Tom Savage Will Make First NFL Start Against Bengals

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Dec 18, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) watches quarterback Tom Savage (3) during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) watches quarterback Tom Savage (3) during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Houston Texans will turn to third-year quarterback Tom Savage on Christmas Eve against the Cincinnati Bengals at NRG Stadium.

The Houston Texans thought they signed their franchise quarterback. After rolling out the big bucks to sign Brock Osweiler in early March, the first-place Texans are leaving their 72-million dollar man on the bench when the Bengals come to town on Christmas Eve.

Last week against Jacksonville, a should-be-blowout turned into a tight contest. Osweiler threw interceptions on back to back throws in the second quarter and the Jaguars opened up a 13-point lead. Head coach Bill O’Brien decided it was time for a change. Enter backup Tom Savage, who had only 19 professional pass attempts under his belt when he was called upon with 8:31 left in the first half.

Savage completed 23 of 36 for 260 yards and led the Texans on three consecutive scoring drives in the second half to squeeze out a win, 21-20. The game costs Gus Bradley a head-coaching job and has now cost Osweiler a job under center.

At 8-6 and clinging to first place in the AFC South by a tie-breaker, the Texans will leave Osweiler — who is guaranteed $37 million by his contract — on the sidelines against the mathematically-eliminated Bengals. Osweiler signed with Houston after making just seven starts with the Denver Broncos last season (and was benched in his final start for Peyton Manning).

In 14 starts in 2016, Osweiler threw more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (14). He also posted an overall 71.4 passer rating and averaged less than 200 yards per game.

Savage will now look to provide a jump start to the league’s 30th-ranked passing offense in his first career start.

The Bengals do not have a quarterback controversy, but they are on the outside looking in. At 5-8-1 after a loss to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati will not be returning to the playoffs for a sixth straight season. But, they can still play the role of spoiler facing two playoff hopefuls to conclude what will be just their fourth losing season since 2003.

Tough sledding

In the 14-year tenure of Marvin Lewis, the Bengals have faced five career quarterbacks making their first NFL start. The most notable was Johnny Manziel in 2014. The Bengals intercepted him twice and dominated Cleveland, 30-0, to knock the Browns out of playoff contention.

Here’s the full list:

  • 2007 vs. STL (W17-10) — Brock Berlin: 17-28, 153 yards, INT
  • 2007 @ SF (L 20-13) — Shaun Hill: 21-28, 197 yards, TD
  • 2008: @ BAL (L 17-10) — Joe Flacco: 15-29 129 yards
  • 2010: @ CAR (W 20-7) — Jimmy Clausen: 16-33, 188 yards, INT, 3 fumbles 
  • 2014: @ CLE (W 30-0) — Johnny Manziel: 10-18, 80 yards, 2 INT

Despite an overall 3-2 record, the Bengals have not let these quarterbacks turn their first professional start into a highlight reel. Shaun Hill’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in a nationally televised Saturday night game in December ’07 is the lone passing score allowed in those five games.

In three career appearances with Houston, Tom Savage has completed 33 of 55 passes for 387 yards and zero touchdowns. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
In three career appearances with Houston, Tom Savage has completed 33 of 55 passes for 387 yards and zero touchdowns. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Savage has yet to find the end zone after 55 pass attempts over three seasons. His first NFL action came in 2014 when he replaced an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Colts. He completed 10 of 19 passes for 127 yards but threw an interception and lost a fumble as Indianapolis clinched the division and later went on to defeat the Bengals in the playoffs 21 days later at Lucas Oil Stadium.

College journeyman

Prior to being taken 29 spots ahead of Cincinnati’s selection of A.J. McCarron in the 2014 NFL Draft, Savage ventured through three different colleges. After being named to the All-American Freshman Team at Rutgers in 2009, he transferred to Arizona after an arm injury in 2010, then left for the University of Pittsburgh after Arizona named Rich Rodriguez as head coach.

In one season with Pittsburgh, he threw for just under 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also helped freshman wide receiver (and current Bengals’ rookie) Tyler Boyd start his run to becoming the Panthers’ all-time leader in receptions (254) and receiving yards (3,361).

On Sept. 14, 2013, Boyd caught the first of 21 career collegiate receiving touchdowns, hauling in a 34-yard score from Savage in a 49-27 win over New Mexico. One week later, the duo hooked up for three first-half touchdowns in a 58-55 shootout victory at Duke.

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Boyd finished the season with 85 catches for 1,174 yards. Savage’s college reign ended with an injury in the team’s Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over Bowling Green.

Quarterback turnstile

The Bengals are no stranger to the Texans’ quarterback carousel. Since 2005, Cincinnati is 2-6 against Houston’s five different starting quarterbacks. Despite beating David Carr and Ryan Mallett, the Bengals went 0-3 against Matt Schaub, lost to Brian Hoyer, and let T.J Yates come from behind to win at Paul Brown Stadium as a starter in 2011 and as a backup in 2015.

Savage will have to cater to a pair of starving receivers. DeAndre Hopkins has just one touchdown since Week 5 and has been held to under 100 yards receiving in 12 straight games. While rookie Will Fuller has tallied just 22 catches in the last eight contests.

Next: Should Burkhead Get More Snaps?

The Bengals’ defense has allowed just three 100-yard receivers all season and held opposing quarterbacks to an average passer rating of 71.2 since November.

@scdermer4

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