JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- Lovie Smith had repeatedly preached patience, and staying the course. The Texans' first-year coach had even recited his glass half full philosophy, emphasizing positives that were often hard to see during a losing streak.
His approach finally paid off Sunday during a 13-6 road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars as the Texans ceased to be the only winless team in the NFL. The Texans, now 1-3-1, snapped a three-game losing streak by boosting their winning streak to nine games in a row over their AFC South division rival.
Instead of the raw disappointment the Texans experienced in squandering leads in a tie to the Indianapolis Colts and losses to the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos and a slow start last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, a 4-13 team from a year ago took control in the fourth quarter as rookie running back Dameon Pierce scored the game's lone touchdown to win the game.
"I mean, it's big, because I do know how hard it is," Smith said. "We've been battling for four weeks, and haven't been able to finish it. That's all we've talked about. I know how the guys have been responding behind the scenes. They've been just, belief, faith, that eventually it's going to get done. But now that we have taken care of that, I'm just anxious to get that second win now."
The Texans' defense was stout in close quarters, limiting the Jaguars to 0 for 3 in the red zone to earn their first win since last season when they beat the Chargers last December. They held the Jaguars, led by quarterback Trevor Lawrence, to six points as rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. picked him off in the end zone in the third quarter and nickel back Desmond King intercepted his Hail Mary pass to end the game.
Smith had enough confidence in the defense that he called for a punt on 4th-and-9 at the Jaguars' 49-yard line with 47 seconds to play.
The defense did its job, closing out the Jaguars. Now, the Texans get a week off before a road game in two weeks against the Las Vegas Raiders.
"It's something that we needed," Texans middle linebacker and defensive captain Christian Kirksey said. "We needed this as a team: to finally go out and finish. We had so many close games in the past.This is just the start of something headed into the bye week. We get a chance to regroup and get our bodies together and get some bodies back."
Smith also called for a punt on 4th-and-1 in the third quarter at the Jaguars' 49-yard line with the score tied at 6-6.
“I felt like we didn’t really need to make a move like that,” Smith said. “Played the odds, which we did, and it worked out. Right? I liked the call.”
Quarterback Davis Mills was effective with no turnovers after throwing two interceptions against the Chargers and two interceptions against the Bears.
He completed 16 of 24 passes for 140 yards and no scores for an 81.9 passer rating, mostly handing off to Pierce as he rushed for 99 yards and one score.
"I'd say he's had a consistent impact on our team, from when he came into the building," Smith said. "We know that he's going to finish. He's going to show toughness. He's going to make plays. He's going to make you miss in the open field. He's doing what a one running back in the NFL should do, and on a day like today we needed to lean on the run, and I thought he was outstanding."
Unlike the Jaguars who had a costly penalty committed by rookie defensive end Travon Walker when he committed an unnecessary roughness infraction as he slung Mills to the ground when the play had been blown dead, the Texans didn't make many mistakes.
"It is tough when those things happen, but we have rules on how we play the game, and that was obvious that should have been called," Smith said. "A timely penalty for us."
Mills hit some key passes, including a key pass to tight end Jordan Akins to set up Pierce's 20-yard run and 1-yard touchdown run.
He also connected with second-year wide receiver Nico Collins four times for 65 yards.
"Yeah, we've just got to continue to mix it up throughout the season," Mills said. "If you show something one game, you've got to come back and potentially run it the next game and try to execute, and if you don't want to run that, show something else to keep the defenses guessing.
"I think we kind of found our identity today, being a run-first football team downhill, and we did that efficiently. And then we had to make some plays in the passing game when we needed to, and our guys stepped up and made some plays on the edge. Defense did, as well. It was a good team win."
Outscored by a combined margin of 30-0 in the fourth quarter in the first three games of the season, the Texans outscored the Jaguars 7-0 in the fourth quarter after playing to a 6-6 tie by halftime.
"Team effort, it's good to see what you're supposed to do after a win," Smith said. "Hopefully, it's the first of many."
Texans offensive guard A.J. Cann, a former Jaguars starter, expressed hope that this is the start of something.
"We have to keep building off that momentum," he said. "It's not easy to win in this league. We've got to keep building on that."
Texans' Dameon Pierce runs roughshod over Jaguars: 'Go country boy, go'
Dameon Pierce simply refused to be tackled, imposing his punishing running style by muscling through defenders' feeble arm tackle attempts with all of his considerable might.
The Texans' powerful rookie running back just wouldn't go down Sunday, busting through tacklers like a runaway truck. He shrugged one defender off of his shoulder pads with a roughneck shake of his head and shoulders, sending him falling to the ground.
Pierce spun like a whirling dervish away from Jacksonville Jaguars safety Rashawn Jenkins in the backfield before bulling through Foye Oluokun, Tyson Campbell, Darius Williams, Shaquill Grifin, Andre Cisco, Devin Lloyd and Dawaune Smoot before he was finally tackled by Campbell and Cisco on their second try as Smoot grabbed his right ankle and held on for dear life.
Pierce displayed toughness, strength, vision and will power. His sheer determination kept him on his feet as he churned through defenders to set up his game-winning touchdown run Sunday during a 13-6 road victory for the previously winless Texans.
The native of Bainbridge, Ga., is true to his roots. The 5-foot-10, 218-pound fourth-round draft pick from Florida runs with a rugged style all his own. He's an emerging NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
'"Go country boy, go," Pierce said when asked what he was thinking about during this epic angry run. "It's all about getting that touchdown, man. And I know I had them big boys coming defensively. They were going to rally behind me at some point, so I just tried to fight and get in the end zone."
Two plays later, Pierce busted into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run, his third score of the season.
Pierce rushed for 99 yards on 26 carries, averaging 3.8 yards per run. He did so despite facing at least seven defenders in the box on 22 of his 26 runs, which is tied for the most such carries in a game this season, according to Next Gen Stats.
"D.P. for president," Texans right tackle Tytus Howard said. "He gets to the second level and he's going to make something happen every time. I think he's one of the best backs in the league."
Rookie fullback Troy Hairston, Pierce's friend and lead blocker, had a colorful reaction to what it's like to watch him run.
"Dog, he's an animal," Hairston said. "That boy is relentless. He runs the ball and is hard to stop. That's just grit. That's the Texans' way. He's a football player."
Pierce has rushed for 412 yards, a franchise record for a rookie through the first five weeks of the season and third most during that span in team history behind Arian Foster's 546 yards in 2010 and 532 yards in 2012. He's on pace to finish the season with 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"What I really felt, I was tired at first," Pierce said after his big run. "We be tired at first. But after I caught my breath a little bit, man, like we just needed a surge, man. We were just looking for somebody to make a play. We was putting together a drive, but we
wasn't quite finishing them and punishing them and playing our type of football.
"We got back to playing our style of football. When we're playing our style of football, we're usually a great offense when we get things rolling, and just that play, that play kinda surged everyone up, got our spirits up and led to a touchdown.
Pierce became the first Texans rookie to run the football more than 25 times in a game since Alfred Blue had 36 carries against the Cleveland Browns in 2014.
"He's had a consistent impact on our team, from when he came into the building," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "We know that he's going to finish. He's going to show toughness. He's going to make plays. He's going to make you miss in the open field. He's doing what a No. 1 running back in the NFL should do. On a day like today we needed to lean on the run, and I thought he was outstanding.
“It’s fitting that he would, when we needed a play like that, he would be the one that showed up. It's late in the game. Somebody’s got to make a play and there's no such thing as fatigue then. I can talk about Dameon Pierce quite a bit. I just believe in the guy.”
When Pierce broke loose, right guard A.J. Cann had quite the view from his vantage point at the line of scrimmage. Cann delivered a key block to get the run started.
"I saw a couple of guys grab him," Cann said. "All of a sudden, I see him keep breaking tackles. That was amazing. That was a good run. That's the top run right there. I don't have a list, but I would start with that one."
The Texans are finding their identity as a smash-mouth football team.
Pierce is their most dangerous weapon.
"I think I probably counted at least six broken tackles that run," quarterback Davis Mills said. "I looked at LT (Laremy Tunsil) after the play and I was like, 'This guy is the real deal.' He's trying to win games and he's helping us out a lot. Just the energy he brings day in and day out, it rubs off on everybody on the team, and we want to rally behind that, and we want to fight for him. I think we kind of found our identity today, being a run-first football team, being downhill."
Howard said that Pierce has earned honorary lineman status.
Does Pierce owe the big guys a nice dinner? Or is the other way around.
"Oh now, we have to get him some food after what he did today," Howard said. "Breaking tackles. That's what he eats: breaking tackles."
How Pierce goes about his job is simple in its ferocity. He just instinctively reacts to every situation that flashes across his eyes with physicality.
"It's all about contact, like if you feel somebody, you just spin out," Pierce said. "You got somebody on your leg, pull out. Somebody coming, dip your shoulder, double wrap the ball, just get yards, man. It takes time. It definitely comes with time.
"Like I wouldn't tell you to go put no pads on and try to go spin out of something, but it comes with time. But there's ways of maneuvering. There's a right way to do things. As long as I've got that ball wrapped up, I'm good."
Pierce displayed breakaway speed on a 75-yard touchdown run against the Los Angeles Chargers a week ago for the longest run by a rookie since Kalen Ballage with the Miami Dolphins in 2018.
Used sparingly by coach Dan Mullen with the Gators as he was part of a platoon system, Pierce rushed for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and caught 19 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. As a junior, he rushed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 156 yards and one score. Now, Pierce is off to a fast start at the NFL level.
"Hey, man, he's a dog, bro," linebacker Garret Wallow said. "I don't think I've ever seen somebody run the ball like that. I just think his potential, his future is going to be really bright."
Pierce's mother, Shameeka Rogers, was at NRG Stadium for his touchdown jaunt last week and took the football back to their hometown. She was in attendance at the Jaguars game, too.
"I've got a great group of guys around me on this team, from the veteran leadership to the coaches, to the support staff, training room, weight room," Pierce said. "It takes a village, especially with me being a rookie. I'm a young guy. It takes a village to kind of groom me in the right direction.
"I need to be to be a key factor on this team and be an eventual leader on this team and take the roles of some of those veteran guys as they end their careers, as they move away from football. They are doing a great job of putting me in that role to enable me to be one of those leaders and step up for this team."
Texans rookie Derek Stingley Jr. intercepts first NFL pass
Texans rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. saw the football coming, adeptly reading the eyes and intentions of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
When the towering former top overall pick forced a pass in the end zone as he stared at wide receiver Zay Jones, Stingley capitalized with his first NFL interception Sunday during a 13-6 victory at TIAA Bank Field to help boost the Texans to their first win of the season.
The third overall pick of the draft, Stingley isn't the only member of his family with foresight.
His father, Derek Stingley Sr., celebrating the win outside the stadium with his wife and other family members after the game, had predicted the interception was coming in a conversation with his son before kickoff. He also told a reporter Saturday that the Texans would snap their string of three consecutive losses.
"We talked about it before the game,” Stingley Sr. said. “I said, 'Hey, I think this is the day when you’re going to get you one and I want you to bring it to me.’ We basically talked it into existence.”
Stingley Jr. made a beeline for his parents in the stands after the interceptin, handing them the football to commemorate the moment for the former consensus LSU All-American selection.
"I needed to get the first one," Stingley Jr. said. "I might give them all to him. Without him and my mom, I wouldn't be here. It was good. I just gave him the ball. I was like, 'Here.'
Stingley's alert presence paid dividends for the Texans during a narrow win.
The Jaguars were well-positioned to take the lead after driving to the Texans' 7-yard line on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Lawrence was looking for Jones, but Stingley jumped the pass and attempted to return the football before he was tackled two yards out of the end zone.
“I seen the ball," Stingley Jr. said. "I said, 'I gotta get it,' and I got it."
Lawrence lamented his poor decision to throw in Stingley's direction.
"Honestly, I just forced it," he said. "The field shrunk down there. I thought I might have had a shot at the back baseline and just Stingley fell off the corner there. It was just a bad decision. That's one you just throw away, maybe try to run it in, live to play another down. Just bad, just forced it and tried to do too much there. Just a bad decision."
The takeaway allowed the Texans to remain tied with the Jaguars, who went 0 for 3 in the red zone.
"The first thing I thought was that could be a pick-six, and then I was like, 'No, he needs to kneel it down and give us better field position," Stingley Sr. said. "I was so ecstatic that he caught the interception. That ball is going into his shrine in his room at our home where we've got everything else. That ball is going to go up there and it's going to be there forever.
"No doubt, extremely proud. For him to get an interception off a good quarterback like Trevor Lawrence and this being a division game and to stop that score, I was so happy. I just looked at him and said, 'Dude, I told you, I told you, I told you. As parents, we're really happy about that. This is his first time getting one and, hopefully, it's the first of many."
Stingley played through an injury to his elbow and shoulder that coach Lovie Smith characterized as a bruise. Stingley wore a protective brace on his left arm after getting hurt against the Los Angeles Chargers. The injury didn't appear to hold him back at all. He finished the game with seven tackles. He also batted away a deep Lawrence pass in the fourth quarter intended for Marvin Jones during an unsuccessful comeback attempt.
"We knew they had to get the ball down the field and out of bounds," Stingley Jr. said. "I was just staying deep and down the sideline."
At 6-foot, 190 pounds, with a recorded 4.37 40-yard dash, Stingley has speed to burn. The Texans identified him as the top cornerback on their draft board and thus, selected him one pick before the New York Jets drafted Cincinnati All-American corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Then, Stingley signed a fully guaranteed, four-year, $34.6 million contract that includes a $22.3 million signing bonus and a fifth-year club option.
A two-time All-SEC selection, Stingley is a former blue-chip who finished his college career with 73 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
"Absolute, Stingley is going to be a great player," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "I've talked about how smart he is knowing the game. He learns something every snap."
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and Sports Talk 790.