Texans’ Watson celebrates birthday with win over Bengals
CINCINNATI — Deshaun Watson was steady, and for one moment spectacular, during his first career start Thursday night.
Watson, who turned 22 on Thursday, passed for 125 yards and had an electrifying 49-yard touchdown run, lifting the Houston Texans to a 13-9 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Two plays after taking a big hit from Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins on a sack, Watson scrambled on third-and-15, broke two tackles, then raced into the end zone for the game’s only touchdown.
“That’s one of those things you’ve seen throughout his career at Clemson, and what we’ve seen in the preseason here,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “He just has that ability. Overall, he did a nice job and was smart with the ball.”
Most important for the Texans, Watson played mostly mistake-free football Thursday, completing 15 of 24 passes despite being sacked three times. He led the Texans on a key 66-yard drive late in the fourth quarter for a field goal.
“It was a great opportunity for myself to show what I’ve got, what I can do for this team,” Watson said. “To be able to get to the top where I want to be, that’s going to take time. One step at a time to try and build my confidence.”
Watson earned the start after passing for 102 yards with a touchdown and an interception after taking over for Tom Savage in the second half of last week’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. On Thursday, Watson looked as if he belonged.
“I just try and make decisions in the best interests of the team,” O’Brien said.
DeAndre Hopkins was targeted 13 times and had seven catches for 73 yards for the Texans (1-1).
“It’s what this team needed,” Hopkins said. “We put last week behind us. We know the team we have, and it feels good to get a win.”
The Texans relied heavily on their rushing attack, which gained 168 yards, including Watson’s 67. Lamar Miller had 61 yards on 18 carries.
Meanwhile, the offensive struggles continued for Cincinnati, which has not scored a touchdown in eight quarters to begin this season. It is the 15th time the Bengals have started 0-2. They have never reached the playoffs after an 0-2 start.
“I am shocked,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said when asked about the paltry offense. “We should be better. We have an opportunity to look at it and get better, and we will get better.”
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton was coming off one of the worst performances of his career in last week’s 20-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, when he threw four interceptions. He wasn’t intercepted Thursday night, but he was off-target for much of the game, going 20 of 35 for 224 yards.
Lewis deflected the notion that Dalton’s job was in jeopardy in favor of backup AJ McCarron, who has only three career starts.
“No, I’m not worried about Andy,” Lewis said. “We have to do things better around him.”
The teams traded field goals in the second half, and Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 42-yarder with 2:01 left in the game gave Houston a 13-9 lead. Cincinnati’s last drive ended when Dalton threw incomplete on fourth-and-9 from his own 44.
There were a combined nine punts in the first half.
The first touch of Cincinnati wide receiver John Ross’ NFL career was a 12-yard gain on an end-around, but he fumbled, and Jadeveon Clowney returned it 48 yards to the Bengals 20-yard line.
That led to a 26-yard field goal by Fairbairn to put Houston ahead 3-0.
After 15 scoreless possessions to begin the season, the Bengals finally got on the scoreboard with a 39-yard field goal by Randy Bullock, set up by A.J. Green’s 50-yard catch.
“It’s difficult to win many games when we don’t score touchdowns,” Lewis said.
After Watson’s touchdown run put the Texans ahead 10-3, Cincinnati drove 64 yards in 48 seconds just before halftime but settled for a 29-yard Bullock field goal, making the score 10-6.
“We had a plan going into the game, and the defense executed,” Texans defensive end Christian Covington said. “When you hold an offense to just field-goal attempts, that’s something we can build on.”
NOTES: Houston CB Johnathan Joseph was ruled out for the second half due to a right shoulder injury. Joseph was injured with 24 seconds left in the first half when he collided with Bengals TE Tyler Eifert. ... Texans LB Brian Cushing was suspended 10 games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, the league announced Wednesday. It was Cushing’s second career suspension for drug use. Zach Cunningham started in his place. ... Cincinnati signed G J.J. Dielman to the practice squad. The fifth-round draft choice was waived Sept. 2. ... Bengals SS Shawn Williams (elbow) was active for first time this season. ... Cincinnati WR Tyler Boyd was inactive because of a hamstring issue.