Rifling passes with accuracy and touch, Texans rookie quarterback Davis Mills got off to a dynamic start Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
Not only did Mills complete his first 14 throws to set a franchise record for the most completions to open a game, the strong-armed third-round draft pick from Stanford displayed growing maturity in terms of his field presence and savvy. The Atlanta native had an impressive touchdown pass on the run after eluding pressure, keeping his eyes on his target while on the move to connect with rookie tight end Brevin Jordan for a touchdown pass on his first drive of the game.
“Davis was slinging it,” veteran center Justin Britt said. “I thought he did well. No offense, I felt like we're past that question, like, ‘What have you seen in the growth? I'm just saying he's grown to that level of player where I feel like you can look at him and expect him to be that way. I think that speaks volumes to his character.”
If only Mills could have sustained that high level play, or had a running game to complement his passes.
The Texans absorbed a 33-13 loss at NRG Stadium and dropped to 2-11 as the offense cratered in the second half as they were shut out.
Mills completed 16 of 21 passes for 175 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions in the first half for a 116.2 passer rating. He finished 33 of 49 for the game for a career-high 331 yards for a respectable 93.2 passer rating, but he dropped to 0-7 as a starter in losing his first game after being named the Texans' starter for the remainder of the season as the replacement for veteran Tyrod Taylor.
“We started off hot and built some momentum early in the first half, just got to be able to sustain that throughout the game,” Mills said. “Overall, I thought it was a good day for what the result was.”
Unlike Taylor, who was intercepted for the fifth time this season a week ago in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts that led to his benching, Mills didn’t have issues with ball security. One of his passes was nearly intercepted.
“He took care of the ball, that’s what he’s supposed to do,” Texans coach David Culley said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the ball in the end zone in the second half, and that’s what we have to do better. Not just him, but our entire offense has to be able to do that.”
This marked Mills’ first start since Oct. 31. Taylor went 1-3 as the starter after returning from a Grade 2 hamstring strain suffered against the Cleveland Browns during a touchdown run.
Taylor, though, threw three interceptions against the Miami Dolphins. Other than running for two touchdowns in an upset victory over the Tennessee Titans, he was largely ineffective in his return from the injury.
He operated as Mills’ backup Sunday and was healthy enough to play, if needed, with a hyperextended left wrist in his non-throwing hand.
Mills had some encouraging moments for the Texans, but it wasn’t enough due to a lackluster running game that produced just 63 yards on 25 carries with 40 yards gained by running back Rex Burkhead before he left the game with a groin injury.
“I thought he was great,” said wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who caught eight passes for 101 yards on 11 targets. “He came out, he started fast. His energy was great. He made great decisions. Just gotta continue to find ways to build off that and keep heading the right direction.”
“I think just being smart with the ball, not forcing things, taking those checkdowns when the big play is not there. That's vet status right there when you can do it as a young guy and you show that to your team. I think he's grown tremendously in that aspect.”
Named the starter for the remainder of the season, Mills displayed potential and an ability to move the offense.
That's what the Texans were looking for when they made the decision to bench Taylor, who has been ineffective since returning from a strained hamstring.
Mills went 0-6 as the starter earlier this season in place of Taylor, but had a strong game in a loss to the New England Patriots with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has passed for 300 yards or more three times, including the Patriots game, Seattle and in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
“A lot of it is just taking what the defense gives to you, they were playing with a lot of depth in the defense and the check downs were there,” Mills said. “You can’t go broke taking a profit, so I felt like we could move the ball down the field like that.
“I've heard that my whole life. Just gotta find completions out there on the field. They always say that about finding the running backs out in the backfield, checking it down. If you're gaining yards by throwing checkdowns, you can keep moving the ball that way.”
Mills made a major impression on his teammates, coaches and his opponent, including Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Carroll said. “He's composed. He throws the ball real well, he's an accurate thrower, strong enough. This is what we saw on film. He looked like a good player, and he did it again.
“We didn't slow him down much early. All in all, he got a bunch of yards late in the game and all that, but I thought he did pretty well. That's kind of what we saw and we expected it. I'm sure the coaches are seeing it. I'm sure that's why they made the move they made.”