The questions have long been answered as to whether Gary Kubiak is a championship-level coach and if the Texans defense is even at an NCAA-championship level. (No.) After Thursday night, however, another question may need to be asked.
Is Matt Schaub a championship-level quarterback?
Schaub's final numbers were excellent, but several mistakes in critical situations proved costly as the Texans fell to 5-7, a mark which likely erases any reasonable path to the postseason.
The Texans erased an early 17-3 hole and clawed within 17-10, with an opportunity to tie the game (or come within four) before halftime. Instead, Schaub hit giant Philadelphia defensive tackle Trevor Laws in the hands on a screen pass, allowing him to intercept it and set up the Eagles for a 20-10 lead.
In an instant, at least six points -- and possibly 10 -- changed hands.
Flash forward to the fourth quarter. Schaub and running back Arian Foster were superb in bringing the Texans back to take a 24-20 lead, but the Eagles quickly responded to regain the advantage, 27-24.
That put the pressure squarely on Schaub and the offense, knowing that a punt would put the game in the hands of the historically bad Texans defense. On 3rd and 7, Schaub was flushed to his left, and had a chance to either run for a first down or hit Kevin Walter along the sideline. He tried the latter -- the riskier decision -- and then inexplicably short-armed the pass, not even giving it a chance.
The Eagles, of course, marched right down the field to extend the lead to 34-24 -- appropriately capped by a bizarre 3rd-and-19 conversion in which Eagles tight end Brent Celek rolled over Houston linebacker Kevin Bentley to nab the final two yards.
Even so, the Texans still weren't out of the game. With three timeouts, a quick score meant a theoretical stop (ha!) -- or more reasonably, an onside kick recovery -- could give the Texans a chance to win.
Instead, Schaub incrediblly tossed a four-yard hitch pattern on 2nd and 20, wasted a timeout with the clock stopped before fourth down, and then -- after consulting with Kubiak for two minutes during the timeout -- decided the highest-percentage play on a desperation 4th and 5 was a 30-yard out to Walter.
Of course, it bounced incomplete, and with it went the game and possibly the Houston season.
Schaub wanted an interference call on the play (as well as a blow to the head call). He got neither, and was seen screaming at officials.
His anger might have been better spent in self-reflection. The Texans did get the ball back one more time, and Schaub promptly fumbled on a blitz everyone in the stadium saw coming for several seconds. Everyone except Matt, that is.
This isn't to solely put the blame on Schaub. He had a superb statistical game, going 22-for-36 for 337 yards, two touchdowns and the pick.
Meanwhile, the Texans defense gave up 30+ again, and was awful in pressure moments. Kubiak had his gaffes as well, such as his part in the aforementioned timeout fiasco and inexplicably shying away from a Hail Mary attempt at midfield to end the first half.
(You'd think if anyone in the world would recognize that a Hail Mary from the 50-yard line could be successful, it would be Gary Kubiak. Apparently not.)
But part of the long-term blueprint for the Texans -- and the hope of fans -- is that Schaub and the passing game can cover up some of those deficiencies. It will take time to rebuild the defense, as well as implement the schemes of a potential new coach.
At this point, it's questionable how valid that approach is. In losses to Dallas and New York, the offense -- especially the passing game -- was virtually nonexistent. Against Indianapolis (in November) and Philadelphia on the road, Schaub surrendered backbreaking turnovers that led directly to points.
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In other words, that's four times in 11 games in which Schaub made plays that were strongly correlated with losing. It's not terrible, but certainly not elite either -- particularly given the perceived "big game" status of those four contests.
The Texans can't replace Schaub. He's still an above-average QB with an enormous financial commitment, and there are far bigger problems on the team.
But his flashes of greatness from 2009 have rarely transferred. In the big picture, he's still good -- but not the elite-level player that can elevate an average team to good, or a good team to great.
That makes the almost-certain retooling (or rebuilding) ahead all the more difficult.