HOUSTON – One week following a disastrous game in Arizona, the Houston Texans showcased their potential in a 32-7 preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons.
The biggest highlight came during the Texans’ second defensive stand in the first quarter when No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney came up with two huge hits on back-to-back plays.
The first was on a second-down play for the Falcons, when Clowney flew past the offensive line to take down Atlanta running back Antone Smith, with one arm, for a two-yard loss.
The next play, the rookie ran down quarterback Matt Ryan for his first NFL sack of the preseason, good for a loss of seven yards, forcing the Falcons to punt the ball on fourth down.
"It means a lot," Clowney said when asked about getting his first sack. "Trying to help the team out, you know, do my part and rush the quarterback and make plays for the team."
Both of Clowney’s plays brought the home crowd to life at NRG Stadium with a loud standing ovation for the newest Texan. He only played in two defensive series during the game, but made the most of his time on the field. Head coach Bill O’Brien said Clowney set the tone for rest of the game for everyone else on the field.
"I think any time a player makes two plays like that, no matter who the player is, whether it’s Clowney or (J.J.) Watt or (Brooks) Reed… whoever it is defensively that helps the sideline," O’Brien said. "I can remember in other places I’ve been when a guy makes a defensive play that’s a big hit, it really lights up your sideline. So it’s great for the defense, its great for our team and I thought it helped our whole sideline."
While it was only a preseason game that doesn’t count in the standings, Clowney believes that the win can help the team get on the right track after a 2-14 season last year.
"When we’re winning, we’re having a lot of fun," Clowney said. "We won tonight and we had a lot of fun out there tonight. We still have a lot of corrections we have to make to keep getting better."
To make Clowney’s plays even more impressive, defensive end J.J. Watt did not play in the game, despite being dressed in full pads on the sideline, leaving the spotlight on the rookie to make plays. Even though the Texans defense didn’t have all of the pieces on the field, Clowney had the same goal entering the preseason game Saturday night.
"We have the same mindset going into every game – try to win the game," Clowney said. "This game was a lot better for us."
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick also stood out in the game for the Texans completing 9 of 12 passes for 97 yards, throwing one touchdown to DeVier Posey in a two-minute drill to end the first half.
"[Fitzpatrick] had a good week at practice. He’s getting more and more comfortable with the system and I thought he went out there and played a good football game for the team," O’Brien said. "He got us into the right plays, he check the ball down, he had a good two-minute drive, so it was a good step in the right direction."
Fitzpatrick also showed he isn’t afraid to scramble if the situation calls for it after running for 25 yards on two attempts, both of which resulted in first downs for the Texans. He also escaped pressure from the Falcons to buy some time to throw his touchdown on the run to Posey at the end of the half.
"The running skills, something I don’t like to rely on, but they do just come out every now and again," Fitzpatrick said.
Running back Alfred Blue, who was taken in the sixth round of the draft, also had a good night for Houston scoring a touchdown in the first quarter. The first Texans points of the preseason after being shutout in Arizona the previous week. With Arian Foster sitting out the game, Jonathan Grimes helped display the team’s depth at running back gaining 42 yards on the ground.
"Those guys ran the ball hard and did some decent things in protection in the passing game," O’Brien said. "Overall I think it’s a good position for us. They need to keep improving just like every other position. Hopefully that position stays healthy."
Despite returning to practice last week, receiver Andre Johnson and linebacker Brian Cushing sat out of the game along with Foster. The Texans will face the Broncos Saturday, August 23 in Denver for the team’s third preseason game.