Jadeveon Clowney is already showing how dominant he can be in the NFL.
The top overall pick in the draft made big hits behind the line on consecutive plays and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass to DeVier Posey in the Texans’ 32-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night.
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Houston selected Clowney out of South Carolina to form a powerful 1-2 pass-rushing attack with J.J. Watt. Watt sat out Saturday’s game and Clowney seized the defensive spotlight on Atlanta’s second series.
He burst through the line untouched and crashed into Antone Smith almost the second the running back took a handoff from Matt Ryan. On the next snap, Clowney whipped around left tackle Sam Baker and smacked down Ryan for a 7-yard loss.
"It’s work," Clowney said. "You just got to work and get after the guys, go hard and hope for something good. You just have to do your job."
Jonathan Grimes returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and Andre Hal returned an interception 64 yards for another score for the Texans (1-1), who were significantly better than they were in a 32-0 loss to Arizona last week.
Clowney set the tone for the turnaround performance.
"When a guy makes a defensive play that’s a big hit, it really lights up your sideline," Texans coach Bill O’Brien said.
The Falcons (1-1), meanwhile, have plenty to fix and may have taken a huge blow on their offensive line. Baker left on a cart in the second quarter with a right knee injury and Atlanta coach Mike Smith didn’t know the severity after Saturday’s game.
Baker started 16 games in 2012, but played in just four games last season because of a left knee injury that required surgery in November.
Ryan went 3 for 7 in a quarter and a half of work and wide receiver Julio Jones caught two passes in his first live-game action since he broke his right foot in Week 5 last season. The Falcons finished with 248 yards and 19 first downs.
"We just had a few plays here and there that kind of got off schedule, and when you do that against a good defense it’s tough to overcome those mistakes," Ryan said. "We had opportunities to make plays, we just didn’t make them."
Fitzpatrick completed 9 of 12 passes for the Texans, guiding the offense much more smoothly than he did against the Cardinals. O’Brien said Fitzpatrick’s performance carried over from a strong week at practice.
"He’s getting more and more comfortable with the system and he went out there and played a good game for our team," O’Brien said.
He went 3 for 5 and had a 10-yard scramble on Houston’s initial scoring drive and rookie Alfred Blue, a sixth-round pick from LSU, finished it with runs of 10, 3 and 1 yard to put the Texans in front.
Sean Renfree replaced Ryan with 6:20 left in the first half and led the Falcons on an 11-play, 66-yard touchdown drive. Renfree, competing with T.J. Yates for the backup job behind Ryan, found Devin Hester on a 12-yard pass with 1:32 left for the tying score.
Rookie Tom Savage played one series before Fitzpatrick returned to lead the Texans in the final 90 seconds before halftime. Fitzpatrick had a 15-yard scramble and then connected with Keshawn Martin for a 31-yard gain to the Falcons 15.
A Falcons’ penalty moved the ball to the Atlanta 8, and Fitzpatrick avoided the rush to his right before finding Posey in the back of the end zone with 19 seconds left.
Case Keenum, competing with Savage for the backup role behind Fitzpatrick, started the second half for the Texans and guided a drive to the Atlanta 22 before Kemal Ishmael intercepted him near the goal line.
Houston’s special teams and defense took over from there.
Anthony Denham blocked Matt Bosher’s punt from the end zone, and Grimes scooped up the loose ball and ran 17 yards for a score.
Yates played the fourth quarter under constant pressure, and tried a futile tackle attempt on Hal’s return. Matt Bullough also intercepted Yates, setting up a 33-yard field goal by Chris Boswell.
Notes: Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Brian Cushing were among the inactive players for Houston. … Second-round draft pick Xavier Su’a-Filo started at right guard for the Texans. Su’a-Filo has also been practicing at left tackle and working on center-quarterback exchanges in practice. … Justin Tuggle started for Cushing and made two tackles against his father’s old team. Jessie Tuggle, a three-time All-Pro, played for the Falcons from 1987-2000.