HOUSTON -- After both Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson struggled in the Houston Texans' 29-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, head coach Bill O'Brien has a choice to make going into the team's Thursday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals: Go with the struggling Savage or live with the ups and downs that come from playing a rookie quarterback in Watson?
After the loss, O'Brien said he had not made a decision on Thursday's starter, saying he will "think about it a long time tonight and try to continue to work on Cincinnati" to "see what the best approach is versus them."
The offense had a terrible first half with Savage under center and an offensive line -- that is without Duane Brown as he continues to hold out -- that did not give him time to throw. The Texans allowed 10 sacks, including six in the first half, twice resulting in fumbles.
The offensive line did improve in the second half with Greg Mancz in the game, and Watson was able to use his mobility to escape some of the pressure that Savage could not early on.
Savage was O’Brien's starter all offseason, but when he could not move the offense down the field -- he finished 7-of-13 for 62 yards and no touchdowns -- he was on a short leash.
"I thought that Tom really hung in there and played very tough," O'Brien said. "We had a hard time protecting him, so I just made the decision to go with Deshaun."
Watson replaced Savage to start the second half and immediately led the Texans down the field -- with help from a few Jaguars penalties -- for his first NFL touchdown: a 4-yard pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Watson was 12-of-23 for 102 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He averaged 4.4 yards per attempt, which was less efficient than Savage's 4.8.
"[Watson] did some good things [in] his first NFL start," Hopkins said. "Him and I have some things we need to work on to improve, but I think we did some good things out there."
Hopkins finished with seven catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. All but his first catch for 7 yards came from Watson.
The Texans put their faith in Savage this offseason, even after drafting Watson, but O'Brien noted at the end of training camp that Watson is coming along well, and he was impressed by how much he had improved in such a short time.
Regardless, the Texans travel to Cincinnati on a short week and play the Bengals on Thursday night, and hope their offense can show improvement, regardless of who is under center.
"It's going to be tough. We have a lot of work to do. It'll be a long night tonight," O'Brien said. "We have a good team, obviously Cincinnati, a very, very good team, so we have to find a way. We have no choice. Have to stick together. Have to find a way to get better and get better quick."