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Texans QB Savage at helm vs. reeling Bengals

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien allowed the drama to linger for only so long before giving in to the inevitable and confirming a decision that was obvious to all.

After watching backup quarterback Tom Savage rally the Texans (8-6) to victory last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, O'Brien named Savage as his starter over deposed Brock Osweiler for Saturday night in a pivotal game against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1) at NRG Stadium.

For Savage, it will mark his first career start.

"As I said (Sunday), we don't make decisions based on anything other than what's best for the team," O'Brien said, referencing in part the wage gap between Osweiler, who is in the first season of a four-year, $72 million contract, and Savage, a fourth-round pick still on his rookie deal.

"We make decisions on what we think is the best way to help the team, what helps the team win. I think that (Sunday) and this week, I feel like Tom Savage gives us the best chance to win. I'm going to give him a week to prepare as the starter, see what he can do for us on Saturday night against the Bengals.

"I think he's a very consistent practice performer. He takes his reps on the scout team very seriously. He executes very well on the scout team. He gives our defense a really good look; it's helped our defense prepare for their games this year to be where they're ranked. He's worked very hard to know our offense. He's a good practice player. Now he has to continue to be a good player on Sundays or Saturday night."

O'Brien had his hand forced with his team locked in a battle for the AFC South title with the Tennessee Titans (8-6) and Indianapolis Colts (7-7), and with his offense again struggling helmed by the underperforming Osweiler.

Savage saw his first game action in more than two years in leading the Texans back from a 13-0 deficit. His game reps have been so minimal that the Bengals will enter in the difficult position of having to prepare for a relative stranger under center.

"Well, you're going to defend the offense first," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "But ... you don't have a lot of experience with him, seeing him making throws and watching him in the pocket and so forth that way. We're just going to have to be really sound in what we do and do a good job of executing the defense."

Like Osweiler before him, Savage will lean on the league's top-ranked defense to make the job of leading the Texans to victory a tad easier. The Texans were without linebackers Whitney Mercilus and John Simon, and cornerback Johnathan Joseph against the Jaguars, and there is uncertainty on their availability for Saturday night.

If the Texans are to keep pace in their playoff push, it will require a collective effort. All eyes will be on Savage, but the expectation is he'll have plenty of help.

"I think a lot of the credit has to go to the players but I also know that we have a very strong coaching staff as a whole. Then obviously defensively, they do a great job every week of coming up with a good game plan that suites the skill set of the players that are going to be in the game plan for them." O'Brien said.

Following five consecutive postseason appearances, the Bengals are striving to cap the schedule with prideful performances. Their campaign has been one littered with disappointments, from macro failures like being eliminated from the playoffs to the micro issues that contributed to their demise, like losing running back Giovani Bernard to a season-ending knee injury in Week 11 and playing four games without All-Pro receiver A.J. Green, who is set to return from his hamstring injury Saturday.

This wasn't the plan for Cincinnati. Even after losing four of five during one stretch earlier this season, the Bengals remained in the thick of the AFC North title chase. But after their 14-point victory over the winless Cleveland Browns on Oct. 23 pulled them to 3-4, the Bengals endured a harrowing 0-3-1 stretch with a mere minus-11 point differential.

Contrasting what could have been against what is could easily put the Bengals in the collective frame of mind to long for an end to this season instead of putting forth a maximum effort. But even with shattered dreams, they have pledged to fight on.

"For us, we're going to do whatever we can to win these last two," Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. "So we're preparing the same way we always do. We have to come out and play our best."

Updated December 21, 2016

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