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Sunday May 26th, 2019 2:17PM

Even with Watson healthy, Texans struggling early

By The Associated Press
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Deshaun Watson is back and starting at quarterback. J.J. Watt also is running around on defense along with Whitney Mercilus.

Health has yet to translate into victories for the Houston Texans.

Watson threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, but he made a mistake that absorbed the final 17 seconds in a 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Watson, who was making his eighth NFL start after missing the last part of his rookie season with a right knee injury, said he should have thrown the ball away instead of running around looking for a receiver. He found DeAndre Hopkins for a 31-yard completion to the Tennessee 21, but time expired before the Texans could run another play.

"I tried to take a shot," Watson said. "We didn't have any timeouts, and they guarded the sideline very well, so my i nstincts took over and I tried to get the ball and time ran out."

Coach Bill O'Brien said they were trying to get into field goal range.

"We've got to do a better job of coaching that play up," O'Brien said.

Houston went 4-12 last season. Watson, Watt and Mercilus were among the 22 Texans on injured reserve by the end of the year.

The Texans (0-2) lost right tackle Seantrel Henderson with a broken ankle after this season's opener, but they currently are healthier than they were for a big chunk of 2017.

Slow starts hurt Houston in each of its first two games. New England led 21-6 at halftime in the opener, and Tennessee led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter thanks to a fake punt and a little wildcat to help make up for the absence of quarterback Marcus Mariota and its top three offensive tackles.

"Can't put my finger on it," O'Brien said of the slow starts. "Hopefully, I'll be abl e to figure it out soon, but that's just not good enough."

Will Fuller V returned after missing the opener, and he caught eight passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. DeAndre Hopkins had 110 yards receiving and a TD. Lamar Miller averaged 4.9 yards a carry as Houston outgained Tennessee 437-283 in total offense.

But one drive ended when Watson was intercepted in the end zone on a pass Adoree Jackson took away from DeAndre Hopkins. Ka'imi Fairbairn was short on a 54-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter.

Against Tennessee, the Texans played without linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and defensive end Christian Covington because of injuries. The Titans started their backup quarterback in Blaine Gabbert and had Tyler Marz making his NFL debut at right tackle against Watt - the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Houston sacked Gabbert only once while giving up four sacks of Watson. The Texa ns also managed only two hits on Gabbert.

Watt credited the Titans with throwing quickly and using running backs and tight ends to help slow down the Texans' pass rush. Watt finished with six tackles, including two tackles for loss. He also forced a fumble.

"They had a good game plan," Watt said. "They knew that they had their guys out, so they had a game plan put together that they didn't need to protect against a pass rush like ours. So you have to give them credit."

They head back to Houston and will host the New York Giants in their home opener.

"Right now probably the flood gates are open, everybody has an opinion right now," Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. "We just have to take it one game at a time. You get one win and all of a sudden everything starts to head in the other direction."

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