Game Time: Kick In The Junk...Wide Left

I woke up Sunday morning thinking that things had to get better. After a week that started off with a right cross from Kobe, a left hook from the Yankees, and a sucker punch in the junk from Notre Dame, I thought surely these events were just karmic balance for what was going to be the biggest win in the history of the Texans franchise.

If the price I had to pay for the Texans announcing with authority their presence in Relevantville was enduring Kobe's ridiculous underbite sneer, living in a world where A-Rod is a world champion, and the effective collapse of my alma mater's 2009 season, I was ready to pay. Sure, it was the equivalent of buying an entire Chinese buffet to feed a family of four, but whatever. I like these Texans.

But alas, Kris Brown trotted out, gave the ball a mighty boot, and fate sent the ball (and my moneyline parlay) sailing wide left.

The formula was pretty much the same as every other road game this season: One side of the ball (yesterday, the offense) spends the first half urinating so profusely down its leg (insert Chris White joke here) that the other side of the ball (yesterday, the defense) has to stand on its collective head to make sure the game stays within shouting distance, then the Texans spend the better part of the second half looking like a team that could play meaningful games in January.

It was like this at Tennessee, at Arizona, at Buffalo, and again yesterday at Indianapolis.

The Texans have now lost three games (Jacksonville, Arizona, and now Indy) that ended with what appeared to be a "lay up" chance to send the game into overtime. I know that the optimist in us says this is part of the process -- "learning" to win close games -- but for the sake of my sanity, if they need to learn can someone at least get them a tutor or buy the Cliff's Notes? Their learning is taking years off of my wretched existence.

The one moment in the game that I found more exasperating than any was at the end of the first half, when Ryan Moats was tackled going out of bounds at the Indy one-yard line, and appeared to fumble (with Indy recovering). The call on the field was that Moats was down and the ball was spotted at the Colts one-yard line with the Texans going in for what appeared to be a much-needed touchdown (and a huge swing in momentum).

The replay showed that Moats clearly fumbled, but the Colts (apparently the only team more clueless than the Texans when it comes to replay reviews) were about to let the Texans snap the ball and run the next play. However, instead of snapping the ball (and thus erasing any chance of overturning the previous play), Gary Kubiak let the clock tick down to the two-minute warning, giving Indianapolis a solid commercial break to decide to ultimately throw the red review flag. The play was overturned, Colts ball, bye-bye touchdown opportunity.

To all of this I ask, who in the blue hell do the Texans have sitting up in the press box that DIDN'T see that Moats had clearly fumbled and, in turn, DIDN'T tell Kubiak that he might want to have Schaub run a play...QUICKLY?? Seriously, I want names...because there's a good chance that you -- all of you, sitting up there doing whatever it is you do -- cost the Texans that game. At the very least you probably cost them momentum (and being within one score) going into the locker room.

Seriously, none of you saw Moats fumble? I was sitting on a bar stool on my second cheesesteak saying "snap the ball, snap the ball, snap the DAMN BALL, SCHAUB!!" so that the Colts couldn't see the replay, and not one of you saw this and thought the same thing? REALLY?? At this point, I'm not even sure I want to know what all of you were doing at that very moment, because I would honestly be less offended if you were munching off of the buffet or surfing porn on your laptop than if you were to say "We were watching the game. Play looked fine to us!" That was just absolutely shameful.

Anyway, I am still on the same side of the Texans Argument -- this is a good football team. (And yes, "Texans Argument" deserves a proper noun designation, because it is that damn polarizing.) I love reading the comments (and writers) on other blogs around the Internet saying "same old Texans." Really?

Last I checked the "old" Texans were not making a habit of taking undefeated teams with Hall of Fame quarterbacks down to the last second. I understand it's a bottom-line business and you make (or miss) the playoffs depending on wins and losses. There are times where taking that bottom-line approach makes sense, and plenty of cases around the NFL right now where you can say "same old (fill in team name here)."

However, in terms of forecasting and handicapping what this version of the Texans is capable of, you're really gonna saddle them with the same label you threw on versions like 2007 where Petey Faggins, Morlon Greenwood, and Ron Dayne played significant roles? Okay, I guess.

Speaking of handicapping, with the bye week here and the Texans at 5-4, it's probably not a bad idea to go "big picture" and look at the schedule the rest of the way (Home games in CAPS):

November 23: TENNESSEE
December 6: @ Jacksonville
December 13: SEATTLE
December 20: @ St. Louis
December 27: @ Miami
January 3: NEW ENGLAND

Analyzing the remaining seven games, if these games all took place next weekend, I would lay it out like this:
TEXANS -- CLEAR FAVORITES (3) : 11/23 vs TENN (6.5 to 7 pts), 12/13 vs SEA (7.5 to 8 pts), 12/20 @STL (10 pts)
TEXANS -- COIN FLIPPERS (2): 12/6 @ JAX, 12/27 @ MIA
TEXANS -- CLEAR UNDERDOG (2): 11/29 vs INDY (3.5- to 4-point dogs), 1/3 vs NE (2.5- to 3-point dogs) (The New England game is totally dependent on whether or not the Pats have anything to play for; there is a decent chance they could have wrapped up their division and be slotted at Number 2 in the AFC; if that's the case, I'm guessing Belichick doesn't want to risk Bernard Pollard's wrecking shop on Tom Brady's knee again. I think the acquisition of Pollard has been a godsend; the fact that it might give Belichick and Brady the heebie-jeebies makes it even more genius.)

GAME THEY'LL WIN THAT YOU DON'T EXPECT THEM TO: 11/29 vs INDY; it has to happen at some point, no?
GAME THEY'LL LOSE YOU EXPECT THEM TO WIN: 12/13 vs SEA; the Texans will be coming off four straight division games, which if you follow handicapping, you know is a letdown waiting to happen

TEXANS CEILING: 11-5, dangerous wild card team
TEXANS FLOOR: 8-8, and a very hot seat for Kubiak
TEXANS GO 11-5 IF....Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson stay healthy, and they cut out the careless turnovers and drastic swings in performance. They've cut out the big plays allowed on defense which was the difference between a 1-2 team and a 5-3 team.
TEXANS GO 8-8 IF....Schaub misses significant time, the lack of a pass rush catches up to them against inferior teams with decent passers (Seattle, Jacksonville, maybe Miami), and/or New England has a reason to play on January 3
TEXANS 2ND-HALF BAROMETER (OFFENSE): KEVIN WALTER. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson will get theirs, win or lose, and the Texans have proven they can win with a pedestrian running game, but someone needs to replace Owen Daniels' ability to move the chains and get downfield. Walter is due.
TEXANS 2ND-HALF BAROMETER (DEFENSE): RUN DEFENSE. Few (no?) teams have been better than the Texans statistically since Week 4 against the run. If they can stay stout in the run game, it will let them continue to play bend-but-don't-break with a secondary that is still shaky (but improved) in coverage.
MY PREDICTION: 10-6, Wild Card Hell

While I'm thinking of it, some midseason awards for the Texans:

TEXANS 1st-HALF MVP (OFFENSE): MATT SCHAUB. Schaub is finally taking it to the next level in Year 3 here. Bob McNair can probably start to set aside the $10 million for the roster bonus this spring.
TEXANS 1st-HALF MVP (DEFENSE): BRIAN CUSHING. The USC rookie has been a blitzing, covering, tackling poster boy for taking players from winning programs. His swagger has transformed this defense.
BEST ACQUISITION: BERNARD POLLARD. If Cushing's swagger has been infectious then so has Pollard's propensity for skull-jarring hits.
MOST IMPROVED: JACOBY JONES. We knew what Jacoby was capable of on special teams, but he's actually been a factor in the passing game as well, almost as much as Kevin Walter in terms of game-affecting plays.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game 3-7 PM weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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