How the Texans' two-QB system almost helped them pull off the upset of the year

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans almost pulled off the biggest upset of the season as the 17-point underdogs almost took down the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday on the road.

The Texans (1-11-1) led 23-20 with 3:20 remaining in the fourth quarter before Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott led a 98-yard, game-winning drive capped by a 2-yard Ezekiel Elliott run to seal Dallas' 27-23 win.

The Texans' struggling offense, which came in averaging 15 points, deployed a two-quarterback system as a spark.

And it almost worked.

The Texans walked into AT&T Stadium without their two leading receivers (Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins) and were facing a Cowboys defense allowing 17 points per game, which ranks in the top 3.

Yes, the Texans still had rookie running back Dameon Pierce, who is top 10 in rushing, but to offset the Cowboys (10-3) from zeroing in on him, coach Lovie Smith -- along with offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton -- threw a curveball.

The Texans benched quarterback Davis Mills after a Week 11 loss to the Washington Commanders to get a look at Kyle Allen.

Allen didn't quite deliver in Weeks 12 and 13, so they went back to Mills against the Cowboys.

After the first series, Cowboys return man KaVontae Turpin muffed a punt, and the Texans took over on the Cowboys’ 24-yard line with 9:11 remaining in the quarter, but it wasn't Mills that trotted out for the second series. Instead, it was Jeff Driskel.

But Mills wasn’t benched, and the Texans were just getting started with the two-quarterback approach.

“Where we are, we haven’t gotten a whole lot of production offensively," Smith said. "You look at your roster. Jeff has been there. Really, as we go back and look at it a little bit, he did some good things in the preseason early on. That plan kind of got us out of it a little bit when we couldn’t elevate him [from the practice squad] and some things like that, but he’s always been there."

The Texans’ struggling offense flipped the script and scored their second-most points of the season (23).

The Texans utilized Driskel for read-option plays to confuse the Cowboys’ defense. On his first drive, Pierce scored a rushing touchdown seven plays later.

It was the first time the Texans’ offense scored a touchdown in the first quarter since Week 9 against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 3.

"As you see, the most productive day we’ve had offensively," Smith said. "I know what the points said, but we felt like we could move the ball and mix in a combination of the two.”

From that point on, the Texans swapped Driskel and Mills throughout the game, sometimes mid series as both quarterbacks played 32 snaps.

“That was something that we worked on all week. A nice little package for me in there,” Driskel said. “I was excited to get out there and help the team win, and obviously it was not what we wanted at the end of the game. We’ve just got to execute a few more times and punch the ball in the end zone, but it was good to get back in the game.”

Mills said he was fine with rotating because it kept the Cowboys defense guessing.

“The philosophy is just keep mixing the looks, and when you simplify it, it’s just trying to find ways to get the ball to the playmakers out in space," Mills said. "Jeff did that in zone read in most situations, and it kind of opens a bunch of things up when you keep the defense guessing like that. We were moving the ball all day, so we kept doing it.”

Driskel rushed for 36 yards on seven carries and threw for 38 yards and a touchdown. The score went to wide out Amari Rodgers, his first receiving touchdown of his career.

Mills finished with 175 yards passing and completed 76% of his passes.

The two-quarterback approach didn’t affect the receivers’ production too much as Chris Moore had a season-high 124 yards and Rodgers finished with 57.

“It was seamless,” Moore said after the game. “I feel like we did a good job of practicing and executing.”

Some players admitted they didn’t expect the offense to use two quarterbacks as much as they did.

It was the first time the Texans played two quarterbacks 30-plus snaps since the club played Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet 30-plus snaps on Oct. 4, 2015 in a Week 4 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Going forward, if the Texans want to continue using the two-quarterback system, they have to sign Driskel to the active roster. Driskel has been elevated from the practice squad a maximum three times this season, after doing so in Weeks 1 and 2 also.

But Smith was noncommittal about the two-quarterback system as the Texans prepare to battle the Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

“I thought it was effective yesterday," Smith said Monday. "Two different flavors, that’s always tough for a defense to prepare for. … That's what we did yesterday. No more than that. We'll see exactly what we do that gives us the best chance. We're just transitioning over to the Chiefs right now. So we'll see how that game planning goes.”