Nov 26, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (15) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Texans will not use franchise tag on Will Fuller

The Houston Texans will not place a franchise tag on wide receiver Will Fuller, likely prompting his departure via free agency, according to a report Thursday from the Houston Chronicle.

The 26-year-old Fuller had career highs with 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns in only 11 games in 2020. But his breakout season came to a sudden stop when the NFL suspended him for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Fuller’s suspension will carry over into Week 1 of the 2021 season.

The likely departure of Fuller marks the latest change in a busy offseason for the Texans, who already cut ties with star defensive end J.J. Watt. Star quarterback Deshaun Watson reportedly also has requested a trade.

Houston drafted Fuller in the first round (No. 21 overall) out of Notre Dame in 2016. He has 209 career receptions for 3,110 yards and 24 touchdowns in 53 career games (52 starts).

–Field Level Media

Dec 20, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs for a first down during the second half against the Detroit Lions at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Titans seeking to remain on playoff path against Texans

There were moments this season when Tennessee played with such force and vigor that a playoff berth seemed all but assured, something akin to a foregone conclusion given their offensive weapons.

But with five teams vying for four AFC playoff spots all sporting the same record, there are no guarantees for the Titans (10-5) on Sunday when they face the host Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.

“I think your approach is that you just have to do things that help you win,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of the pending sense of urgency. “You have to play complementary. You’ve got to take care of the football. You’ve got to try to get some turnovers, be sound in the kicking game. Not trying to do too much but go out and make plays and make plays to win the football game.”

The Titans rank third in the NFL in points (450) and fifth in yards (5,851) behind the imposing collective of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Derrick Henry and receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis.

Tannehill ranks fourth in passer rating (106.7) and seventh in touchdowns (32) while Henry is threatening to claim a second consecutive triple crown for running backs by pacing the league in attempts (344) and yards (1,777) while sitting one touchdown shy of co-leaders Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara (with 16 apiece).

Brown and Davis both have 60 receptions for 900-plus yards while Davis is tied for sixth in the league with 10 receiving touchdowns.

Yet Tennessee has been undone by its defense, which ranks 29th in yards allowed, and is now in need of relying on past playoff experience to navigate the potential landmines in Houston. In theory, the run to the AFC Championship Game last season should serve the Titans well on Sunday, but in a season where guarantees have been few and far between, nothing is certain.

“I don’t know that,” Vrabel said. “We’ve got to focus on the Texans and the challenges that they present and our ability to prepare. I think you try to take from the games that you’ve played and past experiences and try not to think that it’s going to guarantee success because it doesn’t. Each week and each play doesn’t mean anything about the next one. It’s just about finding a way to get there.”

The Texans (4-11) are aiming to get Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson through the season finale. Watson has taken his lumps in recent weeks yet has remained a dynamic force. But the blow he took to his throwing arm in the fourth quarter last Sunday against the Bengals was worrisome enough to lead some to suggest that Watson should sit and call it a season Sunday.

Watson has made it clear, however, that if he is healthy he will play. And by all accounts, he will.

“As far as I know, he’s doing pretty good,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said. “I haven’t heard that he’s not doing well, and so since I feel like he’s doing good, I hope he does good on Sunday, too.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 27, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (25) runs the ball against Houston Texans cornerback Keion Crossen (35) during the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals prevail in shootout versus Texans

Samaje Perine capped a 75-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:57 remaining and the Cincinnati Bengals turned the first sack of the game into a 37-31 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen passed for a career-high 371 yards and also threw two touchdown passes and engineered the scoring march that lifted the Bengals (4-10-1) to their second consecutive victory. Cincinnati last won back-to-back games in Weeks 4 and 5 in 2018.

The Bengals racked up 540 yards, while the Texans had 488. Houston lost its fourth straight game.

Houston (4-11) had taken its first lead at 31-27 when Deshaun Watson found Darren Fells for a 22-yard touchdown with 6:15 left. Watson, who passed for 324 yards and three touchdowns, set a franchise record with his 30th scoring pass this season. But with 1:28 left, Sam Hubbard recorded a strip-sack of Watson and Margus Hunt recovered the fumble to seal the win for Cincinnati.

David Johnson posted his first 100-yard rushing game for Houston with 128 yards while Brandon Cooks had his second 100-yard receiving game with seven catches and 141 yards.

The third quarter was an offensive showcase with Cincinnati compiling two 75-yard touchdown drives while the Texans did the same. Perine rumbled 46 yards through a series of broken tackles for a touchdown and a 17-10 lead before Johnson pulled the Texans even with 9:05 left in the third on his 4-yard scoring run.

Allen responded with a series of exceptional passing precision, completing 4 of 4 attempts for 83 yards, including a perfect 20-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins. Watson and Johnson followed by combining on a 2-yard scoring pass that tied the score at 24 with 55 seconds left in the third.

Allen got off to a hot start, going 5 of 5 for 65 yards on the Bengals’ opening possession, a drive capped by his 8-yard scoring pass to Drew Sample — the first career touchdown for Sample.

The Texans attempted to match but stumbled in the red zone following a 50-yard Watson-to-Cooks pass play, settling for a 21-yard Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal and 7-3 deficit. The Bengals squandered opportunities to extend to a commanding lead by failing to convert on fourth down in Texans territory and by also misfiring on a 49-yard Austin Seibert field goal.

Cincinnati amassed 229 yards in the first half with a 20:02 time of possession yet went into the intermission tied at 10-10 after Watson hit Cooks for a 25-yard touchdown at the 1:54 mark of the second period. For Watson, it was his 13th touchdown outside of the red zone, an NFL-best.

–Field Level Media

Dec 20, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) during warmups before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Watson, Texans aim to bounce back vs. buoyant Bengals

The image of Deshaun Watson gazing in disbelief after another costly late-game fumble against the Indianapolis Colts is sure to linger with Houston Texans fans.

The quarterback and the Texans (4-10) will attempt to rebound Sunday when they host the Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1).

Watson had once again dragged the short-handed Texans to the brink of victory with his exceptional play against the Colts, only to be undermined by a second red-zone turnover in three weeks. Houston lost each those two games to Indianapolis on either side of a loss at Chicago.

The juxtaposition of the results for the Texans this season against Watson and his impressive performances will resonate into an offseason during which the Texans will have multiple needs to address, including vacancies at head coach and general manager.

Watson is the one constant. No one would question his bona fides as a top signal-caller, considering he ranks second in the NFL in passing yards (4,134) and passer rating (110.6) despite attrition at the Texans’ skill positions.

“I think all of that will make him better because he’s able to adapt to the receivers that he has on the field and he can still put up the good numbers,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said. “I think that when he gets a consistent crew, that’ll just make him better down the line.

“Even though he’s had good numbers, I think that he will say that the fact that we’re not winning doesn’t satisfy him. I think his choice would be to have good numbers and to have a lot of wins to go along with it.”

The two demoralizing losses to Indianapolis left the Texans assured of a losing record this season following back-to-back AFC South division titles.

The Bengals’ 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday qualified as impressive at face value. Cincinnati was riding a five-game overall losing streak, had dropped 11 consecutive games against its AFC North rival and was a double-digit underdog entering the primetime affair.

Cincinnati overcame those odds, doing so with a third-string quarterback (Ryan Finley) and without their leading receiver, Tyler Boyd, who was knocked from the contest in the early stages after sustaining a concussion.

The Bengals appear undaunted by the chore of traveling to Houston during the holidays to square off with the Texans. Preparedness hasn’t been an issue.

“It hasn’t been a challenge to get these guys focused at all, to be quite honest, and I think that shows on how we played the other week,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “This week there’s a lot of things to manage. It’s a short week, we’re on the road, you’ve got Christmas. But again, I’ve got a lot of faith in our guys to handle it the right way and we’ve laid out our expectations for them. And we know that they’ll be pros about it.”

Playing out the string of a 16-game schedule is a task in itself. Doing so during a pandemic-altered season can sap enthusiasm. The Bengals might still be without Boyd and quarterback Brandon Allen (knee) against the Texans, but their effort Monday provided a bit of a boost, perhaps enough to carry Cincinnati through the final two games of the schedule.

“This was something that we all needed,” Bengals running back Giovani Bernard said of beating the Steelers. “It’s something that I’m sure everybody is proud of.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans running back David Johnson (31) runs the ball against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Texans activate RB Johnson, lose two starters on D

The Houston Texans activated running back David Johnson from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday.

He landed on the list last Friday and missed Sunday’s 36-7 loss at Chicago.

Johnson, who also missed three games in November due to a concussion, leads the Texans with 452 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He also has 16 catches for 161 yards and one score in nine games.

Houston (4-9) also placed two defensive starters on season-ending injured reserve ahead of Sunday’s game at Indianapolis (9-4).

Defensive tackle Brandon Dunn (pelvic fracture) and safety Justin Reid (torn thumb ligament) had both started all 13 games before getting hurt in the loss to the Bears.

Dunn, 28, contributed 26 tackles, three quarterback hits and one fumble recovery this season.

Reid, 23, had surgery on Tuesday. The 2018 third-round pick had 83 tackles, four passes defensed and two sacks.

–Field Level Media

Dec 13, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Chad Hansen (17) makes a catch against Chicago Bears inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Bears snap skid with 36-7 win over Texans

Mitch Trubisky tossed three touchdowns passes to three different receivers in a first-half eruption as the Chicago Bears parlayed a dominant defensive performance into a 36-7 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Trubisky helped the Bears (6-7) snap a six-game losing skid by thriving in his matchup against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was taken 10 spots after Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft. Trubisky closed the first half 18 of 21 for 178 yards with scoring strikes to Jimmy Graham, Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson II as the Bears raced to a 23-point halftime advantage.

Watson, with his complementary skill talent ravaged by injury and suspension, could not keep pace. He passed for 219 yards and a touchdown but was sacked six times and briefly knocked from the game in the third quarter. Watson was tackled in the end zone for a safety for a second consecutive week as the Texans (4-9) failed to muster much of a competitive effort.

Momentum swung to the Bears for good midway through the second quarter.

After Watson led the Texans on an 8-play, 66-yard drive that included a 48-yard screen pass to Duke Johnson and concluded with a Watson’s 5-yard scoring toss to Keke Coutee that sliced the Chicago lead to 14-7, Houston held defensively and regained possession with an opportunity to draw closer.

But the Bears dropped Watson on consecutive snaps, including Khalil Mack notching his first sack in five games for a safety and a 16-7 Chicago lead with 6:04 left in the half. The bottom then fell out on Houston.

The Bears mounted scoring drives of 66 and 77 yards prior to the intermission. Trubisky found Mooney for a 12-yard touchdown that extended the lead to 23-7 with 3:22 left before the Bears executed the two-minute offense with precision with an 11-play drive that needed 97 seconds.

Chicago, which opened the first half with an 80-yard touchdown run from David Montgomery on the first play from scrimmage, closed it when Trubisky hit Robinson for a 3-yard touchdown pass.

Robinson had 123 yards receiving while Montgomery rushed for 113 yards as the Bears amassed 410 yards while not committing a turnover for the first time since Week 1.

Chicago limited Houston to 263 yards.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Late turnover lifts Colts past Texans

Anthony Walker recovered a fumble with 1:22 left and the visiting Indianapolis Colts escaped with a tense 26-20 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium.

Texans center Nick Martin handcuffed quarterback Deshaun Watson with a bad snap on second down at the Indianapolis 2-yard line and Walker pounced on the loose football to seal the victory and lift the Colts (8-4) into a first-place tie with Tennessee atop the AFC South.

Watson passed for 341 yards but had a hand in both Houston (4-8) turnovers. Kenny Moore stripped a pass from Brandin Cooks with 54 seconds left in the third quarter for the first interception of Watson since Week 5 against Jacksonville.

The Colts sacked Watson five times, with Justin Houston notching his third in the end zone for a safety that spotted the Colts a 26-20 lead with 6:02 left. That play followed the Colts’ failed 4th-and-1 run at the Houston 5 where Nyheim Hines was stopped by Texans linebackers Zach Cunningham and Tyrell Adams.

The Texans, depleted at receiver, got 141 yards on eight receptions from Keke Coutee and five catches and 101 yards from Chad Hansen, who was elevated from the practice squad.

Philip Rivers completed 27-of-35 for 285 yards and two touchdowns for the Colts, and Jonathan Taylor added 91 rushing yards on 13 carries.

The first half was an offensive extravaganza with the two teams combining for 502 yards.

Rivers hit T.Y. Hilton for a 21-yard scoring pass for a 7-0 lead at the 9:52 mark of the first quarter. The Texans responded as Watson beat a blitz and completed a 64-yard pass to Coutee before scrambling 11 yards for a touchdown that knotted the contest.

The Colts took a 14-10 leads on a 5-yard Hines scoring run, then extended to a 21-10 lead by converting a 4th-and-4 via Rivers’ 39-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Taylor on a wheel route.

Houston repsponded with a 6-yard David Johnson touchdown run and added a 52-yard Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal with eight seconds left that cut the deficit to 24-20 at the half.

Indianapolis’ point total was a season high for the first half. Hilton posted 110 yards on eight catches for his first 100-yard game since Dec. 23, 2018.

–Field Level Media

Jan 12, 2020; Kansas City, MO, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills (12) against the Kansas City Chiefs in a AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Arrowhead Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Texans waive veteran WR Kenny Stills

The Houston Texans waived wide receiver Kenny Stills on Friday one day after he was inactive because of a quad injury for the team’s Thanksgiving road win over the Detroit Lions, according to multiple reports.

In 10 games for Houston this season Stills had just 11 catches for 144 yards and one touchdown. He played in the Texans’ 10-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 15, making just one catch for six yards in the loss. Then he played just four snaps the next week against the New England Patriots.

Stills last season had 40 catches for 461 yards and four touchdowns.

He came to the Texans from the Miami Dolphins in a trade on Sept. 1, 2019 along with a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2021 sixth-round pick and tackle Laremy Tunsil. In return the Texans sent Miami a 2020 first-round pick, a 2021 first-round pick, a 2021 second-round pick, Johnson Bademosi and Julie’n Davenport.

The 28-year-old was a fifth-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in the 2013 NFL Draft. He spent two seasons with the Saints before being traded to the Dolphins in March 2015.

His best season came in 2014 with New Orleans when he had 63 catches for 931 yards and three touchdowns.

Stills is in the last year of his contract and will hit waivers first. If he clears waivers he will become a free agent.

If he is claimed on waivers a team will have to pay a prorated portion of his salary worth $6.975 million.

— Field Level Media