With about 10 minutes remaining in the last game of the regular season, it seemed as though the Texans might do the improbable. They were on the way to their ninth win of the season, a considerable feat considering the miserable 2-12 season last year. They had to win on Sunday if they had any chance of making the playoffs and they dispatched of the Jags 23-17 to take care of the first task. But, they were dependent upon victories by Kansas City (over San Diego) and Cleveland (over Baltimore). They got the former, but not the latter as the Browns fell in the final quarter to the Ravens.
With that, a crazy 2014 season was over at NRG Stadium. It included record-breaking performances, four quarterbacks and a first overall draft pick who never got going and had to face a potentially career threatening surgery. We learned a few things over the course of the season, but there are still plenty of questions to be answered as we enter yet another offseason without a playoff appearance.
One sports radio host said last week that NFL teams need a great coach and a great quarterback to win big in this league. It's fairly clear that they have their coach. While Bill O'Brien made plenty of in-game mistakes, those are things that can be fixed. What he has -- the skills to motivate players and a system they believe in -- cannot be taught.
Unfortunately, they still have no quarterback. Case Keenum led them to their last two wins, but he is obviously not the answer. Ryan Fitzpatrick is someone the team brought in to be a backup and no one knows who Ryan Mallet can be with only one healthy game under center this year -- and a looming free agency coming in the offseason. No matter what the Texans accomplished this year -- and, make no mistake, it was a lot -- they will not manage to take a significant step forward without a starter at QB. We'll have to see how they handle that in the coming months. For now, there was Sunday.
Offensive Game Balls
Andre Johnson What can you say about the career Texans wide receiver. Even at his age, he is loaded with talent. Whether he remains a Texan into next year is uncertain, but my money is on him staying. On Sunday, he demonstrated why with 10 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown.
Defensive Game Balls
J.J. Watt All season, I've omitted him from consideration from this category because he is simply the best in the NFL. It seemed almost unfair to everyone else that he win this honor every week, but his final performance of the year solidified his position as the best defensive player on the planet with three sacks, a forced fumble and a safety. He may not win MVP, but he should.
J.J. Watt No sense in trying to suggest anyone else. The guy was a beast all season and particularly on Sunday.
Keyshawn Martin I almost feel bad for the guy. He really has no business being a punt returner. When the coach's most glowing praise is that he has done a good job catching the ball and not fumbling, that's a problem. This is a glaring area of weakness for the team and Martin is at the center of it. It doesn't help that he has been a near zero at the wide receiver position this season as well.
What Should Stay the Same
The defense was outstanding all season long. They have begun to develop a young core of talent in the secondary and their pass rush, thanks to Watt, was stellar. They forced more turnovers than any other team. On offense, they were efficient even though they ended up with a street free agent as quarterback at the end of the year. Overall, defense, coaching and the basic offensive system seem to be in good shape.
What Needs to Improve
With all due respect to the crew they threw out there, it is clear the Texans do not have their quarterback of the future and it must be their top priority. It is nothing short of remarkable that Andre Johnson has become the player he is despite the underwhelming list of QBs throwing to him over the years. If the Texans can't come up with a talent at that position to build around this offseason, they will continue to do well but not excel.
For the whole season, Jared Crick has improved and become the best D lineman on the team after number 99. He had another sack on Sunday and a couple passes defensed. He has been impressive in a season overshadowed by his fellow defensive lineman.
From 2-12 to 9-7 is quite an accomplishment. O'Brien has all the tools to be a great coach. He can motivate. He has a solid offensive system. And he knows how to delegate. He'll need to improve his in-game decision making, but he gets a pass given this is his first season as a head coach in the NFL. If they are able to land a legitimate quarterback in the offseason, he could lead them deep into the post season.
Who will be quarterback next year is the most pressing issue for the team. Until one is found, the Fitz-o-Meter remains in the red.
Record Setting Stat of the Day
J.J. Watt became the first player in NFL history to record more than 20 sacks in two different seasons. He finished this year with 20.5 including three on Sunday. He also took over the lead in total number of forced fumbles for the franchise. We are witnesses to one of the great performances in NFL history.
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Play of the Day
Jacksonville managed to have a final shot at winning the game late in the fourth after driving the length of the field. But, on fourth down, Blake Bortles threw a pass a little too long on a play well covered by the Texans secondary and the game was over...along with the season, unfortunately.
A long and complicated offseason awaits the Texans with a ton of questions that have to be answered. A lot will depend on how much the salary cap goes up and what players are available in the draft. More to come this spring.