Texans have best rushing game of season in win over Chargers
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans had their best rushing game of the year to overcome 16 absences because of COVID-19 and upset the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday to win consecutive games for the first time this season.
Rex Burkhead ran for a career-high 149 yards and two touchdowns playing behind a makeshift offensive line missing three starters to lead Houston to the 41-29 victory. His big day helped the Texans (4-11) pile up a season-high 189 yards rushing.
"He's been Mr. Consistent for us," coach David Culley said. "He's a guy that's going to get north and south. He just knows how to play the game."
Houston had struggled to run the ball all season and entered Sunday's game ranked last in the NFL in yards rushing by managing a paltry 77.5 yards a game.
Burkhead's game was the first 100-yard performance by a Texan this season. And his work helped them break 100 yards rushing as a team for just the third time this year and first since Oct. 17 when Mark Ingram, who has since been traded to New Orleans, had 73 yards rushing and Phillip Lindsay added 39.
Burkhead had a season-high 22 carries against the Chargers on a day where David Johnson sat out with a quadriceps injury. It was just the second 100-yard game of his nine-year career and first since the last game of the 2016 season with the Bengals.
The veteran was asked about his running style.
"You can't just be one dimensional or guys are going to key on you," he said. "I try to mix it up. My dad was a running back growing up. He always preached to me about being versatile. And not always just hitting the hole fast, you've got to be patient at times."
While Burkhead's performance stole the show Sunday, rookie Davis Mills and Houston's passing game also had a great day against the Chargers.
Mills, a third-round pick from Stanford, was 21 of 27 for 254 yards and two touchdowns to win his second game after opening his NFL career at 0-7.
"He's a very mature guy," Culley said. "And he's getting better and better the more he plays. He understands what his job is."
Mills directed an offense that set a season high in points despite playing without leading receiver Brandin Cooks, who missed the game on the COVID-19 list. With Cooks out, Mills completed passes to seven different players and the Texans had three receivers with at least 50 yards.
"A lot of guys stepped up this week ... when their numbers were called (and) were in the right spots and were winning on their routes," Mills said. "When you can spread the ball around on offense like that, it makes it easier for everybody."
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Texans forced three turnovers Sunday to help slow down the Chargers, but Houston's defense will need to improve after allowing 417 yards.
Houston ranks 30th in the NFL by allowing 380.9 yards a game and Justin Herbert's 336 yards passing are the most the team has allowed this season.
The good news for the Texans is that several defensive starters who missed Sunday's game could return this week, including linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who leads the team with 94 tackles, and defensive end Jonathan Greenard, who has a team-leading eight sacks.
Defensive back Jonathan Owens, who spent most of the season on the practice squad, got his first career interception when he picked off Herbert at the goal line in the second quarter. He added the first fumble recovery of his career in the fourth quarter when he pounced on a fumble by Justin Jackson.
Owens' girlfriend, Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles, attended Sunday's game and was seen on the in-stadium video board clapping and cheering after the interception.
TE Pharaoh Brown continues to pile up penalties each week. The third-year player had two false start penalties Sunday to give him nine penalties this season in limited playing time.
Culley hopes that many of the players on the COVID-19 list will be able to return this week and said he'd have more details on who could be back on Wednesday. But later Monday the Texans placed Johnson and LB Neville Hewitt on the list. ... WR Phillip Dorsett injured an ankle Sunday and could miss next week's game.
2,000 - The performance by Mills on Sunday gave him 2,200 yards passing this season to make him the second rookie quarterback in franchise history to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark, and the first since David Carr had 2,592 yards in the team's inaugural season in 2002.
After dealing a blow to the playoff hopes of the Chargers, the Texans will face another team fighting for a postseason spot when they visit the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
The 49ers are allowing the fourth-fewest yards in the NFL and are coming off a close loss to Tennessee.
After finally winning consecutive games, the Texans are focused on blocking out any outside negativity and continuing the streak this week.
"This football team is only concerned with what's happening in the locker room," Culley said. "We know there's a lot of noise outside of this locker room. We've tried all year long to stay away from that noise ... (and) we're going to go play it to try to win three in a row."
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Updated December 27, 2021