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Houston’s Savage looks to improve before playoffs

By Kristie Rieken Associated Press

HOUSTON – Houston’s Tom Savage wasn’t great in his first career start in place of Brock Osweiler.

But he didn’t make any major mistakes, and the Texans got a 12-10 win over Cincinnati on Saturday night thanks to a missed field goal as time expired.

Houston clinched a second straight AFC South title. Savage and the Texans know he’ll need to improve if they hope to make a run this postseason.

“I think we can build, and obviously I think it’s a good thing that we protected the ball – not put the defense in a tough situation,” Savage said. “I think just going out there and … and keep executing what we need to do, and it’s good to go out there and get some experience for sure.”

Savage threw for 260 yards last week to help Houston rally for a 21-20 win over Jacksonville in his first regular-season action since 2014. Osweiler was benched that game after throwing interceptions on consecutive possessions in the second quarter. Coach Bill O’Brien decided to leave Osweiler on the bench and stick with Savage this week, and early on against the Bengals it looked like a mistake.

Savage completed two passes for 13 yards in the first half and the Texans trailed 3-0 at halftime. The third-year player was much better in the second half and he finished with 176 yards passing to help Houston win. He completed 18 of 29 passes and has not turned over the ball after Osweiler threw more interceptions (16) than touchdown passes (14) in his 14 starts.

“We went to no-huddle and he was able to get rid of the ball a little bit quicker,” O’Brien said. “The no-huddle helped our pace, our rhythm, and it was just a good job by the offensive staff of getting him into a rhythm.”

Though the Texans (9-6) moved the ball better after halftime, they still struggled in the red zone. Houston had first downs inside the 10-yard line twice in the second half Saturday night and settled for field goals on both of those trips.

“We still are not very good in the red area; that’s going to come back and bite us here if we don’t improve that,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to keep trying to improve it.”

Though the Texans have already secured the division title, next week at Tennessee will be important for Savage to get more experience before the playoffs begin. They’re looking for more this year after an embarrassing 30-0 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round last January.

“We got a resilient group and it’s exciting,” Savage said. “Going forward offensively we’ve got to just be a little bit better – make some plays, obviously work on the red area.”

After losing star defensive end J.J. Watt to a season-ending back injury after three games, and seeing Osweiler benched after signing that huge $72 million contract, Houston certainly took time to celebrate overcoming adversity to reach the playoffs. But the Texans also are quick to note that they have bigger goals, especially with the Super Bowl taking place in their stadium in February.

“The goal is to win it all, but this is the first step,” owner Bob McNair said. “If we don’t accomplish this, we have no chance. Now it’s a new game and we’ll have a chance to go after the brass ring, and that’s what we want to do.”

The Texans are looking to pick up that elusive 10th win after going 9-7 in each of O’Brien’s first two seasons. The Titans will be without quarterback Marcus Mariota after he broke his leg in a loss to the Jaguars on Saturday that helped Houston secure its playoff berth.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of cleanup,” left tackle Duane Brown said. “It’s not going to get easier. The season really starts now for us. You have one more game to close it out, and after that we know we have to play our best football ever to be able to compete and advance.”

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