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3 things we learned about the Texans

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Forget about any quarterback controversy in Houston. Brian Hoyer left little doubt who the starting quarterback will be for the Texans, at least for the foreseeable future.

Behind some pinpoint passing by Hoyer, the Houston Texans scored three touchdowns in less than seven minutes in the fourth quarter to power the Texans past the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-20 on Sunday in a showdown of AFC South Division teams.

Hoyer, who has been on the bench or in mop-up duty since starting the season-opener against Kansas City, turned in a solid performance, connecting on 24 of 36 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien made it clear when asked if Hoyer had shown him enough in the game for him to continue as the starter.

“Definitely. There is always things that all of us can improve upon, especially coaching-wise,” the Houston coach said. “I think when you look at him; he went in there and managed the game well. He has a good calmness about him right now. He is confident and I am proud of the way he played today.”

Hoyer was at his best in the fourth quarter when he led the Texans on two scoring drives to overcome a 14-10 Jaguars lead. Jacksonville scored in the closing seconds of the third quarter when quarterback Blake Bortles connected with tight end Julius Thomas for a 29-yard score. It was Thomas’ first touchdown as a Jaguar.

Houston answered that score with an 81-yard drive in nine plays. Hoyer accounted for 65 yards on four completions, including a 9-yard throw to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the corner of the end zone. Three plays earlier, Hoyer left the game after taking a late hit from Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien. Hoyer returned, and after a running play and an incompletion, teamed with Hopkins.

The Texans (2-4) weren’t done there, though. After the Jaguars went three-and-out, Hoyer needed just four plays to cover 46 yards. The score came on a 26-yard completion to Hopkins, who easily beat Jaguars cornerback Davon House near the goal-line. That gave the Texans a 10-point cushion and put the game out of reach for the Jaguars (1-5).

“It’s huge to get a win on the road and especially against a division opponent,” Hoyer said. “It was a challenge today, it wasn’t always pretty but when it counted, we made the plays. It was a total team win, everyone doing their job.”

Hoyer’s favorite target was Hopkins, who was targeted 15 times and finished with 10 receptions for 148 yards and two scores. He came into the game with a league-leading 578 yards and will likely stay atop all receivers in yardage.

The defense got in on the scoring parade at that point. On the Jaguars’ first play following the kickoff, Bortles overthrew wide receiver Allen Robinson and the ball was grabbed by defensive back Andre Hal. He had a clear path to the end zone to complete the 41-yard interception return and build the Texans’ lead to 31-14. It was the sixth pass thrown by Bortles in his 19-game career that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

On the Jaguars’ next series, backup safety Lonnie Ballentine suffered a leg injury. His leg was put in an air cast and he was taken off the field in a cart.

Jacksonville scored on its next possession when Bortles guided the Jaguars 80 yards in 11 plays. The score came on an 11-yard pass to wide receiver Allen Hurns in the corner of the end zone, but that was as close as the Jaguars could get.

What we learned about the Texans:

1. Brian Hoyer deserves to be the starting quarterback. Hoyer turned in a stellar performance, completing 24 of 36 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Just as important, he didn’t turn the ball over one time. It was his first significant action of the season since the season-opener against Kansas City. The most important factor however, was that Hoyer recorded his first win as a Houston Texans player. “It’s good to get my first win as a Texan,” he said. “Quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses in the end, so whether we won 10-3 or whatever the score was, you have to go out there and get the win. For me, I didn’t know if I would get the opportunity again. Now I’ve played three straight weeks. It’s not easy. You have to go out there and prepare every day like you’re the starter.” Ryan Mallett had started the last four Houston games, but Hoyer turned in a good effort in a close loss to Indianapolis last week to warrant the start against Jacksonville. The job is now his but he’ll need to continue his strong showing in order to keep it.

2. DeAndre Hopkins is as good a receiver as there is in the NFL. Hopkins narrowly missed matching his career high in receptions of 11 which set a week ago, after catching 10 passes for 148 yards against the Jaguars. He now has 62 catches in just six games while increasing his yardage total 726 yards. And the season is barely a third over. For many NFL receivers, those are season totals. At his current pace, Hopkins could be headed towards a 175-catch season. Despite the gaudy numbers, Hopkins was quick to deflect much of the praise for this game. “We played complimentary football today. It wasn’t just the DeAndre Hopkins show,” he said. “This was the Houston Texans show. Brian is a leader on and off the field. His leadership is something that doesn’t surprise anybody in this locker room.”

3. The Texans can win even if J.J. Watt doesn’t have a dominating game. The Texans did it with a solid team effort defensively. Watt wasn’t much of a factor. Some may attribute it to the illness that hit him the last couple days and left him questionable on Friday’s injury report. Final stats credited Watt with just two solo tackles, one pass deflection and one hit on Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. But there was plenty of help from other parts of the defense, starting with three interceptions from the secondary, including a pair from Andre Hal and one from A.J. Bouye. Hal’s play was especially big in that he’s normally a backup to starter Quintin Demps at strong safety. But with Demps inactive for Sunday’s game due to an injury, Hal came up big with the two interceptions, including a pick-six, and a pair of pass deflections. “I’m just glad I got the opportunity to play and that I made the most of my opportunity,” Hal said. “It means the world to me to get a six-pick like that, that’s something that’s tough to do so I was thrilled to get it. On the first interception, I just looked inside Julius Thomas and was able to pick it off. Getting an interception in the red zone is real big because it means you’ve done your job to stop the other guys from scoring.”

Etc.:

–S Lonnie Ballentine suffered what appeared to be a significant injury midway through the fourth quarter. The backup safety was trying to break up a pass and fell into teammate A.J. Bouye. After examining Ballentine, team doctors had an air cast put on Ballentine’s leg and he was taken off the field in a cart. Houston coach Bill O’Brien said afterward that Ballentine had suffered “a significant knee injury.”

–WR Cecil Shorts made his return to Jacksonville a memorable and successful trip. Shorts played with the Jaguars the previous four years but was not offered what he felt was a competitive new contract at the end of the 2015 season. He later signed with the Texans. In his first trip back to Jacksonville, Shorts caught four passes for 63 yards. “It was special to come back here and play in this game,” he said. “I was excited about this game, I’m not going to lie to you. When you’ve been somewhere for four years, started your career there, you kind of want to have a good game. I’m a happy man right now.”

–QB Brian Hoyer showered teammate DeAndre Hopkins with praise following the latter’s 10-catch, 148-yards, 2-touchdowns effort against the Jaguars. Hoyer was always looking for Hopkins, targeting him 15 times out of the 36 passes he attempted. And why not? Hopkins is among the league leaders in both catches and receiving yards. “He’s very talented and wants to do his best,” Hoyer said about Hopkins. “When you have a guy like that that wants the football in crunch time and has the ability to go out and do it, it’s fun to have him on your team. He made a great play (on the first of his two TD catches). The next one it was man coverage. For me, it was check with Arian (Foster) and then go right to Hopkins. ‘Hop’ did a great job of beating his guy.”


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