11 observations from the Texans' 25-22 loss to the Patriots

Davis Mills had 3 TDs and no interceptions. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans saw a lead evaporate and turn into their fourth straight loss as the Patriots complete the comeback in Houston. Here are 11 observations.

1. David Culley turned a very positive first half for him into a net negative for the day with the way he operated in the second half of the loss. This was a loss that glaringly showed Culley's inexperience.

2. David Culley considered a fake punt at their own 36-yard line with a 13-point lead. The Texans had just forced a Patriots three-and-out and faked the fake punt, then saw their punter kick the ball off a teammate for zero net yards. The Patriots would score a field goal on the ensuing drive.

3. David Culley trusted his kicker in a spot he shouldn't have, and he burned a timeout to do it as well. Culley sent Ka'imi Fairbairn out for a 56-yard field goal in the second half after he failed to decide in a timely manner on kicking or keeping his offense on the field. Fairbairn is two weeks removed from returning from injury and has never made a field goal of that length in his career. Against the Panthers, the Texans punted from nearly the exact same spot on the field.

4. David Culley didn't let the Patriots score and cost his team a chance to send the game to overtime. Culley explained the Texans thought about letting the Patriots score but decided against that on the game-winning drive. Houston would get the ball back with 15 seconds left in the game needing a field goal. Culley also accepted a penalty that would have had the Texans needing a touchdown with nearly two minutes on the clock as opposed to the ultimate outcome.

5. David Culley postgame tried to explain the reasoning for not letting the Patriots score. The head coach's explanation was confusing. Culley credited a Patriots passing play as helping the Texans try to play defense, but New England ran the ball seven straight times before their game-winning field goal.

6. Ka'imi Fairbairn is the third-highest paid kicker on average salary. He missed two extra points and kicked a kickoff out of bounds while also missing the 56-yard attempt. Bill O'Brien paid Fairbairn with no rhyme or reason and the Texans might be stuck with him for now. David Culley said after the game he has given no thought to switching kickers.

7. Immense credit is due to the coaching of Tim Kelly. The offensive coordinator of the Texans pushed all the right buttons for most of the game before the Patriots tightened up and the offense started to stymie their own success. Kelly clearly had Davis Mills and the offense ready to attack a Patriots defense that was hot off a moral victory against Tom Brady.

8. Davis Mills played the best game of his post-high school career against the Patriots. The three touchdowns and no interceptions combined with 312 passing yards was a remarkable performance and turnaround from last week's debacle against the Bills. Mills was under control for most of the game, had command of the offense, and made solid decisions more than bad decisions. It was one of the more impressive performances for a rookie against a Patriots defense led by Bill Belichick.

9. Maliek Collins had a roughing the passer penalty that helped change the outcome of the game. With the game tied, the Texans had forced the Patriots to punt after a Mac Jones incomplete pass, but disaster struck. Collins was called for roughing the passer, his third of the season, and the Patriots turned that drive into the game-winning field goal.

10. Chris Moore played well with his elevation from the practice squad. Moore had a leaping catch that turned into a touchdown. He hauled in four other passes as well. Moore did drop a touchdown that forced the Texans into a field goal.

11. Davis Mills was a bright spot in what turned into a difficult day for the team. David Culley looked overwhelmed in closing out the game and the defense bent but broke enough for the Patriots to earn the win. A banged-up Colts team on the road next week makes the potential for this difficult stretch to continue very high.

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The Astros are utilizing a 6-man rotation. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros should schedule an Old-Timers Game, if not annually maybe every other year. Only the Yankees have regularly played Old Timers Games and it’s a highlight in the Bronx every season. The Astros have plenty enough history to welcome back an ample number of guys to make for a fabulous event. Maybe they could tie it into their now annual Hall of Fame Weekend. Anyway, don’t you feel that if Jose Altuve took part in an Old Timers Game in 2050 he’d bang out a couple of hits, and then if the Astros played him in the regular game he’d line one more hit somehow, at age 60?

After missing the first 43 games of the season while recovering from his broken thumb, Altuve went 0 for four in his first game back, but has since been generally fantastic with his OPS through nine games played at 1.013. It won’t stay that high, but Altuve is a direly needed upgrade to the Astros’ offense which has been utterly mediocre. Offense is the reason the Astros continue to look up at the Texas Rangers in the American League West. The Rangers’ offense has been fantastic, outscoring the Astros by a whopping 100 runs through the first third of the season.

As the regular season entered its middle third this week, the Astros are in the middle of playing a game in 17 consecutive days. It’s their longest stretch of the season without an off day. They are inserting Ronel Blanco as a sixth starting pitcher in the rotation for a couple of turns. The point of mixing in a sixth starter isn’t that the Astros are teeming with guys who belong in a big league rotation. The 29-year-old Blanco is not a notable prospect. This is about lightening the load a little on two guys: Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown.

In becoming a rotation mainstay last season, Javier blew past his previous biggest season workload by nearly 50 innings. He’s on pace to go another 25 innings beyond that this year without even accounting for the playoffs. Hunter Brown last year set his professional high with 130 innings pitched encompassing work with the Space Cowboys and Astros. Brown is on pace for about 170 innings this regular season. That’s a significant jump, and of course the Astros are hoping for another postseason of multiple rounds. Javier, Brown, and Framber Valdez are the three most critical pitchers on the staff, and the Astros hope they remain healthily so for several more years.

Lance McCullers’s latest recovery setback makes his plight increasingly sad. Well, except for him on payday. The odds now lopsidedly favor McCullers never again pitching a near fully healthy and effective season. His only one to date was 2021 (until he broke down in the playoffs), the year before his five year 85 million dollar contract kicked in. McCullers pulls down 17 mil this year (And again next year. And in 2025. And 2026), exactly two and a half times what Framber Valdez makes. I reckon Framber’s representation is aware of this, as it is of the five year 63 million dollar deal the Astros struck with Cristian Javier. Framber is more than three years older than Javier, but has been better, and can hit free agency after the 2025 season, the same time Javier could have gone to market.

Timing isn’t everything but it darn sure can matter. The Astros’ two best relief pitchers through May were Hector Neris and Phil Maton. Neris enters June with a 1.19 earned run average, Maton even better with a teeny-weeny 0.68 ERA. Maton has been especially amazing, given that last year while not pitching very well he posted his career best ERA at 3.84. His 2022 ended ignominiously when after giving up a hit to his brother Nick in the regular season finale, Phil took the ding-a-ling of the week award by breaking his pitching hand punching his locker, sidelining him for the postseason. The Hurt Locker won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2010. Now Maton is up for Best Pitcher (per inning worked). Both Neris and Maton were James Click acquisitions. Both become free agents after this season.

Up next

Four games with the Angels at Minute Maid Park through the weekend mean the amazing Shohei Ohtani is in town. It’s “Sho-time” on the mound Friday night in a doozy of a pitching matchup with Framber, with Ohtani batting in at least three of the four games. In one player the Angels have a pitcher as good as Cristian Javier and a hitter better than Kyle Tucker. And the Angels will probably miss the playoffs again anyway. And then lose Ohtani in free agency. After the Angels series the Astros are on the road next week. They start with four games at Toronto against the Blue Jays’ very potent lineup, then it’s three at Cleveland vs. the Guardians whose offense has been pathetic so far this season.

Walk this way

Geek Astro factoid of the week: Jeremy Pena drew two walks in Tuesday’s win over the Twins. In his rookie season, Pena had only one two walk game, also in May, also against the Twins. Tuesday’s bases on balls finally got Pena into double digits for the season. He has just 11 walks drawn (largely explaining his weak .307 on-base percentage) vs. 50 strikeouts.

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