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Tom Savage pulls ahead in Texans quarterback battle

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The ex-Panther looks poised to win the starting job

NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans’ quarterback situation became a bit clearer on Saturday night, as former Pitt signal-caller Tom Savage set himself apart from rookie Deshaun Watson with his second straight impressive performance of the preseason.

He’s only seen limited action, but he’s accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. He also earned himself some praise from Texans head coach Bill O’Brien after the game against the New England Patriots.

“We moved the ball when he was in there,” O’Brien said, according to Drew Dougherty of Texans TV. “He threw the ball accurately. Went to the right people. Like I said all along: He’s got good command of what we’re doing.”

O’Brien, while complimentary, did not sound quite as certain in his assessment of Watson’s performance.

“I thought Deshaun did some good things,” he said, per Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com. “I think they were doing some things defensively that were tough. It wasn’t like a big schematic game, but they were playing a lot of man coverage. Guys had to work hard to get open, and I thought he made some plays.”

At this point in the preseason, Savage, who last played for Pitt in 2013, has completed 85 percent of his 20 passes and thrown for 167 yards and a touchdown over two games. His score came on a well-placed pass to Jaelen Strong in the back of the end zone Saturday night.

For comparison, Watson has completed 51 percent of his 35 passes and thrown for 281 yards, but he has yet to score with his arm. Instead, he’s put points on the board twice by darting into the end zone himself. His overall completion percentage also doesn’t tell the whole story, as it dipped from a respectable 60 percent on Aug. 9 to a disappointing 30 percent Saturday.

In addition to outplaying Watson as a passer this preseason, Savage has also received a vote of confidence from Houston’s star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

“If anybody should be a judge of quarterbacks, I’ve played with the most quarterbacks in NFL history throughout my first four years,” Hopkins told Dan Graziano of ESPN earlier this month. “So I put the stamp on Savage, and I think that’s all that needs to be said about that.”

Obviously, that wasn’t all that needed to be said about it, as this quarterback competition has raged on, spiraling into one of the most scrutinized position battles in the league. But Hopkins’ opinion is certainly a factor that could weigh in Savage’s favor if Watson is able to step up his play.

And to be sure, the starting job has appeared to be Savage’s for the taking all along, as he entered this preseason with three years of NFL experience and a few starts under his belt. But when a team takes a player like Watson in the first round, fans want to know what they have, and they want to know now.

Because of that, Savage has not only been competing against Watson on the field, but also against the notion that he’s a career backup holding back a franchise cornerstone, which has been peddled by both local and national media outlets.

Mark Maske of The Washington Post even suggested that Watson “would give the Texans a chance to reach elite status, to be a team capable of ousting the Patriots from the playoffs sometime in the next few years.”

While the operative word in that sentence is “years,” the whole idea stands on shaky footing since Watson has done little thus far to warrant suggestions he could catapult the Texans to elite status. And again, the argument leans on the notion that Savage has peaked after two league starts.

For his part, Savage doesn’t seem to think that’s the case.

When he spoke to Sarah Barshop of ESPN during a practice last Monday in which Watson was taking first-team reps, Savage laid out his view of the situation explicitly.

“My mindset is that this is my team. And I’m not going to let anyone take it,” he said.

“It’s a pretty simple equation I think a lot of people overthink, especially in this league. If you go there and you win and you play well, they can’t pull you. And if you go out there and you lose and the offense doesn’t look good, they can pull you. So the goal is to go out there and play well and win games. And that’s all you can really control.”

With that said, Savage has clearly kept this situation well within his control, and if he can close out the preseason playing at this level, the starting job should be his.

Watson, meanwhile, may well be the Texans’ quarterback of the future. In fact, it would be surprising if that wasn’t ultimately the case, based on his talent. But with three weeks to go until Houston kicks off its season, it seems unlikely he’ll make the leap from fledgling talent to serviceable starter in that short amount of time as he continues to struggle with accuracy.