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Texans QB Savage clears concussion protocol

1/9/2017 9:12:00 PM
Houston Texans backup quarterback Tom Savage has been cleared under the mandatory NFL concussion testing protocol after missing Saturday's playoff win against the Oakland Raiders.

Savage is available to be the backup Saturday in an AFC divisional-round playoff game against the New England Patriots. Brandon Weeden was the backup against the Raiders.

"He'll be ready to practice," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "He should be ready to go."

Savage was the Texans' starter, but was replaced by Brock Osweiler with the first-string offense after the head injury. In three games and two starts, Savage completed 46 of 73 passes for 461 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for an 80.9 passer rating.

Meanwhile, starting strong safety Quintin Demps is recovering from a hamstring injury that forced him out of the game against the Raiders. Corey Moore replaced him in the lineup at strong safety opposite free safety Andre Hall, who regained his starting job.

Demps leads all NFL safeties with a career-high six interceptions.

"I think that will be day-to-day," O'Brien said. "I think we will decide that closer to game time."

-- The Patriots have been installed as 16-point favorites by Las Vegas sports books over the Texans for an AFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday. That's a huge number of points.

It's the largest point spread in the NFL playoffs since the 1998 Minnesota Vikings were favored by 16 points over the Arizona Cardinals in a divisional-round game.

The point spread isn't much of a surprise considering the Texans were blown out, 27-0, earlier this season when the Patriots had rookie Jacoby Brissett under center and star quarterback Tom Brady was suspended for the Deflategate scandal.

Plus, the Patriots have won their last five games in a row over the Texans and have outscored their rivals, 54-6, in two contests over the past two seasons.

O'Brien said he has no plans to cite the Vegas opinions on the game to his players to provide motivational fuel against the 14-2 Patriots.

"Again, what does that matter?" O'Brien said. "The only thing that matters is what takes place in between the lines on Saturday night. No, I don't really go too much to the Vegas betting line. I don't think that would be really a good motivation tool this week."

-- Two of the major reasons why the Texans advanced to the AFC divisional round were the upgrades they made with their red-zone offense and pass protection.

Problematic throughout the season as the Texans ranked 31st in red-zone offense, the AFC South champions scored touchdowns on each of their three trips inside the Raiders' 20-yard line.

That included touchdown runs by running back Lamar Miller and Osweiler and a touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

"I think on the offensive side of the ball, I think we did a great job once we got in the red zone to get touchdowns," Miller said. "Our main focus for this week is once we get in the red zone, we have to get touchdowns instead of field goals."

Miller rushed for 73 yards on 31 carries, including a long run of 19 yards, in his first game back from an ankle injury. He emerged unscathed from this game, not aggravating the ankle problem.

"I feel pretty good," Miller said. "I was happy to be out there."

After allowing a combined eight sacks and 16 quarterback hits against the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans, the Texans' offensive line yielded zero sacks or quarterback hits to Oakland.

"They had to improve in order for us to be able to move on," O'Brien said. "We had to improve those areas. The thing about the red area is we've been in the red area. The problem is you can't keep kicking field goals down there. Finally, we were able to convert our red area possessions into touchdowns.

"A lot of that had to do with the defense. (Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon) Clowney's interception down there, that was a great play and we were able to play complementary football and put the ball in the end zone. The zero sacks, I gave a game ball to the offensive line. Those guys played their butts off."

-- Standing in front of his locker stall, Texans veteran offensive tackle Duane Brown reflected on an emotional path back to having two sturdy legs again after enduring a difficult year of rehabbing his surgically-repaired leg.

The three-time Pro Bowl blocker made a complete recovery after tearing his quadriceps tendon at the close of the 2015 regular season, a devastating injury that required countless time strengthening the leg. Brown returned to play by the Texans' fifth game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings.

Now, Brown is back to his old form and preparing for an AFC divisional-round playoff game against the New England Patriots following a 27-14 wild-card victory over the Oakland Raiders.

A year ago, Brown was sidelined for the Texans' 30-0 shutout playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and not able to be a part of that game due to his injury.

"At this time last year, I was recovering and watching the first playoff game from the couch," Brown said. "Now, I can contribute with my guys and play in my first playoff game since 2012. I'm very thankful to be here with my guys."

The Texans' offensive line had a resurgent performance against the Raiders after two consecutive weeks of substandard performances in pass protection.

During the final two games of the regular season, the Texans allowed a combined eight sacks and 16 quarterback hits. Against the Raiders and Pro Bowl pass rusher Khalil Mack, the Texans allowed zero sacks and zero quarterback hits. It was a complete whitewashing of the Raiders' formidable pass rush headlined by Mack and Bruce Irvin as far as pressure.

Mack did have 11 tackles, including two for losses, but he never hit quarterback Brock Osweiler as the quarterback threw one touchdown pass, ran for another and had no turnovers.

"It's a very special win, total team effort, best football that we've played all year at the most critical time," Brown said. "I can't say enough about the effort of my guys. We just stayed in it, started fast. We had a moment there where we couldn't get much going, but we just kept plugging."

-- Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is one of the more underrated pass rushers in the game, especially with his penchant for clutch play in the playoffs.

Mercilus sacked Oakland Raiders rookie quarterback Connor Cook twice on Saturday and had three sacks of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith during an AFC wild-card playoff loss last season, giving him five sacks in the postseason over the past two seasons.

"I did it last year, I did it this year and just continued that on, that's it," Mercilus said. "Just being able to read my keys, studying, preparing all week long and just being able to go out there and play fast without thinking."

Mercilus led the Texans with 7 1/2 sacks and 22 quarterback hits during the regular season despite becoming a marked man without the dominant presence of J.J. Watt occupying blockers. Working in tandem with Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Mercilus and he have formed a stellar pass-rushing tandem for the top-ranked defense in the league.

"I thought they did a nice job," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "They're a good front. They've had a good defense all year. The front was really what generates a lot of pressure. Yeah, Mercilus played well. We knew he would be a factor coming in, somebody we would have to deal with."

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