By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON (AP) — Will Fuller knew it was up to him to make things happen on Sunday with Atlanta focused on slowing down DeAndre Hopkins.
Fuller didn’t disappoint, catching three of Deshaun Watson’s five touchdown passes and finishing with a career-high 217 yards receiving to lead the Houston Texans to a 53-32 win.
“Playing with Hop, like I always say, is easy,” Fuller said. “He gets a lot of coverages thrown his way, and I feel like that’s why they brought me here, to help him out. It took me a while, but I finally had this big game, so I’m just trying to help … out.”
Watson threw for a career-high 426 yards and his five touchdowns tied a personal best.
A week after scoring a season-low 10 points in a loss to Carolina, Watson and Houston’s offense bounced back on a day he was 28 of 33 and became the first player to top 400 yards passing against the Falcons since Week 16 of 2012. It was the second-most points in franchise history behind the 57 they scored in a win over the Titans in 2017.
Watson is the first player in NFL to throw for at least 400 yards and five touchdowns with five incompletions or fewer in a game in NFL history.
“Will did a heck of a job and … DeAndre, he did a heck of a job of allowing Will to get open with double coverage and setting the routes up for him,” Watson said.
Hopkins, who had 88 yards receiving on Sunday, was proud that the attention on him helped Fuller to his big day.
“Not a lot of people want to go out there and just line up a man against me unless they really believe in him,” Hopkins said. “But that’s why we have guys like Will, the tight ends and the running backs to step up when there are two or three guys on me.”
Fuller’s 14 receptions and three TD catches are tied with Andre Johnson for the most in a game in franchise history. Darren Fells had two touchdown grabs for the Texans (3-2) and Carlos Hyde added a rushing TD.
Houston’s beleaguered offensive line didn’t allow a sack on Sunday after giving up 18 through the first four games.
Matt Ryan had 330 yards passing with three touchdowns and one interception for the Falcons (1-4), who lost their third straight game.
It was Watson’s first meeting with the Falcons after the Georgia native worked as a ball boy for the team all four years of high school. Watson shared a moment with Falcons owner Arthur Blank on the field before the game. Blank started the program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County that allowed Watson the opportunity to work for the Falcons as a teenager.
Atlanta cut the lead to eight points with about 11½ minutes to go before Watson’s second TD pass to Fells pushed the lead to 40-25 about five minutes later.
The Falcons cut the lead to one score again with 3½ minutes left when Ryan threw a 29-yard pass to Calvin Ridley to get them within 40-32. But Watson and Fuller struck again, with Fuller grabbing a 44-yard touchdown reception to make it 47-32 with about two minutes remaining.
The Texans added another score when Tashaun Gipson returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown in the final minute.
The rest of the offense surrounded Fuller on the bench following the third score and the players bowed to him and lofted him in the air as his big day was announced in the stadium and he was shown on the Jumbotron.
Watson, who was criticized for failing to complete any deep passes against the Panthers, had no such trouble on Sunday when he completed multiple passes for 25 yards or more. His favorite target was Fuller, who more than doubled his output from the first four games combined on Sunday after entering the day with 183 yards receiving.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said there was “no excuse” for his team’s poor performance on Sunday.
“Those explosive plays just can’t be a part of it,” he said. “That was one of the catalysts that gave them the energy in the third quarter.”
Houston got things going in the second half when Watson hit Keke Coutee on a 51-yard catch-and-run. The Texans regained the lead four plays later when Carlos Hyde scored on a 1-yard run to make it 23-17.
The Texans tacked on a field goal later in the third before Fells caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Watson to extend the lead to 33-17. Watson completed two long throws on that drive, finding Fuller for a 32-yard gain before connecting with Hopkins for 29 yards.
DeAndre Carter muffed a punt on the first play of the fourth quarter and it was recovered by Atlanta.
The Falcons cashed in on that mistake when Ryan crashed into the end zone for a 1-yard score with about 11½ minutes left. It was first ruled that he fumbled, but it was reviewed and determined that Ryan got into the end zone before fumbling to give Atlanta the touchdown. Ryan found Austin Hooper for the 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 33-25.
Fuller got in front of the defense and grabbed a 33-yard touchdown pass in the second, but the kicked failed to leave the Texans up 13-10.
The Texans pushed the lead to 16-10 with a field goal later in the second before Ryan orchestrated a 12-play, 82-yard drive capped by a 9-yard pass to Devonta Freeman to leave the Falcons up 17-16 at halftime.
THEY SAID IT
Ryan on the loss: “That was a tough one. To sit here 1-4 after five games is difficult. It’s not what we wanted, but we’re going to be the ones to have to dig ourselves out of it.”
Falcons: Visit Arizona next Sunday.
Texans: Visit Chiefs next Sunday.