After three 9-7 records (and roughly a billion starting quarterbacks) during his first three seasons as head coach of the Houston Texans, Bill O'Brien's fourth version of the Texans, the 2017 team, bottomed out at 4-12, largely due to a spate of injuries that was unprecedented in franchise history. As that awful season wore down to its final weeks, there was speculation as to who would go and who would stay — Bill O'Brien or general manager Rick Smith?
Well, O'Brien ended up being the choice to stay, and it appears to have paid off, with the head coach's achieving double digit wins for the first time in his head coaching career, and the Texans in line to garner the 2-seed in the AFC, if they win out the next two weeks. O'Brien's career record in the regular season currently sits at 41-37, overall an average output. However, the one most remarkable statistical outlier in O'Brien's tenure as Texans head coach is this:
The #Texans Improved their record to 31-1 when leading at halftime under Bill O’Brien. Houston’s 96.88 winning percentage is the best in the NFL over that span. Houston is 10-0 this season when leading at halftime and have led at halftime in each of their wins— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) December 16, 2018
That's a fairly incredible stat, with a gigantic sample size of nearly half the games in which O'Brien has been the head coach of the Texans. Even more remarkable is that second part, the 10-0 record this season, and their leading at halftime of EVERY win. That almost doesn't even feel right considering the amount of time Deshaun Watson has been asked to engineer fourth quarter comebacks (five, if you're keeping track at home).
So, I did some research on O'Brien's career record, and came away with a few fun facts on this 31-1 trivia fact. (NOTE: If you want to go refer to anything on O'Brien's record more granularly, you can visit his Pro Football Reference page.)
1. When the halftime lead is a double digit lead, O'Brien doesn't lose.
I'll credit Texans PR for pointing out this little nugget:
Under Head Coach Bill O’Brien (2014-18), the Texans are 30-1 when leading at halftime of a regular season game. Houston’s 96.77 win pct. is the best in the NFL over that span.— Texans PR (@TexansPR) December 14, 2018
Houston is also 17-0 in games when leading by double digits at halftime under O’Brien. pic.twitter.com/kZguXJHhYs
One interesting follow up fact on this front — of those 17 double digit halftime leads, 11 of them ended with double digit wins, meaning the team largely rode out the win and controlled the game. Of the six that finished in single digit margins, three happened in 2016 with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, and three have happened this season with Deshaun Watson at quarterback. So I guess it can happen to the best of them... AND the worst.
2. When O'Brien's teams have halftime leads, they generally don't lose them and regain them — they hold them....
Through O'Brien's first four seasons with the team, the Texans led at halftime 22 times. In just five of those games did they lose the lead at some point in the second half (losing one of those games, obviously, Week 17 against the Colts in 2017, maybe the most meaningless game in O'Brien's tenure, ironically), and in only two of those four wins was a fourth quarter comeback necessary.
3. ....and then there's 2018.
This season, though, has been a much more nerve-racking roller coaster, with the Texans losing second half leads in games they've led at halftime more times than they did in O'Brien's first four seasons COMBINED. The Texans have lost SIX halftime leads this season, and Watson has had to pull them out of the fire with FIVE fourth quarter comebacks. The narrative with any stat like "31-1 when leading at halftime" is that a coach makes adjustments and steps on the other team's throat — not the case in 2018, but what the Texans do have is the most clutch quarterback in the history of the city. That helps.
4. So how about the other side of being 31-1 when leading at the half... the record when O'Brien DOESN'T lead at the half?
It's like the sleazy gambling tout once said on The Simpsons after his super best bet went down the tubes (forcing Homer into near bankruptcy, if I remember correctly) — hey, when you're right 52 percent of the time, you're wrong 48 percent of the time! For O'Brien, it's even less balanced than that, though — when you're 31-1 when leading at the half, you're 10-36 when tied or trailing at the half! That's not great, not great at all. For the record, the ten wins in which the Texans were tied or trailing at the half have come against the following opponents (with halftime deficit in parentheses):
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2014, Week 4: vs Buffalo (-3)
2014, Week 14 at Jacksonville (-3)
2015, Week 3 vs Tampa Bay (-2)
2015, Week 10 at Cincinnati (-3)
2015, Week 15 at Indianapolis (-7)
2016, Week 1 vs Chicago (-4)
2016, Week 6 vs Indianapolis (-10)
2016, Week 15 vs Jacksonville (-8)
2016, Week 16 vs Cincinnati (-3)
2017, Week 11 vs Arizona (-4)
So, yes, the only comeback from a double digit deficit at halftime in the O'Brien Era was engineered by Brock Osweiler. And yes, the second largest halftime deficit overcome in the O'Brien Era came ten weeks later in the game where Osweiler was benched in the second half for Tom Savage.
The moral of the story — the Brock Osweiler season in 2016 was freaking weird, man.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.