The Reliant Stadium sprawl of empty seats, the equally sparsely populated press box, the rare ease with which one could navigate pregame traffic -- all those things would seemingly indicate that the Texans final preseason game in 2010 against the Tampa Buccaneers was meaningless.
The post-game crowds around the lockers of Dan Orlovsky, Kris Brown, Xavier Adibi, and James Casey, along with hours of talk-radio chatter on Friday mornings would indicate otherwise.
There's a saying about marquee events that goes something along the lines of "This is where legends are made, reputations destroyed." Well, the final preseason game for NFL teams is far from a marquee event but for many of the players in that game it is where careers start, end, or are given a chance to continue. Just ask the two Texans quarterbacks battling for time behind Matt Schaub.
And that's probably a good place to begin, with winners and losers from last night's game pitting the lower layers of the Texans' depth chart against the lower levels of the Bucs' depth chart (and a few other winners and losers)....
1. John David Booty. Booty had not seen any action the last two preseason games, leading many to believe (maybe even Booty himself) that he was not long for the Texans, and that any action on Thursday was an audition for another job. And then, like last year for Rex Grossman, the door of opportunity was opened. Unlike Grossman last year, Booty was not overly impressive, but the offense did score with him in the game. My guess now is that it was enough for him to make the team; we'll see if it was enough to be named the backup quarterback.
2. Xavier Adibi. The third-year linebacker has spent the better part of his NFL career battling injuries and traffic on the depth chart. With an opportunity to start up for grabs during Brian Cushing's suspension, this year's training camp had been more of the same for Adibi. However, last night he played, played well, and according to Gary Kubiak, put himself in line for the starting SAM linebacker spot against the Colts on September 12.
3. Freelance Security Companies in Houston. Running back Jeremiah Johnson went down with a toe injury that could be somewhat serious. Combine that with Steve Slaton's toe woes of his own, and all of a sudden keeping starting running back Arian Foster healthy becomes a major point of focus, especially early in the season. In fact, given how integral each is to the offense's ability to produce at an elite level, I would suggest round-the-clock security for Foster, Matt Schaub, and Andre Johnson. The Texans cannot afford to have any of these three guys go down.
4. James Casey. My favorite thing about James Casey is that he still treats training camp as an audition. Even though everyone else in the real world knows that Casey's spot is secure and his future bright, the Texans second-year tight end was answering questions in the locker room Thursday night as if he is awaiting a coin-flipper phone call Friday afternoon sometime. Thor, there is no suspense. You're good.
5. 1560 The Game. Avid 1560 listeners already know this, but if you haven't heard the news, our station is making a major addition to the lineup next week. Beginning Tuesday, September 7, from 1-3 p.m. weekdays Travis Rodgers joins the 1560 family. If you don't know Travis' name, you soon will. Travis was the executive producer of The Jim Rome Show for about 15 years, and is one of the most creative, funny people in this business.
In a market with four sports stations, this is a major coup for ours. In the spirit of "family," Sopranos fans remember Season 2 when Tony and Paulie and Chrissy (when he wasn't tricked out on heroin) went over to Italy and came back with new, violent muscle in hit man Furio Giunta. Furio was a game-changer. When he was on your television screen, you knew shit was about to go down. Well, Travis is the Furio of our family -- imported muscle. Now let's just hope he doesn't end up hitting on the boss's wife like Furio did. (I think we'll be okay. Unlike Furio, Travis is happily married. No need for Wendy Granato to be put on alert.)
1. Dan Orlovsky. Just when things appeared to be settling down for the Texans' backup quarterback, his world (and the Texans' quarterback situation) were thrown into disarray again as Orlovsky threw a pick-six and a pick setting up another score just before the half. The issues with Orlovsky are not physical -- he can make every throw, some of them at a very high level. His issues have been mental mistakes and a cringeworthy sense of timing on turnovers. If a quarterback has physical limitations, those are at least predictable and you work around them. Mental mistakes tend to be unpredictable and exponentially larger in their soul-crushing magnitude. See: last night.
2. Kris Brown. The news came down this morning that the Texans have opted to change directions at placekicker and go with Neil Rackers, but you could tell last night in the locker room that Brown knew he was a beaten man (whether he'd been told already or not, we don't know). The final remnants of the original Texans have been swept aside. Pour out a forty.
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3. Early bettors on North Carolina. Butch Davis supposedly was brought in to clean up the University of Miami back in the late `90's, and despite threats of a tell-all book from a jilted jock sniff named Nevin Shapiro, it appears he was successful. So the irony is pretty tasty when you see the University of North Carolina (complete with their "amped up" recruiting efforts the last couple years) suspending 12 players, including a handful of future high NFL draft picks, for their opener against LSU. Unfortunately, if you got in on the opening line for this game during the summer (UNC -1), you basically invested in Enron stock. Congrats.
4. Pitt Panther believers. Every year it seems like Dave Wannstedt is going to get out of second gear, and every year we realize that you can't trust a dude whose mustache looks like the gnarled fingernails of a nervous fifth-grader. Last night, in Utah, Pitt put on a clinic in how to commit stupid penalties, jam the car into reverse in the red zone, and turn the ball over at the worst possible times. In other words... WANNY BALL!! It's FAAAANTASTIC!!
5. The ladies of Milledgeville, GA. Ben Roethlisberger is about to have a month's worth of free time on his hands. That never ends well.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.