HOUSTON — To an extent, both Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage were under scrutiny entering Sunday, with their performances viewed by many as referendums on their viability as starters. That one performed exponentially better than the other proved a stunning turn.
While Bortles avoided the critical mistakes that undermined his first three seasons in the NFL, Savage was ravaged throughout the first half and benched at the intermission as the Jaguars rolled to a 29-7 win over the Texans at NRG Stadium.
Bortles completed 11 of 21 attempts for 125 yards and a touchdown. Of greater significance was the fact that he did not produce a turnover while stewarding an offense that generated 155 rushing yards, 100 on 26 carries from rookie running back Leonard Fournette, and did not allow a sack.
Savage was bludgeoned before being benched, sacked six times while leading an offense that amassed 52 yards on 28 plays in the first half. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien was staunch in his support of Savage throughout training camp, even after the Texans surrendered assets to maneuver and draft Deshaun Watson in the first round this offseason. With the Texans (0-1) facing a short week of preparation before playing at Cincinnati on Thursday, O’Brien offered no clues on which direction he would take regarding who starts against the Bengals.
“The decision to go with Deshaun had more to do with could we find a spark, could we find somebody that maybe could make a play, that could escape the pocket,” O’Brien said. “I thought that Tom hung in there and played very tough. But we had a hard time protecting him so I made the decision to go with Deshaun.”
Watson finished 12 of 23 for 102 yards with a touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins plus an interception. He rushed for 16 yards and was sacked four times.
—The Texans appear content to allow All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown to extend his holdout deeper into the season, but Sunday offered a frightful glimpse of life without him. The Texans surrendered 10 sacks of Savage and Watson, with the left side of their line serving as little more than a turnstile. Both left tackle Kendall Lamm and left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo struggled and were replaced at one point on Sunday, but their backups aren’t exactly world-beaters. Brown doesn’t have leverage, but the results on Sunday crystalized the Texans’ need for his services.
—After finishing an impressive sixth in total defense in 2016, the Jaguars (1-0) bolstered that burgeoning unit with the offseason additions of end Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J Bouye. Both excelled on Sunday with Campbell, who spent nine seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, recording six tackles, five quarterback hits and four sacks. After playing his first four seasons with the Texans, Bouye enjoyed a rousing homecoming, posting six tackles and one pass deflection. The Jaguars allowed 203 yards on 69 plays, a paltry average of 2.9 per snap.
“I think it shows the young guys that we can do really good if we do it the right way and believe a little bit,” Campbell said. “Sometimes it takes a couple of big wins for you to really believe. But this is just one win, and it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t go out there and play next week.”
—The Texans paced the NFL in total defense last season despite three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt missing most of the year following two back surgeries. With Watt back in the fold, teaming with linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, the Texans expected an even more dominating unit. Instead, Watt and Clowney combined for just two tackles and one hit on Bortles. Their lack of influence was jarring to behold.
“Terrible,” Watt said of his individual play. “There’s only one way to go from here and that’s up. Can’t play much worse so very excited that it’s a Thursday night game coming up and we get a chance to go out there and play football again very soon because you don’t like to let a taste like this sit in your mouth too long.”
—Fournette enjoyed a lively debut, pummeling a couple would-be tacklers while providing the Jaguars the offensive balance they sought to alleviate pressure on the turnover-prone Bortles.
“From Chris (Ivory), Tommy (Bohanon), Corey (Grant), TJ (Yeldon), I’m still learning,” Fournette said. “I’m not perfect. I’m learning each and every day by going on the field with those guys and trying to stay ahead of the game.” Yeldon was inactive Sunday.
NOTES: Jaguars rookie WR Dede Westbrook (core muscle) was placed on injured reserve on Friday and is eligible to be designated to return after eight weeks. A fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma, Westbrook led all receivers with 288 yards in the preseason. ... Houston lost LB Brian Cushing, WR Bruce Ellington, and TEs C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin to concussions. Set to play in Cincinnati on Thursday, the Texans could be down to Stephen Anderson as their lone tight end. ... Jaguars WR Allen Robinson was lost to a left knee injury on the third play from scrimmage and did not return. He made a 17-yard catch for the Jaguars’ initial first down, but did not make it to the sideline after collapsing on the field. His status wasn’t updated following the game.