Deshaun Watson was the big story headed into the Houston Texans’ opener on Wednesday night. While he did have some impressive moments, the Carolina Panthers ultimately came away with the 27-17 victory, thanks to two touchdown catches from Damiere Byrd.
Cam Newton sat out, so Derek Anderson got the start for Carolina. He hit Kelvin Benjamin for a score early on and then took a seat along with the rest of the starters. The Texans started Tom Savage, who played the first quarter before making way for Watson. Houston's QB competition is far from over, but Watson had plenty of positive moments in his first preseason game.
Final score: Panthers 27, Texans 17
Panthers 27, Texans 17 (5:05)
Watson finally got the night off here, making way for Brandon Weeden late in the fourth. Weeden completed 15 of 25 yards for 179 yards and a rushing touchdown. There’s room for improvement, but he certainly looked like he belongs on an NFL field.
Ka’imi Fairbairn shanked a 55-yard field goal attempt, denying the Texans a chance to get the game closer.
Panthers 27, Texans 17 (5:16)
Rookie kicker Harrison Butker — competing with Graham Gano — got a chance to shine here, nailing a 51-yard field goal to give Carolina another double-digit lead.
Panthers 24, Texans 17 (12:33)
The Texans nearly tied things up when the defense recovered a fumble and ran it back for a score, but replay determined that it was an incomplete pass instead. The Panthers punted.
Panthers 24, Texans 17
Joe Webb checks out and fourth-string QB Garrett Gilbert checks in for the Panthers. We’re really getting into preseason garbage time here.
Panthers 24, Texans 17 (1:05)
Despite Houston being down two possessions, Watson was calm and poised on his next drive. He didn’t challenge the Panthers defense deep, but was steady hitting his receivers underneath and moving the chains.
In by far his best drive of the game, Watson methodically carved up the Panthers’ defense before finishing business himself, running for a 15-yard touchdown. You’d hardly tell he was a rookie based on this performance.
Panthers 24, Texans 10 (8:53)
The Panthers are down to their third and fourth string with Cameron Artis-Payne in the backfield, as McCaffery ends his night with 33 yards on seven carries. Artis-Payne jumpstarted Carolina’s first drive of the second half with a 20-yard run. Soon after, Webb used his feet to keep the drive alive, getting a couple of first downs with well-timed scrambles.
Damiere Byrd continued a strong night with his second touchdown of the game, putting the Panthers up by 14.
Panthers 17, Texans 10
The Panthers went into their two-minute drill and Webb got them into field goal range. However, he committed an ugly turnover when he badly overthrew a ball in the end zone, leading to an easy interception by Texans safety Corey Moore.
Watson tried a couple of long throws to set up more points, but the Texans’ last first-half drive didn’t amount to anything.
Panthers 17, Texans 10 (1:42)
Watson started getting into a groove, driving the Texans down into the red zone. Unfortunately, the Texans couldn’t find the end zone and the offensive line routinely gave up pressure, forcing Watson into constant scrambles and throwing the ball away. A 25-yard field goal cut the Panthers’ lead to seven.
Panthers 17, Texans 7 (6:00)
Things went from bad to worse for the Texans when tight end Evan Baylis coughed up the ball deep in Panthers territory. Graham Gano hit the 45-yard field goal to put his team up 10 points.
Panthers 14, Texans 7 (8:22)
The Texans continue racking up bone-headed penalties, with the latest one being a blatant kick-catch interference.
What a dumb penalty on Eddie Pleasant. Ran into punt returner for 15-yard penalty. That's 7 on the Texans. Special teams have joined in.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) August 10, 2017
Carolina immediately took advantage of the penalty and got the lead back when Webb hit Damiere Byrd on a 50-yard bomb.
Byrd also had the first “fun” celebration of the preseason since the NFL relaxed its rules. He’s a bird, you see.
Panthers 7, Texans 7 (8:45)
Rookie running back D’onta Foreman saw his first reps in the second quarter, playing third on the Texans’ depth chart behind Miller and Blue. He gets three straight carries but fails to pick up a first down.
Panthers 7, Texans 7 (9:40)
Panthers receiver Brenton Bersin had a scary collision with a pair of Texans defenders. He spent a few minutes down on the field before being helped to the sideline.
McCaffery is now handling the majority of carries with Jonathan Stewart joining the starters on the bench, but Webb can’t do much through the air and Carolina is forced to punt again.
Panthers 7, Texans 7 (14:10)
Deshaun Watson enters the game with a warm ovation from the Carolina crowd. The Texans go three-and-out on his first drive, however.
Joe Webb replaced Derek Anderson, who finished his night with 4-of-5 completions, 76 yards, and the one touchdown.
Panthers 7, Texans 7
Now the Texans have found a groove on offense. Alfred Blue got things rolling, and he didn’t quit all drive. He put up 31 yards on four carries and barreled into the end zone for the 16-yard touchdown.
Braxton Miller and DeAndre Hopkins also got in on the action, and Savage looked sharp, going 8-for-8.
Unfortunately, defensive tackle Vernon Butler, Carolina’s 2016 first-round pick, had to be helped off the field. This is a good sign, however:
Good sign is Butler is walking around under his own power on the sideline, albeit under the watchful eye of doctors/trainers.— Steve Reed (@SteveReedAP) August 10, 2017
Panthers 7, Texans 0 (7:12)
Watt was already out by the second series, and the Panthers’ offense seemed to notice. Anderson hit Greg Olsen for a 32-yard gain in the middle of the field. Then McCaffrey showed why he was a top-10 pick with a shifty first-down run.
Benjamin beat Johnathan Joseph to haul in the first touchdown of the game.
Texans 0, Panthers 0 (10:13)
It was another three-and-out for Savage (and the Carolina defense). Right now, we’re all just waiting for Deshaun Watson to make his pro debut:
Can we see Watson now? Please— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) August 9, 2017
Texans 0, Panthers 0 (11:26)
Doink! The Panthers had a chance to get on the board first, but Graham Gano’s 50-yard field goal attempt bounced off the upright.
Kelvin Benjamin looked smooth (and not heavy) on a 17-yard catch from Derek Anderson. We also got our first Christian McCaffrey sighting, but it was just a 2-yard gain.
Texans 0, Panthers 0 (13:31)
The Panthers’ defense was on fire during the first series. Tom Savage was under pressure immediately, and Lamar Miller couldn’t find any room to run. Kawann Short sacked Savage for a big loss and Houston went three-and-out.
J.J. Watt is back, and so is his game of catch with fans:
Before the game
The Houston Texans kick off their 2017 preseason in search of yet another franchise quarterback. They’ll hope Deshaun Watson is the answer, and he will get some NFL competition for the first time when he and the Texans take on the Carolina Panthers Wednesday night.
Tom Savage is starting for the Texans, but Watson will get some reps while working with the second unit. If he plays up to his draft pedigree, he could have little trouble overtaking Savage for the job.
The Texans won the AFC South and advanced to the divisional round despite some abysmal play from quarterback Brock Osweiler. Houston shipped him to Cleveland in a salary-dump trade and moved up in the draft to select Watson, fresh off leading Clemson to the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Watson faces some questions about his accuracy and throwing skills, but he’s a natural leader with solid physical traits. But for now, he’ll have to earn his chance behind Savage.
Houston will be without second-year receiver Will Fuller, who broke his collarbone in camp last week. That leaves the No. 2 receiver wide open between Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong. Miller battled injuries in his rookie year but showed flashes of promise while he converted from quarterback to receiver.
The Panthers are coming off a bitterly disappointing Super Bowl hangover, going 6-10 just one year after finishing 15-1 and winning the NFC behind Cam Newton’s MVP performance. Newton took a sharp step backward, completing a career-worst 52.9 percent of his passes and throwing just 19 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. He’s will sit out the first preseason game while still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, with Derek Anderson getting the start.
Despite Newton’s injury worries, he should be ready for Week 1 and has a new shiny weapon. Carolina went out of its way to add more speed and versatility, drafting Christian McCaffery in the first round and Curtis Samuel in the second. Both men should play a heavy role in their rookie years, with McCaffery in particular adding a new dimension to the offense. Those two should be the big names to watch in the Panthers’ preseason opener.
The game begins at 7:30 p.m. ET and will air nationally on NFL Network. A live stream is available at Watch NFL Network.