Davis Mills, like all the rookie quarterbacks in 2021, struggled for stretches of his debut but displayed toughness while getting battered and flashed a few moments of promise in the Houston Texans' 24-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.
"I always think back on that quote 'It's never as bad as you think it was and it's never as good as you think it was,'" Mills said, via the team's official website. "There's obviously a couple plays I would like back, but I'm going to come in tomorrow and watch the film and see what we can improve on, but also see what we did well to move forward."
The Texans came out wanting to run the ball but were stymied on every front by a stalwart Carolina defense. With Houston averaging just 2.5 yards per carry on the night, that plan quickly went awry. On their first four possessions of the game, Houston generated just three first downs and just 54 net yards.
It wasn't until the two-minute drill when Mills displayed the potential that made him a third-round pick -- Houston's first selection of the draft -- despite injuries. On the seven-play, 64-yard TD drive, in which the Texans picked up four first downs, Mills showed poise, an ability to get quickly to his second read, good downfield touch and a pretty spiral.
"When we went into our two-minute offense right before half, he did an excellent job of taking us down the field and making some nice throws and nice plays," head coach David Culley said. "I thought he did a nice job for us."
Like most rookie QBs this season, Mills had his rocky moments. At times he fled a clean pocket when his first read wasn't there, he was off-target on a few passes and couldn't move the chains on third downs as Houston went just 1-of-9 on the night.
"There's a couple quick things that I can think of that I would like to improve on initially, but I mean, going back, we'll see a lot from the film and also see the good in it that we can keep moving forward with," Mills said.
You can see flashes of talent from Mills. He can certainly spin the pigskin, but pretty passes don't make a quarterback. The rookie finished 19-of-28 for 168 yards, one TD and zero INTs, and took four sacks. Getting waylaid by the persistent Panthers defense seemed to take its toll on the rookie late, but it's something he'll have to get used to if he's to play the bulk of the season.
Outside of Brandin Cooks' brilliant play (9 catches, 112 yards), there wasn't much good from a Texans offense that had moved the ball well with Tyrod Taylor under center for the first six quarters of the season.
"He handled himself well," Cooks said of Mills. "Just like us all, we just have to continue to just get on the same page and get that chemistry going between us all. But at the end of the day, very proud of how he came out."
A rookie on a short week with nearly no preparation time, making his first start against what looks like one of the top defenses in the NFL, Mills comported himself well. He didn't make a disastrous mistake. However, moving forward, the rookie will need to move the chains more consistently if he's to prove he has the making of a long-term answer under center.