HOUSTON -- As Houston Texans coach David Culley watched Davis Mills throw a touchdown to wide receiver Chris Moore in Sunday’s 25-22 loss to the New England Patriots, he could tell the rookie quarterback had moved on from his four-interception game the week before.
Mills was out of the pocket and found Moore on the sideline in one-on-one coverage. Even though Moore -- who was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster the day before the game -- was covered, Mills gave the receiver a chance to make a play. The throw had a completion probability of 39.7%, the lowest mark of any Texans passing touchdown this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
“If there are any hesitations at all with him, he wouldn’t have made that throw because he would have been thinking about an interception,” Culley said.
Mills not only had his best game, but he also put up rare numbers against the Bill Belichick-led Patriots. On Sunday, Mills completed 21 of 29 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns, joining Russell Wilson as the only quarterbacks to throw for three touchdowns against the Patriots as a rookie in the Bill Belichick era.
The question is, of course, whether Mills can sustain the success he had Sunday. Against the Patriots, Mills completed 12 of 13 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns on third and fourth downs, becoming just the second rookie quarterback since 2000 to post a perfect 158.3 passer rating on third and fourth downs, with a minimum of 10 attempts.
Mills said he thought “staying ahead of the sticks” helped him be so efficient because the offense was able to stay away from those third-and-long situations “where the defense knows you’re going to throw.” Against the Bills, the Texans often found themselves in those situations, especially because of penalties.
Through three and a half games, Mills has the NFL's second-worst ratio of interceptions to attempts (5.2%). However, the four teams Mills has played this season are in the top five of yards allowed per game, and two of his starts -- against the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills -- are ranked first and second in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA.
“That guy’s a tough guy, man,” tight end Antony Auclair said. “That loss in Buffalo was a tough loss. He always stayed calm, and I think you don’t see that from a regular guy. Coming off that bad loss and then coming out firing in that first quarter. I think he played great.
“If you look around in the NFL with all those first-rounder quarterbacks that are starting right now, they don’t have that many wins. I think Davis is doing a great job right now for us, and he’s only getting better. I think the communication amongst the offense got better last week, and that’s part of it. And also, confidence-wise, Davis, I thought he was very confident in that game. He played well.”
Still, despite the improvement, Culley said he needs to see more consistency from Mills. Although Mills did throw three touchdowns against the Patriots, Culley pointed to a second-quarter play that he said made a big difference in the game.
On the Texans’ final drive of the second quarter, Mills took two sacks in three plays that led to Houston attempting a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown that would have put the Texans up 13.
“Just to get us in the end zone when we need to get in that end zone more,” Culley said of what Mills needs to do to take the next step. “[We] got a chance to really put the game in a situation where we’re really in control and had the momentum. … That should’ve been seven points for us, which will end up putting the game in a whole, big different light for everybody, for how they play us and how we play. And again, it goes with the inconsistency in what we’re doing, and that can’t happen.”
Now, Mills will start his fourth game for the Texans (1-4), against the 1-4 Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. ET, CBS), as Culley said starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor is still “not ready,” as he recovers from the left hamstring injury he sustained in Week 2. Culley said in his conversations with Mills, he’s told him to “continue to do the things that he did this past week,” especially the way he protected the ball.
“[He needs to] continue to, obviously, be able to make good decisions, which he did,” Culley said. “He was put in a couple of tough positions in this ballgame, and he came out of it making good decisions where previously he didn’t make those decisions.
“Basically, the more he plays, the more he gets more comfortable with that. He’s seeing things now a little bit better because he is playing. Just want him to continue to do that. I thought [offensive coordinator] Tim [Kelly] and [quarterbacks coach] Pep [Hamilton] have done a great job with bringing him along and doing the things in our offense that he’s comfortable with. We just want to be able to continue that.”