Falcons rout Texans, dominating every phase

Freeman, Hoyer get game balls in Falcons' 48-21 win over Texans

Falcons RB Devonta Freeman gets the game ball again after rushing for three touchdowns for the second consecutive week. Meanwhile, Texans QB Brian Hoyer gets a game ball for generating some offense after replacing Ryan Mallett.

ATLANTA -- Arian Foster's return was supposed to give the Houston Texans some help offensively, but instead they sputtered against an opportunistic Atlanta Falcons defense that scored off three turnovers in the first half. Atlanta cruised 48-21.

Foster fumbled, and it seemed right tackle Derek Newton caused the fumble. Starting quarterback Ryan Mallett threw an interception that ricocheted off a Falcons linebacker, flying past DeAndre Hopkins, who was working to break free from aggressive Falcons defensive backs. The Texans went into halftime down 28-0, and it only got worse from there.

By the two-minute warning, Foster had eight carries for 10 yards and three catches for 25 yards. He alternated series with backup Alfred Blue. Foster likely will make a bigger difference on Thursday night, when the Texans face division opponent Indianapolis.

What it means: The Texans have a lot of soul-searching to do after Sunday's game. They trailed 42-0 before showing any life, and at that point the Falcons began resting their starters. The Texans fell to 1-3 this season and on Sunday struggled on both sides of the ball. There is time for recovery, but the lapses on both offense and defense are cause for alarm. They'll have to figure out how to stop giving up explosive plays. They'll have to improve their ball security. And they'll have to shore up a run defense that allowed three rushing touchdowns, including touchdowns of 16 and 23 yards to running back Devonta Freeman.

Quarterback carousel turns again: The Texans' quarterback situation is in flux again. Coach Bill O'Brien pulled Mallett in the third quarter, replacing him with Brian Hoyer. It's unclear how much of an impact Mallett's chest injury made on his play; he had been on the injury report all week with it. Mallett finished with a passer rating of 46.8, completing 12 passes for 27 yards and 150 yards. He threw one interception and no touchdowns. Hoyer led a touchdown drive immediately upon entering the game, and the Texans scored four times with Hoyer operating the offense.

One reason to get excited: There really isn't much Texans fans should get excited about in a thorough drubbing like this, but the Texans did better in the return game with Cecil Shorts handling punt returns and Keith Mumphery handling kickoff returns.

One reason to panic: The Texans did a decent job on Falcons receiver Julio Jones, but Atlanta hurt them in every other way. Their success in the running the ball was problematic and is what broke the game open early. Devonta Freeman had two rushing touchdowns early.

Fantasy watch: Most of it came in garbage time, but receiver DeAndre Hopkins had more than 150 yards and nearly caught a touchdown pass as time expired in the fourth quarter.

Ouch: Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson left the game briefly just before halftime. Receiver Nate Washington left in the first half with a hamstring injury. Receiver Cecil Shorts might have the most serious injury of them all. He suffered it on the final play of the game when a Falcons defensive player drove him into the turf after he fumbled.