When the Texans were sitting at 5-6 after a home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, two starting quarterbacks ago, many people -- fans, media, possibly Toro -- had given up on the season.
Then when it was revealed a day after that game that Ryan Mallett would miss the rest of the year with a torn pectoral muscle, the only ones left on the ship were Bill O'Brien, the players and staff, and Ryan Fitzpatrick's family (maybe). Then when Fitzpatrick went down with a broken leg (and Tom Savage with a hyperextended knee), and the team yanked Case Keenum out of a tree on a deer lease, we all began surfing YouTube videos of 2015 draft prospects.
Only a small handful of people still believed, and fortunately, those people all play or coach football for the Houston Texans. On Sunday, the team capped an inspiring 5-2 finish to the season (a 5-2 finish that saw three different starting quarterbacks win games) with a 23-17 win over a spunky Jacksonville Jaguar squad, and came within an eyelash of making the 2014 postseason.
In fact, if the Cleveland Browns had just held onto a fourth quarter lead in Baltimore, we'd be previewing a wild card matchup in Pittsburgh next weekend. As it is, we begin looking ahead to the offseason. The moral of the story, of course is this:
If you leave your welfare in the hands of a team from Cleveland, you will ultimately be disappointed. Needing the Browns to handle your dirty work is like needing Lindsay Lohan to drive you home from the club. It will probably end badly.
So yesterday, there were winners and losers. Let's look at a few of them...
4. J.J. Watt I feel like we can go ahead and retire one of the "Winner" spots every week in honor of J.J. Watt and his 2014 season. In the spirit of trying to find new angles to talk about with Watt, how about the fact that he was second on the team total tackles -- as a 3-4 defensive end, which is not normally a position that piles up tackles. Safeties and inside linebackers (guys who happen to dot the team tackle rankings around J.J.) are usually those guys. Also, he led the team in passes defended (10 total), which is obviously a stat normally reserved for defensive backs. I don't think Watt will win the MVP, but certainly think he is deserving if he does win. The one line of thinking that I can't get with is the Texans' needing to make the playoffs in order for Watt to win. They went 9-7, which is a massive improvement over last season, and he did things no football player has ever done. If you think he's worthy but don't vote for him because the Texans missed the postseason, then what you're saying is Watt would be considered more valuable if Connor Shaw could've pulled the upset on Baltimore yesterday...which makes no sense. If J.J. Watt doesn't win it this season, then no defensive player is ever winning the award. And the one thing that may have hurt his cause the most on Sunday was....
3. Aaron Rodgers ....limping back onto the field in the second half of the Packers bye-clinching win over Detroit after leaving the game late in the first half with a calf injury. When it comes to Rodgers' value to the Packers, we have a vert clear, very recent body of work for Green Bay with and without Rodgers. In 2013, they were 6-2 with him under center, 2-5-1 without him. Sunday, on the one series where Matt Flynn took over, Flynn took a sack and the team went three and out. So Mike McCarthy basically was cool with a guy limping around like he was missing a leg than he was with you, Matt Flynn. You suck. Rodgers is the best quarterback in football right now (I've thought this for four years now), and completely deserving of the hardware that he will get in what I think will be a fairly comfortable margin. I'll say of the 50 MVP voters, Rodgers gets 37, Watt gets 8, and then there will be five randoms split between Brady, Romo, and LeVeon Bell.
2. Andre Johnson Make no mistake, the biggest storyline for the Texans this offseason (other than "Who will the new GM be?", if indeed Rick Smith is getting booted upstairs, as Jason La Canfora reported Sunday morning, and "Who will the starting QB be?") will be the future of Andre Johnson, whose $16 million cap figure HAS to get worked on in some way. The team simply can't have $16 million in cap numbers allocated to Andre Johnson in 2015. There are ways to do this where Andre loses no money (converting salary to bonus) and ways to do this where Andre does lose money (pay cut). Whatever the case, my money is still on Andre Johnson returning in 2015. If indeed Sunday was his last game as a Texan, he went out appropriately, with ten catches for 134 yards and the game winning touchdown.
1. Motivational Bill O'Brien, Preparation Master Overall, Bill O'Brien's first year as an NFL head coach has to be categorized as a rousing success. I think the team got the hire of the franchise's third ever head coach correct. The fact that this team finished 9-7 after a 5-6 start, and doing so with three different starting quarterbacks winning games in the final seven weeks of the season, speaks to two things: first, this team believes. They believe in Bill O'Brien, his game plan, and each other. Emotionally, it never felt like this team was unprepared or wildly off keel. Second, O'Brien said when he came here that he would be a "game plan" coach, meaning he'd do different things each game depending on his personnel and his opponent's tendencies. Well, is there any more proof of a coach's ability to game plan than starting three different quarterbacks in the final month or so of the season? If you're going to pick things for O'Brien to be super proficient in, motivating and game planning would probably be at or near the top of the list (alongside hiring a staff). It's good that he is proficient in these areas, because....
4. Game Management Bill O'Brien ....his game management (clock, timeouts, replay challenges) is beyond questionable at times. There were several end of half and end of game situations that O'Brien flat out butchered this season. The end of the half in Pittsburgh, the down-by-two-scores part of late regulation against Philly, those two jump out. Hell, even on Sunday, he challenged an innocuous ten yard catch by the Jags on the first play from scrimmage and lost the challenge. (For the record, he was an abysmal 1 of 6 on challenges this season.) Coach's challenges are not meant to be used at the first sign of a bad call. You have to weigh impact of an overturn with time and place in a game. I'm not being sarcastic when I say that I'm not sure O'Brien totally grasps this. Fortunately, these are all things a coach can improve at (or hire a teenager who plays Madden all day to handle).
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3. Toby Gerhart Remember this past offseason when the top two running backs in the free agency class were Toby Gerhart and Ben Tate? And when Gerhart got 3 years, $10.5 million, and Ben Tate got 2 years, $7 million that everyone talked about how devalued running backs were? Well, a season later, Gerhart finished 2014 with barely over 300 yards, and Ben Tate was just cut by his second team of the season. Turns out that maybe the position isn't devalued as much as the 2014 free agent class of backs just sucked donkey nuts.
2. Fraternal Order of Matts Ever notice how like half the quarterbacks in the outside of the upper tier of signal callers are named Matt? Stafford, Ryan, Cassel, Schaub, Hasselbeck, Flynn. Hell, are Moore and McGloin still around? Is Leinart still available? Anyway, on Sunday, the F.O.M. had a rough day, with Ryan throwing multiple pick sixes (if there's a making ceremony to become a "Matt", it involves throwing a pick six) and Flynn being ousted after one series for a guy who could barely walk. The lesson is simple -- if you're going to draft a quarterback, make sure he's not named Matt. You got that.....
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers ...because you are now officially on the clock.