Last Friday, John Granato and I were breaking down the keys to the Texans' playoff game in Baltimore on our radio show on 1560 The Game. For the Texans to win the game, I thought it would be crucial for them to get a big play in the return game from either Danieal Manning (kickoff return) or Jacoby Jones (punt return) to set up a short field for T.J. Yates or maybe even score a touchdown.
In the course of responding to my point, Granato highlighted the fact that Jacoby Jones had not muffed a punt all season long! (And if you've been watching the Texans since 2007, you know Jacoby not fumbling is like Tara Reid staying celibate for a whole year. It's crazy improbable.)
Which is why it should have never been mentioned, not two days before the most important game in Texans history! Like publicly acknowledging a no-hitter in the fifth inning, Granato's mere mention of Jacoby's newfound ball security was tantamount to begging the sports gods to rain down hell on Jones and the Texans.
And rain down hell, they did.
The first five minutes of the Texans' 20-13 loss to the Ravens could not have gone any more smoothly. A 60-yard kickoff return from Manning set the Texans up in Ravens territory, the Texans cashed a field goal for an early 3-0 lead, and the defense was able to force the Ravens into a three-and-out on their first possession.
With about ten minutes to go in the first quarter, the Texans had a lead, they had momentum and they were a Sam Koch punt away from having the ball again.
And then, well, Jacoby happened.
Koch angled the ball to Jones's left. Somewhat inexplicably, Jones decided to let the ball bounce. Completely inexplicably, with two Ravens lurking, Jones then tried to field the ball and make a play. Instead, the ball caromed off his facemask, and while Cary Williams held Jones in a human straitjacket, Jimmy Smith fell on the ball at the Texans' two-yard line.
Three plays later, the Ravens led 7-3. (Yes, it took the Ravens three plays to score from the two-yard line, an early indicator of just how stout the Texans' defense would be all day long. They could not have played any better.)
Four minutes later, the Ravens led 10-3. Three minutes after that, they led 17-3.
Eventually, the Texans would regain momentum, fight hard, but go on to lose to Baltimore 20-13 in a game that most of the players will think about every day for the next six months. The defense was otherworldly, with J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed (2.5 sacks apiece) announcing their presence with authority. Arian Foster was Arian Foster. Smooth, tough and highly underpaid.
After the game, players were quick to share in the blame for the loss, predictably defending Jones by saying that one play doesn't comprise a whole ball game.
And while that may be true, and while T.J. Yates's three interceptions were quantitatively probably more burdensome than Jones's gaffe, make no mistake -- Jacoby Jones's boneheaded fumble lost this game for the Texans.
The ebb and flow of a football game goes beyond mere statistics. Momentum, nerves, game pressure, a raucous crowd -- none of those things show up when you click on the box score. Sure, Jacoby Jones's muffed punt set the Ravens up for a mere seven points on the scoreboard, but it forfeited far more than just seven points.
It brought the crowd back into the game, it relieved game pressure on the Ravens, it took Joe Flacco off the hook for doing nothing on the Ravens' first set of downs, and most importantly it lit the wick on a 17-point keg of dynamite that put the Texans in a position where they would be paddling upstream all day long. It got them off their game plan, out of character, and forced Yates to become way more integral than Kubiak had hoped for.
So unless you're one of Jacoby's teammates taking up for him because that's the code, save your "It was a seven-point mistake" talk. It was a long-overdue blunder for a player who has been a blunder machine over the course of his five years in the league, and the Texans spent all day digging out from the rubble of the aftermath. Even worse, Jones isn't a guy who has the figurative equity or body of work to be making a mistake like that. If Andre Johnson or Arian Foster or, hell, Kevin Walter make that mistake, at least they've made plays for you before and will do so again. Jacoby's "plays made" account has a negative balance. He's a minus player. He hasn't done enough to avoid the scorn, and, because he is at best a pedestrian wide receiver, the promise of him doing something going forward to atone for his football sin was nil.
To wit, the final Jacoby stats on the day -- six punt returns for four yards. He wasn't thrown to one time on offense.
Somewhere on the film that the Texans watched this past offseason, they saw fit to give Jacoby Jones a three-year contract for $10 million. I don't know what it was the Texans saw, perhaps the film was the visual equivalent of a dog whistle with Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith playing the canine role where only they could see the impetus to shower Jacoby with potentially eight figures worth of riches.
Whatever the case, only $3 million of Jones's deal is guaranteed (Read: He's very cuttable), and the fact of the matter is that his screwup should touch off a flurry of activity at the wide receiver position for the Texans, up to and including Jones's walking papers and the drafting of a playmaking wideout in the 2012 draft. It's the most glaring need on the depth chart (along with Matt Schaub's healed lisfranc bone), and perhaps the only thing standing between the Texans and serious Super Bowl contention.
But revelation at the wide receiver position starts from within, and it starts with flushing the Jacoby Jones project down the toilet. It's not working. It's time for everyone to move on. Truth be told, it was time to move on a year ago.
In the meantime, let's put the blame squarely where it belongs.
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Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.