HOUSTON – Rex Burkhead saw something rare unfold in front of him: a gaping hole to be drilled with lots of unoccupied green artificial turf in front of him.
Stonewalled for most of the season while crashing into a line of scrimmage stacked with determination for all he could muster in hopes of saving doomed racing games, the veteran Houston Texans lived through a An entirely different experience on Sunday against a much-favored AFC playoff contender.
Burkhead capitalized on the extra wiggle room generated behind a revised COVID-19 ravaged offensive line, rushing down the left sideline behind blocks from left tackle Geron Christian Sr. and left guard Cole Toner for a touchdown run 25-yard run that set the tone for the Texans’ 41-29 toppled victory Sunday at NRG Stadium.
It was the first of two touchdown runs for the former New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals runner who started the season buried on the depth board behind Mark Ingram, David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay. Burkhead and his straightforward approach to the game grew up on the Texans, who traded Ingram to the New Orleans Saints for a seventh-round pick in 2024, cut Lindsay and supplanted Johnson with Burkhead, a Nebraska alumnus.
Burkhead justified the confidence by rushing for a career-high 149 yards as the Texans rushed for a season-high 189 yards for their most in a game since rushing for 216 yards as a team in 2019 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Burkhead, 31, displayed strength, shattering, poise and tenacity a week after his status was questioned for a road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars due to hip injuries and quadriceps.
“Rex is a phenomenal back,” said wide receiver Chris Conley, who blocked Burkhead. “What I saw today is what I’ve known all season is Rex still has it. He never lost it. He just had to be healthy. Recovering the ball from this man, he runs with reckless abandon. He does this every time he touches the rock. It makes blocking really easy for a guy like this who is going to fight and fight for every yard. “
The Texans started Sunday with the NFL’s final running game averaging 77.3 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry.
And Burkhead’s contributions were significant enough to complete Davis Mills’ passes – 254 yards and two touchdown passes – that the rookie quarterback made it a special point to ask a member of the team to securing the game ball for the veteran.
“It was right after the last play of the game,” said Mills. “When we got down to one knee, someone ran onto the field, I threw that game ball at them and made sure Rex got it because he played extremely well today. I have been running hard all day, love to see him.
With the Texans at 18 and missing left tackle Tytus Howard, left guard Lane Taylor, center Justin Britt and wide receiver Brandin Cooks on the reserve-COVID-19 roster, they sent it down the Chargers’ throat. . Burkhead passed Ingram’s 85 yards rushing, a season high. He also passed him to become the Texans’ first rusher with 356 yards for the season. Despite being traded several games ago against the Saints, Ingram entered the Texans rushers on Sunday with 294 yards.
Burkhead averaged 6.8 yards per carry as the Texsans racked up 437 total yards of attack. Mills has only been sacked once and has only been hit twice. The fake action game and Burkhead deserved respect.
“My running style, I try to be patient,” said Burkhead. “Try to let things grow and hit it when I need to. Try to change it, sure. You can’t just be one-dimensional or the guys are going to touch you. I’m trying to mix it up.
“My dad was a running back growing up. He always preached to me to be versatile. And not always just to hit the hole quickly, sometimes you have to be patient. The offensive line did a great job of allowing us to be patient and let things develop and really come through their holes when we needed them to. “
Signed for a one-year, $ 1.487 million contract that includes an additional $ 500,000 in incentives, Burkhead surpassed his contract and saved the Texans’ languid racing game. He started from a loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
“He’s been Mr. Consistent for us,” Texans coach David Culley said. “He’s a guy who’s going to go north to south. He knows how to play. He just knows how to play the game. Rex could probably play another role. That’s how instinctive he is as a football player.
“What happened today was we put him on the perimeter and our receivers and tight ends made blocks for him. Of course he missed some guys and he took it in the end zone like you would expect him to do with the situation he had in front of him.
Burkhead converted a 3rd and 3rd key in the fourth quarter, gaining four yards as offensive coordinator Tim Kelly stuck with a hot hand. put away the game.
“There was no hesitation with Tim and what we felt we needed to do in this particular situation,” Culley said. “We’re probably also in a situation where if we fall into a 3rd and 4th, we run the ball. If we went down to 4th and 1 or 4th and 2, we were probably going to go. It was the confidence I had in what our attack was doing. And that was very, very essential for us to be successful in whatever we were doing offensively. “
Ultimately, Burkhead’s contributions were a major factor in beating a favored team by 13 points at kickoff. It also landed him a game ball and ended a lot of frustration for a largely inefficient and unproductive running game all season.
“The offensive line has done a tremendous job, you can see it in their eyes,” said Burkhead. “They are focused. They had a great week of preparation. When it came to those critical moments, they were locked in. They were moving guys around, which made it easy for me to get those sites. Not having to stop and start in the backfield, but really push that stack forward and get those first downs when we needed them.
“We have worked very hard in the racing game, trying to improve this area for sure. And we took that as a challenge. The guys up front took it as a challenge, whether it was the linemen, tight ends and of course the coaches as well. We knew as long as we were running we could have a day like today and luckily for us we did, and the guys up front did a terrific job.