Texans coach David Culley regrets decision to punt when third down was an option

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Houston Texans rookie head coach David Culley made one of the most puzzling decisions you'll ever see in the NFL on Sunday. 

When given the choice between retaining the ball on third down and punting on fourth, Culley chose to punt. 

Here's what happened. 

Facing third-and-15 early in the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Texans picked up 13 yards on a pass from Tyrod Taylor to Brandin Cooks, leaving them with fourth-and-2 at Cleveland's 49-yard line. 

But Browns defensive end Takk Mckinley was flagged for offside on the play, leaving Culley with two conceivable options. Accept the penalty and replay the down on third-and-10. Or decline the penalty, take the big gain and roll the dice on fourth-and-2 near midfield.

Culley instead chose the option behind previously concealed Door No. 3. Punt on fourth-and-2 from Browns territory. Here's how it played out:

Texans punter Cameron Johnston sent his punt into the end zone for a touchback rather than the desired outcome of pinning the Browns deep. Instead of keeping the ball on third down, the Texans secured a net gain of 29 yards in field position.

Culley confirmed after the game that his goal was to secure a field position win.

“We felt like that at that point we’d have the chance to get better field position,” Culley said. “But we didn’t make it. We didn’t get it.”

Houston Texans head coach David Culley on the sideline against the Cleveland Browns in the first half an NFL football game in Cleveland, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
David Culley would like a do-over. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

After sleeping on the decision, Culley thought better of it. Given a do-over, he'd take the third-and-10.

“If I had it to do all over again, I would have taken the penalty," Culley told reporters on Monday, per Pro Football Talk. "It was more out of frustration than anything. I was a little frustrated at that time because I was thinking field position, I did not want to do anything that hurt us. ...

"That was just out of frustration on my part because of the series we were having at that time. But if I had it to do over again, I would have taken the penalty and given our offense a chance to get the first down, which is what I should have done.”

Culley inherited a stacked deck when he accepted the Texans opening amid Houston's offseason of chaos. He started the job facing long odds of success. A mistake like this doesn't help.

Good on him for admitting it on Monday. But his miscue on Sunday is not something that should happen in the NFL.

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