HOUSTON (AP) — Houston stars Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt both had big games on Sunday to help the Texans to a come-from-behind win over the Chargers to give them a 2-1 start for the first time since 2016.
The strong start is a stark contrast to last season when the Texans lost their first three games before using a nine-game winning streak to dig out of the early hole and go on to win the AFC South for the fourth time in five years.
"It's decent to be at that record at this point," coach Bill O'Brien said. "All three of these games have come down to the last minute of the game and I think that shows that our team is learning, especially over the last two weeks, to play 60 minutes, that it takes 60 minutes."
Watson had an early fumble that led to the first touchdown for the Chargers and Houston trailed by 10 at halftime before he threw two touchdowns in the second half to help the Texans to the 27-20 victory. He completed 25 of 34 passes for a season-high 351 yards for his eighth career game with at least 300 yards passing.
Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, had his best game of the season and got his first two sacks of the year in a game where Houston had a season-best five sacks. Watt also had two tackles for losses, five quarterback hits and has a franchise-record 94 sacks since he was drafted in 2011, which is the second-most in the NFL in that span.
O'Brien said that Watt's presence helps other players on the defense thrive.
"Obviously J.J. attracts a lot of attention and that's really good for the other guys because they're left one on one," O'Brien said. "When the offense says: 'Well we've got to take care of these guys,' then that leaves J.J. one on one and then he takes advantage of that opportunity almost all the time."
Aside from Watson's early mistake, Houston's passing game was dynamic on Sunday. Watson distributed the ball well, completing passes to six players and often used his athleticism to avoid the rush and extend plays. The offensive line had its best game of the season, giving up just two sacks as new left tackle Laremy Tunsil starts to settle in and stabilize the beleaguered unit after a trade from Miami on Aug. 31.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Houston's running game was great through the first two games of the season and averaged 153 yards behind the strong performances of new acquisitions Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. But the Texans couldn't do much of anything on the ground against the Chargers, finishing with just 39 yards rushing.
Watson had 18 of those yards, with 15 coming on one run. Hyde scored a touchdown, but averaged just 1.9 yards a carry on 10 runs and Johnson gained only 2 yards on two carries, and the Texans will need them to play better this week to get the running game back on track.
Tight end Jordan Akins, a third-round pick in 2018, had the best game of his young career on Sunday. Akins got the first scores of his NFL career by grabbing two touchdown receptions in the second half to give Houston the lead. His three receptions and 73 yards were both career highs.
"Jordan is a very mature guy who works very hard to get better," O'Brien said. "He's done a really good job for us in our blocking schemes ... and he's become a better route-runner every week. Deshaun has a lot of confidence in him."
Hyde's struggles on Sunday came after he started the season strong by running for 173 yards through the first two games filling in for Lamar Miller, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
The Texans didn't have any major injuries in Sunday's game, but O'Brien said a few players are "banged up" while refusing to provide any details.
51 — Watson has 51 touchdown passes in the first 26 games of his career. That is the fourth most in NFL history behind Dan Marino (64), Patrick Mahomes (60) and Kurt Warner (59).
Houston's offense should continue to get better as Tunsil becomes more comfortable with his teammates on the line. The unit should also get a boost as receiver Kenny Stills, who came in the trade with Tunsil, becomes more involved as he gets more familiar with the playbook. The play of Houston's defensive front will be important this week as the Texans look to rattle Carolina's Kyle Allen, who will make his second straight NFL start with Cam Newton out with a foot injury.