HOUSTON (USA TODAY) - Brock Osweiler is getting a second chance to start for the Houston Texans.
With Tom Savage out with a concussion, the Texans will look to their $72 million man to lead them in their wild-card playoff game against Oakland on Saturday.
Osweiler joined the Texans in the offseason on that huge contract after spending his first four seasons in Denver. He started the first 14 games this season before being benched in the second quarter against Jacksonville on Dec. 18 after throwing interceptions on consecutive drives to give him 16 for the season. Savage took over and rallied the Texans to the victory and started Houston's last two games.
But Savage suffered a concussion early in the second quarter Sunday in a loss to the Titans , and Osweiler took over and threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score.
It will be Osweiler's first career playoff start after he was benched for Peyton Manning before the start of the postseason in Denver last season.
"It's a dream come true ... I couldn't be more excited," Osweiler said. "I can't wait for Saturday to be here. I wish it was here today. But I'll definitely be ready to go."
With Savage out Saturday, Brandon Weeden , who hasn't played since last season, will back up Osweiler.
Osweiler's coaches and receivers all thought he played more freely on Sunday than he had in the past and the quarterback explained what he thinks brought about the change.
"I told myself: 'If you get an opportunity to go back in, just go have fun. Get back to the joy of football,'" he said.
Osweiler set that tone the second he took the field on Sunday, gathering the offensive lineman telling a quick joke before getting down to business.
"Everyone had a good little laugh," Osweiler said.
But details of that joke will be left in the category of what happens on the field stays on the field.
"I'm going to keep that one between me and the linemen," Osweiler said with a sly smile.
Osweiler and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins had some trouble connecting this season with the quarterback often trying to force balls to Hopkins that were intercepted. Things were different on Sunday when Osweiler and Hopkins linked up repeatedly, and he ended with a season-high 123 yards receiving. It was the most yards he'd had since finishing with 113 in a win over Kansas City on Sept. 18.
"He did a great job coming in, being a leader and stepping in, forgetting about everything's that's happened," Hopkins said. "He's been doing a great job at practice on leading everybody, being the same guy that he was when he was first in there. Nobody's seen a change in the way he's been acting ... so I expect him to continue his play from last week."
Oakland coach Jack Del Rio, who will start rookie Connor Cook at quarterback Saturday, worked with the Broncos when Osweiler was there. He was asked if he expects to see a different player than he did when Oakland beat the Texans in Mexico City on Nov. 21.
"That's up to Brock," Del Rio said. "I was with him in Denver. I understand the arm strength and size and his mobility and decision-making and all those type of things, and we'll get ourselves prepared and do the best we can."
Osweiler believes being relegated to backup last season in Denver helped him deal with this year's setback.
"Obviously nobody wants to be benched, but I have experienced that before," he said. "I think I handled it much better this time than previously."
The 26-year-old Osweiler used this time on the bench to observe the game from a different perspective, and it helped him learn and see some things that he didn't see before. After figuring out a way to have fun on the field again last week, Osweiler plans to take that same mindset into Saturday's game even though the stage will be much bigger.
"Just take what the defense gives you and just go play football ... just go have fun and go play some backyard football with your buddies," he said. "And that's really the mentality I took into Sunday's game and I'm going to continue to carry that with me."