HOUSTON -- It was clear from the start of the Texans’ loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday that it wasn’t going to be Houston's day. As Broncos quarterback Drew Lock shredded the Texans’ defense, Houston’s offense had no early answer, a trend that has become all too familiar this season.
Through Week 14, Houston has scored 30 first-quarter points, which is the second fewest in the NFL, ahead of only the Washington Redskins (23), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Texans have been outscored 65-30 in first quarters.
The Texans were 8-4 entering Sunday despite the slow starts and overcame first-quarter holes in earlier victories over the Chargers and Chiefs, but they couldn't do it against a third AFC West opponent on Sunday, and it cost them sole possession of first place in the AFC South. After one quarter on Sunday, the Texans trailed 14-0 and never came close to overcoming the deficit.
After the Texans beat the New England Patriots in Week 13, coach Bill O’Brien cautioned that Houston needed “to start games better,” saying, “We’ve got a lot of improvement to do.” There was no sign of improvement against Denver.
On Sunday afternoon, O’Brien called his team’s loss to the Broncos “an avalanche that we couldn’t stop.”
Houston was down 14-0 after the first quarter, and when the first 15 minutes were over, Denver was already driving down the field for its third touchdown of the game.
“If you come into a game and you get down 14-0 and then you can't stop them, you can't get things going on offense, you're driving the ball but something bogs you down and you can't score, you're going to be in for a long day, and that's what happened,” O’Brien said. “I thought our guys came out the second half and tried to fight, but we gave up too many points in the first half.”
The Texans’ secondary was healthy, but Lock beat them convincingly. In the first half alone, Lock completed 16 of 19 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns.
“We started slow and never picked up,” cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. “We just never got things going the way we needed to.”
The game felt so “lopsided” early on, O’Brien said, that he decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 on the Houston 34-yard line with two minutes to go in the first half. O’Brien said he believed he had a good play that had worked in the past, but Deshaun Watson’s pass was deflected at the line and fell short, letting Denver take over. Six plays later, the Broncos scored again on Lock’s third touchdown pass of the game to take a 31-3 lead into halftime.
Coming off a big win over the Patriots, which felt like a breakthrough, the loss to Denver felt like a real step back. In all but one of O’Brien’s six seasons as the Texans’ head coach, his teams have been in division-title contention, and they’ve won the division in three of the past four years. But that success has led to just one playoff win.
O'Brien's teams have outscored their opponents in the first quarter in four of his first five seasons, including 87-74 in 2018 and 67-57 in 2017, when the Texans were a 4-12 team. For a deep run in the playoffs, the current trend needs to reverse.