CINCINNATI – Deshaun Watson showed up in a black tuxedo for his first NFL start. From his snazzy bow tie to his game-turning scramble, he did it all his style.
The rookie ran 49 yards for a touchdown and led the Houston Texans’ depleted offense to a late clinching field goal in a 13-9 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.
“I was just trying to make a play, I found a hole and broke away,” he said.
Yes, it was that easy.
Watson showed up in a black tuxedo — it was his 22nd birthday, no less — and showed the flash that helped him lead Clemson to a national title last season. He avoided the rush and ran 49 yards for a 10-3 lead late in the first half, dashing past befuddled defenders.
“The first start on my birthday was pretty emotional,” said Watson, wearing a Texans T-shirt to his postgame media availability.
The Texans (1-1) got the most out of their depleted offense, and then let their defense do the rest. The Bengals (0-2) have failed to score a touchdown in their two games to open a season for the first time in their 50 seasons.
Cincinnati is first team since the 1939 Eagles to open a season with two home games and fail to get in the end zone, according to information from the Elias Sports Bureau shared by ESPN.
“I am shocked,” coach Marvin Lewis said.
Watson led a 13-play drive that set up Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 42-yard field goal with 1:56 left. The Bengals got the ball, but turned it over near midfield on a fourth-down completion. After a punt, they ran one more play with 2 seconds left that didn’t get far.
Cincinnati lost to the Ravens 20-0 at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, the first time in its history that it opened the season blanked at home. Andy Dalton threw four interceptions and lost a fumble.
The Bengals managed only three field goals by Randy Bullock on Thursday. Dalton fell to 1-6 career against the Texans, including a pair of playoff losses. He was 20 of 35 for 224 yards with three sacks.
“Very surprised,” receiver A.J. Green said. “We practice well, but when it comes to the game, we’re out of character. I don’t know what we’re doing out there.”
Watson directed an offense missing three tight ends because of concussions, along with receiver Will Fuller and guard Jeff Allen. Houston kept it simple, and Watson avoided the game-turning mistake despite heavy pressure from Cincinnati.
Watson was 15 of 24 for 125 yards with three sacks and no interceptions. He ran five times for 67 yards. Watson became the first rookie quarterback to win his first start on the road in a prime-time game since the Eagles’ Joe Webb in 2010, according to Elias.
The Bengals became the first team that opened the season with five scoreless quarters since the 2009 Rams, who went 1-15.
They thought they finally had a touchdown when Tyler Eifert caught a pass from Dalton in the end zone in the third quarter — the videoboard broke into a touchdown song — but the tight end had stepped out of bounds before making the catch, nullifying it. Cincinnati settled for its third field goal.
Brady, Brees hope for spark
Brady, Brees and Bono.
How’s that for a middle-aged power trio?
When New England quarterback Tom Brady and his prolific New Orleans counterpart, Drew Brees, take the Superdome field on Sunday, it’ll be just days after U2’s concert there. Seems fitting, given the association the Irish rockers had with seminal moments for both franchises in that same stadium.
U2 played when the renovated Superdome reopened a year after Hurricane Katrina for the Saints’ triumphant 2006 home opener. They also played halftime of Brady and the Patriots’ maiden Super Bowl victory in the Big Easy in 2002.
For many football fans in New Orleans, U2’s latest Superdome show could be viewed as an apt prelude to a game featuring two quarterbacks who are not only among the most accomplished in NFL history, but who also can actually remember when “The Joshua Tree” album came out in 1987.
Meanwhile, Brady, 40, and Brees, 38, come in highly motivated to help their clubs recover from Week 1 losses.
“It is very important. It is our home opener and we want to get everybody back on track,” Brees said. “Obviously there’s a lot of things to correct.”
Similarly, Brady noted that the Patriots “played very poorly in the fourth quarter” of a season-opening loss to Kansas City.
This week, they must “be the kind of players that our teammates can depend on and try to go get a win at a very tough place to play,” Brady said.
Between them, Brady and Brees have combined for staggering passing numbers: 128,251 yards and 922 TDs. Brees stands third in NFL history with 66,402 yards and 466 TDs, and Brady fourth with 61,849 yards and 456 TDs.
They also hope their careers are nowhere near over, particularly after last season, when Brees led the NFL in yards passing, while Brady led the Patriots to a fifth Super Bowl title.
“I’d say we probably both have the mind-set that we want to change the norm of what is possible in regards to how long a guy can play and the level that they can play at,” Brees said.
Falcons to open new stadium
The last time they faced off in Atlanta, the Falcons routed the Packers for the NFC title. When they meet Sunday night, the site will be different as the Falcons play their first regular-season game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Considering how poorly Green Bay played last January at the Georgia Dome, it probably welcomes the change of venue.
“It’s past,” Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers insists. “You can’t rewrite history. It’s just two 1-0 teams who both think we can be there at the end of the season. These are the type of games, like last week, that you win these games and you feel better in December and January when you’re coming down to filling out that 12-team bracket.”