Texans two-step around COVID roster shuffle for a win

Burkhead AP Images.jpeg
Posted at 6:50 PM, Dec 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-26 19:50:47-05

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans had so many players on the COVID-19 list this week — 16 — that it was tough to keep up with who was on the field Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.

“I’m still trying to remember everybody’s name,” safety Justin Reid said.

It seemed not to matter, as Houston (4-11) rolled over Los Angeles 41-29 to win consecutive games for the first time in this disappointing season.

“This was one of my favorite wins to be a part of with how many guys stepped up,” said Reid, who is in his fourth NFL season. “We had every excuse in the book with COVID, with the holidays, with the way the season was going and we still came in and got a big-time win.”

Playing without top receiver Brandin Cooks and with a makeshift offensive line missing three starters, Houston’s Rex Burkhead ran for a career-high 149 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’ve been working our tails off in the run game trying to improve in that area,” Burkhead said. “The guys took that as a challenge. We knew as long as we executed, we could have a day like we had today.”

It was the second 100-yard game of Burkhead’s career and first since he ran for 119 yards in the last game of the 2016 season as a Cincinnati Bengal.

Coach David Culley was impressed with the players who filled in for the missing starters.

“Those guys came in and they showed that they were ready to do what we needed to get done,” he said. “This team is so resilient. They’ve never really worried about what happens on the outside, all we’ve tried to do is just get better.”

The Texans, who entered the game ranked last in the NFL in yards rushing, ran for a season-high 189 yards.

“When we’re able to do that, it makes things much better for us offensively and we’re able to control the ball,” Culley said. “We knew going into this game we had to control the ball against this football team because you give the ball back to this team so much, they are very explosive.”

Rookie Davis Mills threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns to get his second NFL win after starting his career 0-7.

Without Cooks, who leads the team with 945 receiving yards, Mills completed passes to seven different players. He connected with Chris Conley on a 41-yard touchdown pass just before halftime, and rookies Brevin Jordan and Nico Collins combined for 89 yards receiving and a score.

The defense also did its part, forcing three turnovers to beat a Los Angeles team that’s still in playoff contention.

Jonathan Owens, who spent most of the season on the practice squad and started Sunday because of COVID-19 absences, got his first career interception in the second quarter and recovered a fumble in the fourth.

Justin Jackson scored on a 9-yard run and Justin Herbert connected with Jared Cook on the 2-point conversion to get the Chargers (8-7) within 27-23 with about six minutes left.

But Mills hit Collins for a 13-yard touchdown with less than three minutes left to extend Houston’s lead to 34-23. Tavierre Thomas effectively ended it when he intercepted Herbert and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown with just under two minutes to go.

Dominik Eberle, who was signed this week with Ka’imi Fairbairn on the COVID-19 list, made his first NFL field goal on the first attempt of his career — a 51-yarder that cut LA’s lead to 12-10 in the second quarter. He finished 2 for 3 on field-goal attempts.