Texans 23, Browns 7: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

Consuming sports in 2014, it's almost impossible to 100 percent live in "the now" during a sport's given season.

The wealth of information and conjecture at our fingertips combined with the perpetual misery and self-pity that 95 percent of fans wallow in during the season because their team is somehow flawed make looking ahead to next season practically a sport unto itself.

We see it in the NBA all the time, where in many cities the play of their team on the court is merely a backdrop to incessant chatter about who on their team is coming or going by the trade deadline, or the two year cloud that hangs over anything related to Kevin Durant's place of employment in 2016.

The NFL has a similar quality, at least in cities where their quarterback of the future isn't on the current roster. Houston is one of those cities, which means until they commit to somebody long-term under center, we are going to be subject to stories like this one planted by Brian Hoyer's agent on ESPN.com Sunday morning:

But Sunday's game against the Houston Texans and coach Bill O'Brien is also something of an audition. Hoyer and O'Brien worked together in the past and they have an interest in doing the same in the future, league sources said.

Hoyer trusts O'Brien as much as any coach in the league from their time together in New England, sources said, and he would welcome a reunion.

So as the Ryan Mallett Era was set to get underway Sunday morning, before he could even take his first snap as a Houston Texan, stories were matriculating about another quarterback -- his Sunday opponent and former teammate, no less -- taking the job Mallett had been waiting patiently for since late August.

And oh by the way, it was a story that should have made any Texan fan immediately vomit whatever they were eating for breakfast on Sunday morning. Brian Hoyer is an upscale backup masquerading as a starter for an improved team whose sugar high is going to wear off soon enough. He's not anybody that a team should be committing to as any sort of ideal solution, and certainly not somebody whose welcome party should be discussed more than 24 hours ahead of time, if that.

Fortunately, it played out perfectly on Sunday afternoon as Hoyer's "audition" for O'Brien went about as well as these auditions...

The Texans beat the Browns 23-7 in a game that looked a lot more like the easy wins over Oakland and Tennessee than the hard fought wins over Washington and Buffalo, and in the end, while the story was Mallett's solid NFL starting debut, the Texans' overall theme for 2014 held up -- when they play mediocre to bad quarterbacks, they win. When they play good quarterbacks, they lose.

Speaking of winning and losing, the winners and losers on Sunday....

WINNERS

4. Ryan Mallett When listing Mallett's strengths heading into the game on Sunday, the top of the list (in no particular order) would have consisted of "arm strength" and "knowledge of Bill O'Brien's system." Both of these assets were on full display Sunday as Mallett looked like a seasoned pro in his first start, in full control and showing an ability to attack all areas of the field that was not even close to existent with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback the first nine weeks. The highest compliment I can pay Mallett is that this offense looked and ran like an NFL offense (the weird snap miscommunication with Chris Myers in the first half, notwithstanding) for sixty minutes for the first time all season. Not every play was clean, but there were actually plays -- BIG plays -- that looked routine, and that was NEVER the case with Fitzpatrick, where every completion longer than 10 yards felt like the football version of constructing a piece of furniture from IKEA. The biggest beneficiary of the attention defenses had to pay to the passing game? Well....

3. Alfred Blue What kind of odds would you have gotten before this game that the Texans would set their franchise record for carries in a game (54, in case you're wondering) in a game that Arian Foster didn't play in? Well, that's what happened, with 36 of those carries going to rookie sixth round pick Alfred Blue. Blue toted the rock for 156 yards and was the biggest reason the Texans held a 34/26 advantage in time of possession. Clearly, the hand wringing over Foster's missing the game with a groin injury ended at the Texans locker room door, because O'Brien ran a very Foster-like game plan. At a position where the Texans would appear to be challenged in trying to employ the "next man up" mantra, they were able to do just that. Perhaps even more important, O'Brien built even more confidence in Blue's being a viable option to take more work off of Foster's plate when the Pro Bowler returns.

2. Garrett Graham So maybe, just maybe they'll have to print a new picture on the side of the Texans' milk carton. in 22 seconds at the end of the first half, Garrett Graham matched his entire output from the previous four weeks, with 2 catches, including his first touchdown of the season. These are an underrated-ly important six games coming up for Graham's career here in Houston as I could very easily see the Texans hitting CTR-ALT-DEL at the tight end position with C.J. Fiedorowicz and another veteran or two next season if Graham doesn't start to show something. (NOTE: Graham's cap hit in 2015 is $4,000,000 and his dead money is $1,500,000, so the team would save $2,500,000 by letting him go.)

1. This Minnesota staff member This has nothing to do with Sunday's game, I just know that any staff member for a football team who gets to eat Dilly Bars during the game, well, THAT guy is truly the ultimate winner....

LOSERS

4. Ben Tate I don't know if you have heard, but Ben Tate feels disrespected and is really looking to show the haters, and blah blee blah blah blee....

Tate has been thriving on the I'll-show-you act for years. Four seasons with the Texans. Now with Cleveland. Even with the Browns at a surprising 6-3 and leading the AFC North, there was a 5-10, 220-pound running back acknowledging this week he was frustrated by the lack of carries. The oversized rock proudly glued to his shoulder just kept growing.

"That's just kind of me," said Tate, who was selected by the Texans out of Auburn with the 58th pick of the 2010 draft. "That's just how I use it, to help fuel me and help fire me when I'm working out during the offseason and during the year. I mean, give me one little comment that someone will say about me and I'll just keep it locked into my head and it burns all the time. Everyone uses their different motivation from everything, and I use mine from haters."

Clearly, you could see his motivation level during both of his carries and all -9 of his yards from scrimmage on Sunday. Also, has there ever been a less relevant player who's had more words spoken and written about the disrespect he's felt than Ben Tate?

3. D.J. Swearinger A could weeks ago, after the Eagles game in Week 10, safety D.J. Swearinger tweeted out this little nugget of information:

The positives about this tweet? Well, there's really only one -- I was unaware of this information and it made for a decent 60 seconds worth of content on my radio show. The downside to this tweet? Well, first, it would be fine for Swearinger to tweet this out if all the other facets of his game weren't still a vast football circus of whimsy. When he's not making the occasional big play, Swearinger's tackling is still inconsistent and he treats pass coverage as optional. (And at the risk of sounding like I'm telling him to "get off my lawn," his choreographed celebrations after pass breakups of four yard slant patterns are tired and clownish.) Maybe all of this is why Swearinger was replaced in the starting lineup by Danieal Manning.

2. This jackass at the Saints game Seriously, what is wrong with some people? Did y'all see this? At the Saints game on Sunday, Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham scored a touchdown, spotted a couple Bengals fans who'd made the road trip to New Orleans, and flipped the ball to one of them, a bubbly female named Christa Barrett. here's what happened....

Gresham was none too pleased with this development, according to thescore.com:

Gresham scored a one-yard touchdown during the third quarter of Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. The Bengals' tight end flipped the ball to Christa Barrett, a Bengals fan, who had traveled from Kentucky to New Orleans to support her team.

However, Gresham's toss was intercepted by Saints fan Tony Williams, who refused to give the ball up to Barrett.

Gresham wasn't pleased with the outcome.

"He should be ashamed of himself, and you can put that on the record," Gresham said after the game.

I think the referee should be allowed to grant the Bengals a special time out exemption to allow Gresham to go into the stands and beat the snot out of Williams. What an asshole.

1. This poor Cleveland child The regression to mean has begun. It's too bad, kid, your parents didn't let you choose your team. Get used to frequent forlorn scalp massages from your old lady....

Factory of sadness, indeed.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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