With 4:07 to go in the game, the ball sat on the four yard line. 4th down, 1 yard to go, the Eagles leading the Texans 24-21 and driving for a "nail in the coffin" score. If they get this first down, it's first and goal at the three, and then it's just a matter of picking which Eagle scores the touchdown to put them up 31-21.
Here it was. At 4-4, staring at a 4-5 record in a crowded AFC playoff race, this was the Texans' whole season.
That's one of the great things about the NFL's regular season. There are only sixteen of these, only sixteen weekends to craft your fingerprint. For every team in the NFL, something comes down to a few plays. For the bad teams, it's draft position. For the great teams, it's home field advantage or playoff round byes.
For the other 75 percent of the league, it's their mortality. On Sunday, the Texans were staring their 2014 mortality in the face on this 4th and 1.
And up the middle Chris Polk went for the Eagles. He was met in the hole stoutly by safeties Kendrick Lewis and Danieal Manning, and it would all come down to a referee's spot. To the naked eye (and to Manning and Lewis, who were already celebrating the stop as if it were successful), it appeared Polk was short of the first down.
The referee spotted the ball, out came the chains, and in a microcosm of the Texans' losses to the Cowboys, Colts, and Steelers, the naked eye was wrong. The Eagles made the first down by a few chain links. Bill O'Brien used a replay challenge on the spot, because when your season is about to die, you'll try any cure possible. He lost.
The Eagles would score a touchdown one play later on a Mark Sanchez to Jeremy Maclin hook up making it 31-21.
Game over, season clinically dead. Texans now 4-5.
If the Texans had indeed stopped the Eagles on that fourth down, I have no idea if the they would've gone down and gotten the go ahead touchdown. Nobody knows. History in those aforementioned games over the last five weeks actually tells us they wouldn't have. What I do know is the season is essentially over, not because the Texans are 4-5, but because there are just way too many teams that are 6-3, 5-3, or 5-4 that aren't even leading their divisions in front of them.
Here's the AFC Playoff picture as of Monday morning:
AFC EAST: New England 7-2 AFC NORTH: Cincinnati 5-2-1 AFC SOUTH: Indianapolis 5-3 AFC WEST: Denver 6-2
WILD CARD STANDINGS: Pittsburgh 6-3 Kansas City 5-3 Cleveland 5-3 Buffalo 5-3 Miami 5-3 San Diego 5-4 Baltimore 5-4 HOUSTON 4-5
It's like a leader board in a golf tournament. Sure, the Texans are only a game or game and a half back of all these teams for the final wild card spot, but they need all of them to fall on their faces. Literally, six teams. Six teams with far better quarterbacks than the Texans.
NFL life comes down to a few plays, and the Texans don't have the guy under center who can go make those plays right now. End of story.
Onto winners and losers from Sunday...
4. Whitney Mercilus If you're looking for a bright spot in Sunday's loss, and over the last month or so, quite honestly, it has to be that Whitney Mercilus has given the Texans some semblance of a threat off the edge to make opponents pay attention to someone other than J.J. Watt. Mercilus isn't the physical freak that a healthy Jadeveon Clowney is (who is?), but he is a former first round pick, and he's made clear progress over the last four weeks. On Sunday, he showed some actual edge moves to help cave the pocket a couple times, and was generally very active (9 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits -- dare I say, a Watt-ian box score). Here's the thing -- if Mercilus is a competitor, I have to imagine that all of the bullshit hoopla over Clowney these last few weeks has to grind his gears a little bit. That said, it's up to Mercilus to remind us why we should care about him equally. He needs to show up. And in the last month, he has. (Now, paging Brooks Reed....Mr. Reed....hello....)
3. Gene Egdorf If you don't know who Gene Egdorf is, well shame on you for not reading my piece from the print edition of the Press a month or so ago on the turf at NRG Stadium and the possible treachery existing under the feet of these million dollar athletes when they play games in that venue! SHAME. ON. YOU.
Egdorf is the attorney for Brett Hartmann, former Texans punter whose career was derailed and ultimately ended after he tore his knee in a mysterious non-contact injury back in 2011 in an early December game against the Atlanta Falcons. Hartmann is suing SMG (the company that manages the venue) and the county, contending that his career was ended by the shoddy conditions of the field. Hartmann's injury occurred on a field that had been torn up the day before by high school championship games. Similarly, the NRG field on Sunday had been used less than 24 hours prior by Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin in the "Battle of the Piney Woods," and quite honestly, that usage was highly visible on Sunday morning. So visible that I actually got a text from Egdorf (who was at the game Sunday) before the game, who almost presciently said "Same field as yesterday."
Four hours later, former Texan and current Eagles defensive leader DeMeco Ryans was being carted off the field with a non contact Achilles injury that visually looked a lot like Hartmann's injury and Wes Welker's injury back in 2009, with Ryans crumbling to the ground with nobody touching him. After the game, the surface was a huge topic with Eagles players like Jason Kelce's calling it "dangerous" and like Mychal Kendricks' saying "something needs to be done about it."
I would imagine Egdorf was taking notes on all of these comments, on Ryans' injury, and the dilapidated state of the field on Sunday and adding it as evidence to Hartmann's lawsuit against the people who run the stadium. If you're rooting for field turf and safer working conditions for your favorite players, root for Egdorf to win the Hartmann lawsuit.
2. Zombie quarterbacks, Part I While the Texans may have watched their season crater over the last month, perhaps they deserve some credit in reviving the Pittsburgh Steelers' season in the two minutes of horrific turnover plagued football that saw the Steelers go from down 13-0 to up 24-13 in the blink of an eye at the end of the first half on Monday Night Football a couple weeks ago against the Texans. Remember, the Steelers were coming off a three week period that saw them lose to Tampa Bay at home, barely beat the Jaguars on the road, and get plundered by the Browns 31-10. Ben Roethlisberger couldn't get out of his own way.
Now they were down 13-0 to the Texans late in the first half, and had been given a reprieve on a third down incompletion when J.J. Watt jumped offsides. So on 3rd and 10, Ben Roethlisberger found Le'Veon Bell out of the backfield, and he zoomed past Brian Cushing (This was the play where we all looked at each other and said "Oh shit, Cushing ain't right," remember?) for 43 yards and a first down.
The Steelers would score 24 points over the next three minutes, perhaps saving their season. Since snapping the ball on that 3rd and 10, Roethlisberger's numbers look like this:
82-109, 1064 yards, 14 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 145.0 passer rating
He's had maybe the two best regular season games of his career since then, with back to back SIX touchdown pass games. SIX!! More importantly, the Steelers got two subsequent wins over teams that are in the same mix of playoff teams as they are (Indianapolis, Baltimore). If the Steelers go on to win the Super Bowl (and honestly, as weird a season as this has been, who the hell knows), they should vote one giant playoff share to the Texans.
1. Zombie quarterbacks, Part II Remember that Monday Night game in Kansas City in Week 4, when the Chiefs rolled up the Patriots 41-14, and Tom Brady was dead? Remember? He was supposedly done, left as roadkill by many, and thought to be on the verge of getting run over by the Garoppolo Express. Remember...
Um yeah, turns out that was all really fucking stupid. We should all be ashamed for doubting Tom Brady. Following that Chiefs debacle, the Patriots were a three point home underdog to the Bengals (which sounds like stealing money now), and since that Chiefs game, here's the story on Brady:
133-197, 1601 yards, 18 touchdown, 1 interception, 120.55 passer rating
The Patriots are 5-0 in those games, winning by an average margin of 18.6, and after a 41-23 rout of the Denver Broncos on Sunday, they sit atop the AFC with a 7-2 record heading into their bye week. We should all be so dead.
And now onto the losers...
4. Arian Foster's soft tissue Arian Foster has been unbelievable this season. He's been running through holes and creases that most running backs couldn't even see, let alone slip through. The worry has always been the workload catching up to him, the number of hits. So in a way, that's what makes the latest Foster injury so frustrating, and I mean frustrating for everybody -- the fans, the Texans, and most of all Foster himself:
— SportsRadio 610 (@SportsRadio610) November 2, 2014
Reportedly, Foster suffered a groin injury on Sunday. It's not believed to be serious unto itself, but the larger picture is a little more worrisome for Foster and Texan fans, with this being the latest in a string of soft tissue/muscle type injuries that have plagued him for portions of his whole career. The concern has always been the hits that come with Foster's massive workload, but things like groins and hamstrings seem to be his body just not cooperating as opposed to the hits wearing him down. Whatever the case, the bye week comes at a good time for Arian Foster, who deserves All Pro mention this season.
Actually, the bye week....
3. The Texans healthcare insurance provider ...comes at a good time for everybody on this team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
By the second quarter yesterday, Kareem Jackson was on a stationary bike, Johnathan Joseph was getting checked for concussion symptoms, and your first team cornerbacks were the formerly undrafted A.J. Bouye and seventh round rookie Andre Hal. (Chip Kelly is no fool. The first play with neither Joseph nor Jackson on the field, he went up top to Maclin for a long touchdown pass.)
The linebacking corps is an injury circus right now, too, with Cushing still out with a knee injury, Clowney still out with whatever-it-is-that-is-wrong-with-him, Jeff Tarpinian (highly missed on special teams) out with a knee, and Brooks Reed still nursing a sore groin. The Dream Front Seven we all saw when the Texans drafted Clowney is something that is still just a dream that you can only create on Madden.
2. Jadeveon Clowney's Instagram account What the hell is wrong with Jadeveon Clowney?
That question actually has multiple meanings and implications. There's the medical slant to that question -- Is it his knee? Is he sore? Did he vomit at practice? OMG, WHY WON'T HE EVER PLAY?!?!? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH JADEVEON CLOWNEY?!?!"
Then there's the social media side which became a thing during the game on Sunday. Apparently, around 12:45 p.m., about the time that his team's secondary was turning into a M*A*S*H unit, Clowney saw a picture of a girl on Instagram that he really liked. So he clicked LIKE:
— Britney Spears * (@Brittney_Speers) November 2, 2014
Yes, Jadeveon Clowney was apparently on Instagram during the game as he watched from a suite that inactive players watch from (unless someone else handles his account, but who has someone "LIKE" things for them on Instagram?). Unto itself, this is probably not a hanging offense, but it is a horrible look for a guy whose heart has been questioned repeatedly lately. Beyond that, though, Clowney's in-game Insta-activity actually puts J.J. Watt in a somewhat difficult position of having to openly criticize a teammate. If you recall, J.J. decided to make himself Czar of NFL Social Media Policy last weekend and bring up Titans QB Zach Mettenberger's Instgram selfies as a source of motivation and an example of unprofessionalism...
So if Watt is that critical of Mettenberger, how does he not just skewer a rookie teammate who was on social media during the game?? To be clear, I think Watt made a way bigger deal out of Mettenberger's picture than it actually was, but it's Watt's process, not mine, and being selectively soft on Clowney would seem a tad hypocritical, no? This will be interesting to watch play out.
1. Randy Bullock's waistline after misses Randy Bullock has been solid for the Texans this season, converting 15 of 18 field goals, including a couple 50-plus yarders to help clinch the Buffalo game earlier this season. However, as solid as he's been (really going back to the end of last season) I think his string of ineptitude in the first half of 2013 really colors the outlook for a lot of people on Bullock, especially when he does have the occasional miss, like he did against the Eagles on Sunday from 39 yards out. Moreover, one interesting phenomenon is how Bullock's weight gets dragged into any assessment of him after a miss, as if he suddenly becomes fatter upon knocking one outside the uprights, so much so that "Fat Randy" was trending on Twitter in Houston after the game...
I say we #Texans fans go and sell Fat Randy to a Chinese seafood market by the pound.
— Harrison Lee (@HarrisonCLee) November 2, 2014
— Dontv3h (@DontaeTheGreat) November 2, 2014
— horace sudayley (@pleasehorace) November 2, 2014
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Welcome back Fat Randy. I wondered where you'd been. #texans
— T (@TheBoobTuber) November 2, 2014
Who gets the blame on Fat Randy? Kubiak or another wasted pick by Rick Smith #Texans
— gevaldez (@badbetGV) November 2, 2014
I never knew made field goals could be so slimming.