HOUSTON — By the end, Chad Wheeler received about as good a compliment as he could have imagined.
The second-year offensive tackle, who started in place of embattled lineman Ereck Flowers, met up with the Texans’ JJ Watt after the Giants beat Houston, 27-22, at NRG Stadium on Sunday.
“Great game,” Watt told Wheeler. “Good job, good luck.”
It was Watt who actually had a great game with three sacks and three tackles for loss as the All-Pro produced his first three-sack game since the 2015 season. But Wheeler did a credible enough job against Watt and the Texans’ defense to give Eli Manning enough time to get the job done. Wheeler also provided a key block on Saquon Barkley’s first-quarter touchdown run.
The Giants decided to bench Flowers after two inauspicious games at right tackle, although coach Pat Shurmur didn’t use the term “benching” to describe the lineup change. A former first-round pick in 2015, Flowers was replaced by an undrafted free agent in Wheeler, who came out of USC in 2017.
“It’s probably more about Chad and less about Ereck,” Shurmur said after the game. “I just felt like it was time for Chad to get an opportunity to play. It’s super-important that those guys [on the offensive line] play hard and play together, and they did that. A couple of times, [Wheeler] got beat, but Chad fought his way through it. I thought, for the most part, he competed and battled.”
Flowers has struggled through most of his career with the Giants, and Shurmur decided in the offseason to try him at right tackle after three years on the left side. But after Flowers’ poor performances against the Jaguars and Cowboys, Shurmur decided to make the change. He had Wheeler take some first-team snaps during the week in practice and told Wheeler on Saturday night that he would start.
Wheeler was pleased with his first-half performance, as the Giants built a 20-3 lead in the second quarter and did a good job against the Texans’ pass rush. But Watt eventually found his rhythm and dropped Manning three times.
“That was my fault on a couple of those,” Wheeler said. “I will watch the film and correct those mistakes, because it can’t happen every game.”
Manning offered encouragement to Wheeler.
“He just said, ‘Keep going,’ ” Wheeler said.
“I thought Chad did a good job,” Manning said. “[Shurmur] did a good job mixing in some quick passes and some tempo stuff and got [Wheeler] going and got him in good shape.”
Manning said he couldn’t blame Wheeler for Watt’s sacks.
“JJ, he’s going to make some plays,” Manning said. “He does it against everybody. I told Chad to just keep competing, keep fighting. I thought he did a good job. I thought he held his own.”
Will Wheeler get another opportunity next week against the Saints? Shurmur wouldn’t say. Then again, maybe he didn’t have to say anything. With a positive result against the Texans, it’s a logical assumption that Wheeler will get the start.