resourceful defenders and one of the most experienced defensive coordinators in the NFL in Smith.
“Yeah, obviously sucks,” Lawrence said. “ Losing is always hard, especially when you feel like you are prepared and had a great week. Really think we were ready and obviously didn’t play well. It starts with me. I didn’t play well for sure. I played really bad. Disappointing for sure. I still believe in this team.
“I still know what we are capable off. We did some good things. There’s a lot of good things there and we have to keep doing those and learn from the bad. We have to watch it and learn from it for sure but then flip the page. It’s a long season, we can’t let this snowball. We have to move on and go win next week.”
This was the first time Meyer, a rookie NFL head coach who excelled at Ohio State and Florida, had lost a season opener as he was 16-0before Sundayand his first time he lost his first game coaching a new team.
"We’ve all got our ass kicked before," Meyer said. "Let's tighten up and go. I believe in that team. I believe in our staff. Come back to work. Going to earn your captain's stripes and leadership stripes as a coach and leaders on the team, but I believe in those guys.”
The Jaguars looked sloppy. They had three illegal formation penalties. They had an illegal participation penalty for having 12 men in the offensive huddle.
"It's inexcusable the things that need to be fixed," Meyer said. "Three preseason games you'd think we'd have that fixed, so that's something that we're going to I would guesstimate you would not see that again. That's inexcusable."
The Texans had just nine turnovers all of last season, an NFL-low.
Now, they have three turnovers in Smith’s first game after generating 10 turnovers in three preseason games.
“It was good to see where we’re at,” Kirksey said. “Just seeing guys flying around, everybody making plays, it’s definitely something that’s good to see, but we’re still not where we want to be. We’ve got a lot of stuff that we can learn from and improve from, so right now we’re just trying to move forward.. I think that’s how you become a great defense, when you can celebrate the win and celebrate good things that you do, but pay attention to the things that hurt us. We’ve just got to make sure that we clean that up and just keep moving forward.”
Lawrence’s interceptions came on errant throws, and poor decisions. He was accountable for his mistakes.
"It's either a bad throw or a bad decision when you throw a pick," Lawrence said. "Bad decisions, those are the ones that'll get you for sure. Turnovers, it’s all me. You’re not going to win many games with three turnovers. Just not good.”
Lawrence had some encouraging moments, including his touchdown passes to tight end Chris Manhertz and wide receivers D.J. Chark and Marvin Jones.
"I know I'm going to respond well,” Lawrence said. “I'm made of the right stuff, so I don't have any doubt about that. But it is frustrating, and I hate losing.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128