JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Trevor Lawrence shook the hand of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last spring as the top overall pick of the draft as the former Clemson star was anointed as a generational talent and the anticipated savior as the starting rookie quarterback for a woebegone Jacksonville Jaguars franchise.
Sixty-six picks later, quarterback Davis Mills’ name was called as the Texans’ third-round draft pick and the first selection in the tenure of first-year general manager Nick Caserio.
On Sunday, it was Mills who outdueled the ballyhooed Lawrence in a head-to-head quarterback competition as the strong-armed former Stanford blue-chip recruit led his team to a 30-16 victory Sunday to sweep the annual series with the AFC South rival. This marked Mills’ first win as a starter after going 0-7 in his previous starts, improving the Texans to 3-11.
The Texans are now slotted for the third overall pick of the draft, and the Jaguars for the top overall pick with three games remaining in the regular season with the Detroit Lions now slotted second after pulling off an upset victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
“It's awesome,” Mills said. “It's a really good feeling, great feeling for the guys in the locker room. Obviously, a win is way better than a loss. So, we're ready to build on it.”
Mills was sharp generally, completing 19 of 30 passes for 209 yards, two touchdown passes to veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks with one interception. He completed 13 of his first 15 passes, putting the game away in the fourth quarter with a 43-yard screen pass to Cooks to seal the game.
Mills clearly outplayed his rookie counterpart, Lawrence.
“That's pretty cool,” Mills said. “When it boils down, it's still a team game. Trevor as a quarterback is extremely talented. He was able to go out there and make some plays and lead his team down the field in a lot of cases. But, ultimately, I think it just falls back on our team. We had a really good team win.”
As for Lawrence, he had his struggles in the first game since controversial coach Urban Meyer’s dismissal in the wake of multiple run-ins with coaches and players and unprofessional behavior at and away from the office. Instead of getting a spark from Meyer’s ouster and replacing him with interim coach Darrell Bevell, the Jaguars struggled and Lawrence completed just 22 of 38 passes for 210 yards and no touchdowns for the sixth time in his past seven games.
Lawrence was sacked three times and had a pedestrian 73.4 passer rating.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Lawrence said. “All the guys are frustrated. We want to be more consistent. We want to win. It's definitely frustrating. You’ve just got to look yourself in the mirror and figure out how to get better.”
Mills’ improvement as far as taking care of the football and adapting to not having a strong running game to complement his steady pattern of short to intermediate throws is paying dividends for the Texans offense. He completed seven of his throws to Cooks for 102 yards on 10 targets. He finished with a 92.2 passer rating and was only sacked once.
“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 checkdowns,” Texans coach David Culley said. “That’s something he wasn’t doing as well earlier when he was playing, and we made a conscious effort to make sure we get that ball out of his hands.
“There’s a clock when that guy’s back there on the drop back game, and when that clock goes off, that ball has got to get out of your hand. His clock is starting to tick a lot better now than it was earlier in the year.”
It was a solid, albeit unspectacular performance by Mills for the second week in a row since replacing veteran Tyrod Taylor.
Mills beat the blitz to hit wide receiver Phillip Dorsett for a 33-yard pass leading to a field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn that boosted the Texans’ lead to 23-10 in the third quarter.
“We’ve been had by the blitz a few times this year, and we’ve spent a lot of time (working on it),” Culley said. “We knew they were going to get pressure on him, especially in the second half. When you hit (hot receivers) when playing zero coverage, the only way you stop them from doing it is to get a completion. And he did a nice job of doing that.”
Other than one interception, picked off by cornerback Tyson Campbell, Mills played a clean football game.
“Well, in the second half, he had a throw there that we needed to get back that put us in a tough situation there,” Culley said. “But I tell you what he did do, he made the throws in the second half when we needed to make the throws. He got us in the end zone, which is what his job is, in the second half.
“We had a couple of series right there where we stalled a little bit. But I thought in the end, he did what we needed to do for us to win the football game and get a touchdown and I was happy to see him do that.”
And the Jaguars lost their sixth consecutive game as Lawrence, who had never played against Mills before after both quarterbacks grew up in Georgia, lost for the second time this year to the Texans.
“Felt very comfortable in the pocket,” Mills said. “I thought our guy’s up front did a great job protecting all day. And we did well at communicating at their pressures and just making sure we were pointed correctly in protection. So, I think we saw that well.
“Brandin had a great day, obviously. 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.”