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2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week Six

Where do the Texans land after their loss to the Patriots?

New England Patriots v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

What is going on with Davis Mills? Or, better yet, what is going on with the Texans? In just a week, the Texans completely flipped the script on their offense, transforming it from something so pitiful it had Mills being compared to Nathan Peterman, to now Mills being compared to Justin Herbert. How is it possible for a rookie quarterback have that stark of improvement in just seven days?

Davis Mills went from this in Week Four…

…to this in Week Five:

I don’t know if this is an appraisal of the Texans offensive coaching staff or an indictment on the Patriots defensive coaching staff, but Mills showed us in the period of seven days the absolute floor and absolute ceiling of his quarterback abilities.

Against Buffalo, Davis Mills showed all the doubters that their reservations were well founded. Completely overwhelmed, Davis Mills couldn’t push the ball more than five yards downfield without putting it in harms way, so he spent the entire game standing in place and getting tackled. Eventually, after Buffalo had taken a commanding lead, he was forced to throw the football, which was somehow even worse than just getting sacked over and over. Against New England, Davis Mills became Justin Herbert. Mills showed the best of what he had to offer and echoes of his high mark at Stanford as he navigated the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield and confidently firing the football into tight windows rarely seen in quarterbacks of his age. Awareness, athleticism, and accuracy, Davis Mills was legitimately one of the best quarterbacks in the league in week five, an absolutely impossible statement after what happened in Buffalo.

This season just won’t stop being weird, will it?

I mentioned in my post-game recap of the Buccaneers/Texans preseason game the shockingly weird nature of this 2021 Texans team. Seemingly determined to be the most unique team in football, the Texans have stretched the boundaries on what it means to be an NFL team. Explosive and anemic at the same time, a defense that goes from good to bad at the flip of a coin, and the best and worst quarterbacks in the league contained in one raw soul, full of untapped potential. The 2021 Texans look in the mirror and see two reflections: one of chaos and tanking, and another of spice and intrigue. Somehow, someway, they have figured out how to make both of these reflections an accurate depiction of reality. How can you not love this team?

Yeah, but where were we last year?

Beating the Jaguars, of course! After firing Bill O’Brien and making Romeo Crennel the oldest head coach in NFL history, the 0-4 Texans won their first game by throwing it all over the field against a porous Jaguars defense that had no answers. The high-end of that far-reaching Tim Kelly passing offense revealed itself again against New England this week, with even Belichick completely dumbfounded on how to stop it.

Here’s what Dan Hanzus of NFL.com had to say about us back then:

24. Houston Texans (1-4)

Previous rank: No. 29

Let’s give some love to Romeo Crennel, who became the oldest head coach in NFL history on Sunday, then led the Texans to their ever-elusive first victory of the season. Deshaun Watson threw for a season-high 359 yards and three touchdowns, and the Houston defense took advantage of Jacksonville mistakes to put the game away in the second half. Two performances that stood out: A week after being shut out in a loss to the Vikings, Brandin Cooks enjoyed season highs in catches (eight), receiving yards (161) and touchdowns (one). Houston also finally got a lift from its ground game in the form of David Johnson, who went over 100 yards from scrimmage for the first time since Week 1. Things get interesting in the AFC South if the Texans can beat the Titans in Week 6.

Same record, but a completely different team. That 2020 Texans squad was deep into their spiral and out of control. These 2021 Texans found peace in that storm, becoming a better team because of it. Even though they lost this week (thanks to some beautifully terrible game managing by David Culley), that in of itself feels like par for the course for this squad. With something new randomly becoming exceptionally better than it should be (this week, it was Davis Mills), there has to be something obnoxiously bad to give it balance.

What kind of game is this? Is there some sort of cosmic game being played on us by some higher beings, with the Texans being used as a vessel for their antics? Some may say yes, but maybe it’s more likely we truly have yet to fully understand the power of the David Culley offense.

New England Patriots v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Here’s where everyone has the Texans ranked after their close loss to the Patriots:

ESPN:

28. Houston Texans(1-4)

Previous ranking: 30

Most improved player: S Lonnie Johnson Jr.

How they’ve improved:Johnson, who was drafted as a cornerback in the second round in 2019, is in his second season at safety. Safety Justin Reid said he can tell Johnson is getting more comfortable playing in defensive coordinator Lovie Smith’s system, and now it’s showing up on the field. Johnson has interceptions — the first two of his career — in back-to-back games in Weeks 4 and 5. — Sarah Barshop

NFL.COM

30. Houston Texans (1-4)

Previous rank: No. 32

Davis Mills shredded the Patriots’ defense in the way many expected Tom Brady to a week earlier. The third-round rookie washed away the memory of his four-INT Week 4 performance, setting career highs in passing yards (312) and touchdown passes (3) in a narrow 25-22 loss. Davis’ productive day was especially impressive considering Bill Belichick’s typical mastery over rookie quarterbacks as New England’s head coach: The Hooded One moved to 22-6 against first-year QBs, but this one wasn’t a laugher like many of the others. The only Texan player seeing ghosts on this day was Ka’imi Fairbairn, who missed a field goal and two PATs. Ka’nt do that.

PRO FOOTBALL TALK:

30. Texans (1-4, No. 30): At least they’re still trying.

USA TODAY:

28. Texans (31): Their season was pretty well summed up by Cameron Johnston’s 0-yard punt Sunday, which ricocheted off teammate Terrence Brooks.

THE RINGER:

26. Houston Texans (1-4)

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:

30. Houston Texans (1—4)

Last week: Loss vs. New England, 25–22

Next week: vs. Indianapolis

[In reference to the Jets spot at #29 stating “Clearly, the roster still needs a lot of work.”] Ditto.

CBS SPORTS:

Houston Texans (1-4)

Davis Mills showed well in the loss to the Patriots. That’s a good sign for the future. Could he be their guy when Deshaun Watson is traded?

BLEACHER REPORT:

30. Houston Texans (1-4)

Last Week: 30

Week 5 Result: Lost vs. New England 25-22

For just over two quarters Sunday, it appeared we were watching the coming-out party for Houston quarterback Davis Mills.

In fact, while Houston wasn’t able to hold on to a 22-9 lead and fell to 1-4 on the season, it can be argued that the Texans still leave Week 5 with something to look forward to.

The rookie third-round pick had the best game of his NFL career and then some, throwing for 312 yards and three scores without an interception. Mind you, this comes after Mills had an absolutely horrendous four-interception effort in a blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills.

As Aaron Wilson wrote for Texans Daily, offensive coordinator Tim Kelly was noncommittal before the game when asked who would start for Houston once veteran Tyrod Taylor returns from injured reserve.

“Whatever is going to be best for our team, whatever is going to put us in the best position to win,” Kelly said. “It’s been pretty evident as an organization that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re not going to treat that decision any differently.”

Mills’ performance Sunday won’t make the decision any easier.

YAHOO! SPORTS:

28. Houston Texans (1-4, Lost to New England Patriots)

Davis Mills actually shows signs of hope for Houston. The problem is, they still have Deshaun Watson totally stuck in limbo. The Patriots game could have — should have? — been a victory for David Culley. However, bad teams, always find ways to lose. Next: at Indianapolis Colts

After a week of melancholic resignation following the Bills loss, a game like this is destined to fill the hearts of Texans fans with so much hope and glee for the future thanks to Davis Mills. Of course, that’s the footnotes version of our current emotional state as a fan base. To many passers by, being a fan of the Texans must mean constantly flipping between states of elation, or at least anticipation, to deep despair. Our feelings predictably dip with four-interception performance of last week and then surge along with the three-touchdown performance of this week. After all, the fan’s emotions must certainly be reflective of their team’s performance, right? This is close enough to the truth for most, so they roll up their windows and drive away, never understanding the depth of how truly weird this team is. Maybe in retrospect, they will come to appreciate this puzzle of a team, and the strange, complex emotions it pulls out of us. But for now, let’s enjoy the show.

New England Patriots v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Here’s my personal power rankings heading into Week Six:

  1. Arizona Cardinals (5-0) (Last Week: 1)
  2. Buffalo Bills (4-1) (Last Week: 2)
  3. Los Angeles Chargers (4-1) (Last Week: 4)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1) (Last Week: 3)
  5. Los Angeles Rams (4-1) (Last Week: 7)
  6. Green Bay Packers (4-1) (Last Week: 6)
  7. Baltimore Ravens (4-1) (Last Week: 5)
  8. Dallas Cowboys (4-1) (Last Week: 11)
  9. Cleveland Browns (3-2) (Last Week: 9)
  10. Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) (Last Week: 8)
  11. Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) (Last Week: 15)
  12. Seattle Seahawks (2-3) (Last Week: 10)
  13. Las Vegas Raiders (3-2) (Last Week: 12)
  14. Carolina Panthers (3-2) (Last Week: 13)
  15. Denver Broncos (3-2) (Last Week: 14)
  16. Tennessee Titans (3-2) (Last Week: 17)
  17. New Orleans Saints (3-2) (Last Week: 20)
  18. San Francisco 49ers (2-3) (Last Week: 16)
  19. Chicago Bears (3-2) (Last Week: 25)
  20. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) (Last Week: 22)
  21. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3) (Last Week: 21)
  22. Washington Football Team (2-3) (Last Week: 19)
  23. Minnesota Vikings (2-3) (Last Week: 23)
  24. New England Patriots (2-3) (Last Week: 18)
  25. Indianapolis Colts (1-4) (Last Week: 24)
  26. Atlanta Falcons (2-3) (Last Week: 29)
  27. Houston Texans (1-4) (Last Week: 30)
  28. Miami Dolphins (1-4) (Last Week: 26)
  29. New York Giants (1-4) (Last Week: 27)
  30. New York Jets (1-4) (Last Week: 28)
  31. Detroit Lions (0-5) (Last Week: 31)
  32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) (Last Week: 32)

The Texans are moving up again! Nearly at the same exact spot as the Colts as we enter our first big matchup against them this coming Sunday. Wentz and Co. will be cranky after that heartbreaking loss last night to the Ravens, but so will Davis Mills after being sprinkled with the franchise quarterback pixie dust Tyrod Taylor apparently gives every rookie backup on his team after getting injured. It took a few weeks for the pixie dust to start working, but now there’s no going back.

Elsewhere in the NFL, the most exciting stories of the season begin to emerge. Are the Chargers legitimate Super Bowl contenders? (yes) Are the Bills the best team in the league? (probably) Are Carolina or Chicago the sleeper picks for the NFL Playoffs? (just one, not the other) Will the Vikings be able to mount a comeback before it’s too late? (yes) Are the Chiefs cooked? (no) Are the Raiders cooked after Jon Gruden got fired because of his racist, homophobic, and misogynistic emails that leaked this past week? (yes)

There are always a few teams that start off hot and then fall apart as it gets colder outside, usually due to overwhelming injuries or a scandal/firing. This year, it looks like the first to fall is going to be the Raiders. The Bengals have often gotten to a hot start only to crash and burn into Halloween; that is still on the table of possibilities. I’ve become invested in Joe Burrow and the Bengals’ defense, though. Let’s hope he’s able to use his powers to keep that team rolling into the winter. If so, the AFC North becomes the most interesting division in the league. If not, sigh, I guess will have to settle for the divisional wars in the AFC West and NFC West.

Speaking of the NFC West, the Cardinals are the surprise Super Bowl contenders of the early season. There’s always at least one team that makes the leap to championship-worthy sooner rather than later, and it looks like the Cardinals are ready to get that Lombardi Trophy. Kurt Warner couldn’t do it, Carson Palmer couldn’t, could Kyler Murray (with some help from DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt)?

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