Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 7: Cardinals 31, Texans 5 — Four Winners, Four Losers

With the switch to Davis Mills, all of Tim Kelly's suddenly discovered mojo has pretty much disappeared.
With the switch to Davis Mills, all of Tim Kelly's suddenly discovered mojo has pretty much disappeared. Photo by Eric Sauseda
It seems like, for the Houston Texans, the 2021 NFL season is going to be a 17-game reminder of just how quickly things can change, with both poignant homages to just two or three years ago, when the Texans were actually good, and some hopeful examples of stellar 2021 teams who, not long ago, were bottom feeders in the NFL, like the 2021 Houston Texans have become.

Yesterday, was the most acute combination of "remember when" pain and stark blueprints for hope, as the Texans faced off with the Arizona Cardinals, a game they would lose by a final score of 31-5. Think about it, if these two teams faced off in Week 7 three years ago, and we were to describe both teams, it would be like describing the 2021 versions of their opposition. Here's what I mean:

The 2018 Houston Texans were on a roll (three wins into a nine game winning streak), with a veteran on defense (Tyrann Mathieu) who would have viewed a game against the Cardinals as revenge, and with a hot, young quarterback taking the league by storm (Deshaun Watson). This description also fits the 2021 Arizona Cardinals, on every level — hot team, revenge veteran (J.J. Watt), hot, young quarterback.

How quickly things can change.


Conversely, the 2018 Arizona Cardinals were 1-5 through six weeks, with a struggling rookie QB (Josh Rosen), a beleaguered first year head coach (Steve Wilks), a total laughing stock. Replace Rosen with Davis Mills, and Wilks with David Culley, and VOILA! You have the 2021 Houston Texans.

The 2021 Houston Texans can only hope that things change as quickly for them as they did for the 2018 Cardinals. My fear is that there's not another Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury, or a GM as bad as Bill O'Brien (who handed the Cards DeAndre Hopkins) to facilitate this rebuild. Sad times, indeed.

As for yesterday, let's dive into some winners and losers from a game that may signal the Texans openly acting, finally, like they are in a rebuild, up to and including the impending trade of Deshaun Watson. In fact, let's start there:

WINNERS


4. Deshaun Watson rumor mill
As of Sunday morning, here was the latest on the Watson trade front, courtesy of the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
A lot of reputable people, particularly John McClain of the Houston Chronicle and Mark Berman of FOX 26, are much further down the road of a trade happening than they have been since the lawsuits against Watson began flying in March. This will be one of the most pivotal weeks in franchise history, if indeed the Texans are as hellbent on moving Watson NOW as they are being portrayed to be.

3. J.J. Watt's pregame social media chops
Watt had done a good job this past week of not saying anything derogatory or condescending about the current state of the Texans (which honestly, must have been like holding in a  sneeze). Instead, J.J. chose to sneeze all over Texans fans on Sunday morning on his Twitter page.

Gesundheit, J.J.

2. Kliff Kingsbury
I, for one, was quite skeptical when the Cardinals fired Steve Wilks as their head coach after just one season, and hired Kingsbury, fresh off being fired by Texas Tech for a 35-40 record over six seasons in Lubbock. If he couldn't go above .500 in the Big XII, then why should we expect him to be anything but mediocre in the NFL? While it's still early in the 2021 season, and things could go sideways, especially if something happened to Murray, Kingsbury has, at the very least, established a culture to go with his offense that seems to be working. J.J. Watt approves, and that's good enough for me.

1. Kyler Murray
Before the season, I made the point in a post in this space about the NFL's MVP award, and how, over the last five years, it's been either won (or seriously contended for) by a second or third year, highly drafted quarterback. My confusion at the end of that piece was that Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert best fit the trend for 2021. Now sitting at 7-0, Kyler Murray is the frontrunner for the award, and the Texans saw every reason why on Sunday afternoon — toughness (returning from an early injury), athleticism (scrambling out of trouble routinely), and the mastery of the Cardinals' offense. On the drive that put the game out of reach for good, the Cards' first possession of the second half, Murray completed four passes, all for first downs or touchdown, to four different receivers. What a delight Murray is to watch play.

LOSERS

4. Sam Darnold
The Panthers were one of the teams that would have been all-in on a Deshaun Watson trade before the lawsuits against Watson began piling up. Their owner, David Tepper, is reportedly a huge proponent of bringing in Deshaun Watson. However, Watson's legal situation forced the Panthers to look elsewhere, so they traded a second, fourth, and sixth round pick to the Jets for Darnold. During the Panthers' 3-0 start (which included a 24-9 win over the Texans), much was made about Darnold finding his way to success in the league three seasons after being selected third overall in the 2018 draft by the Jets. A month later, Darnold was benched yesterday in the second half of a 25-3 loss to the woeful New York Giants. Perhaps Tepper might authorize a Watson trade now, and maybe the Dolphins have to up the ante to pry Watson from the Texans.

3. David Johnson
There was a great story in The Athletic this past week by Aaron Reiss where Johnson really opened up about how stressful 2020 was, being the player that came back to Houston in exchange for the great DeAndre Hopkins. It got so bad for Johnson that he had to seek counseling with a mental health coach. Like it was for Hopkins and Watt, Sunday's game was Johnson's first matchup against his former team. Unlike Hopkins and Watt, Johnson did nothing, i would imagine, to make Cardinal fans feel like they wanted him back, nor did he make the other 31 teams around the league feel like he would be worth picking up if the Texans try to float him out there at the trade deadline.

2. Lonnie Johnson's stock in the Twitterverse
As Murray was peppering the Texans' secondary with bombs downfield, Texan fans on my Twitter timeline were not taking too kindly to whatever orders Lonnie Johnson was carrying out in Lovie Smith's defense:

Johnson had an interception on a Murray overthrow in the second half, but I think, at this point, Texan fans are more anxious to see what Lonnie Johnson brings back at the trade deadline than whether or not the light bulb will finally go on for him as a Texan.

1. Tim Kelly, post Tyrod Taylor hammy
A game and a half into the season, with Tyrod Taylor under center, the Texans were a plucky surprise team, with a win over the Jags and a 14-14 score at the half in Cleveland. Kelly was spreading his wings to even further remove himself from the Bill O'Brien stigma that will likely follow him around forever. Once Taylor went down, the Texans' offense turned into a slog of one yard running plays, aborted wide receiver screens, and Davis Mills misdiagnosing whatever the opposing defense was doing. Here is all you need to know — the Texans have now gone three straight full games on the road without a touchdown.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast