HOUSTON -- When the Houston Texans drafted Davis Mills in the third round last April, many people in the organization thought that if the Texans were not playoff contenders, that they would need to see what they have in their top draft pick.
Now the Texans are going to get their chance.
It’s coming sooner than Houston (1-1) hoped, as Mills will get the start against the Carolina Panthers (2-0) on Thursday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network) after quarterback Tyrod Taylor injured his left hamstring in the Texans' 31-21 Week 2 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
On Tuesday, the Texans put Taylor on injured reserve, meaning he'll miss at least the next three games. Mills is expected to be under center for that stretch with Jeff Driskel as Houston's backup.
When coach David Culley made the announcement Tuesday, he said he felt confident in the rookie quarterback because of the maturity he showed during the preseason in the “tough moments” where he didn’t crack under pressure.
The problem, though, is that Mills didn’t necessarily thrive either.
In five series Sunday against Cleveland, Mills completed 8 of 18 passes for 102 yards with a touchdown and an interception. During the preseason, he was inconsistent -- completing 48% of his passes and throwing four interceptions in 65 attempts.
“We know he’s always one of those guys that when a bad thing happens, he comes back, he makes a play,” Culley said. “He had the interception there and came back the next series and ended up just playing exactly like we thought he would play. It never bothered him at all. And basically, that’s what we expect from him, to be able to play that way when the adversity comes.”
Mills, who started 11 games in three seasons at Stanford, had a rocky start to his NFL debut, failing to get a first down on his first two drives, turning the wrong way on a handoff and throwing an interception, something Taylor had not done in his first six quarters.
After that, Mills settled in, taking the Texans down the field and throwing his first NFL touchdown to wide receiver Brandin Cooks to pull Houston within three.
After the game, Culley said he was confident in Mills because part of the reason the Texans were even in a position to win the football game “was because of him.” The Texans and Browns were tied at 14 to start the second half when Mills came into the game, and the quarterback led the team on one scoring drive.
Culley also said he thought a whole practice of first-team reps would help build Mills' comfort level going forward.
“I think he did a great job,” Cooks said. “Obviously, when you get put in a situation like that, one of the things you want to show is toughness. You know he took a couple to the face and bounced right back up, and when you see that from a rookie, you got a lot of respect for him.”
And while his coaches and teammates have praised him for the way he has command of the offense, it will be a tough task for the third-round pick making his first NFL start on a short week to come in and beat the Panthers -- who boast the top defense in yards allowed per game (190) and points allowed per game (10.5).
Carolina, which is facing a rookie quarterback for the second time in three weeks, has a league-leading 10 sacks as well -- with six of them coming against New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson in the opener.
Through two weeks, three rookie quarterbacks -- Wilson, Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Justin Fields (Chicago Bears) -- have struggled at times. New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has had the most success, but he’s been more of a game manager than playmaker with just one passing touchdown heading into Week 3.
And those are all first-round draft picks.
After Sunday's loss, Mills said “nothing really changed game plan-wise” when the team made the switch to him. The Texans are hopeful that translates to playing as well as Taylor did through the first six quarters of the season.
“You’ve got to get your feet wet, and you’ve got to get used to it,” running back Phillip Lindsay said. “And Davis wasn’t the one taking all the reps at the beginning of (last) week, so I’m excited to see what he does as time goes on. He’ll get better as time goes on. That’s how it goes when you have a young quarterback.”