There are certain teams around the NFL where having the national stage all to themselves -- say, on a Thursday night, Sunday night, or especially on Monday night -- is seen as just another day at the office. To teams like the Colts, Patriots, Giants, and a handful of others, the prime-time stage and the altered preparation schedule that goes with it are routine blips in the 16-game grind that is the NFL regular season.
The Houston Texans are not one of those teams. Eight years into what is starting to feel like a construction project that has no end, the Texans' playing in the prime time spotlight still feels pretty new to the fans and most of the team, and I mean that in a good way. It feels special. The battle-red jerseys get dusted off, tailgating becomes a day-long affair (as opposed to a "squeezing in a speed funnel or two a couple of hours before those pesky noon kickoffs" affair), and people actually get to their seats before the end of the first quarter (GASP!).
Above all else, the Texans themselves want to make it a point to show a nation of football fans deprived of the heart-attack-inducing, fourth-quarter tightrope act that is Texans 2009 what Texans football is all about. And ultimately (and unfortunately), that is exactly what happened on Monday.
Remember that soap opera that you watched back in college with your buddies (admit it...c'mon, you did....Days of our Lives for me...seriously, admit it)? You skipped class to watch it, crack jokes about it, and follow it a little too closely? Then you got into the real world (where 1 p.m. TV time wasn't allowed), but one vacation day when you're like 26 years old you found the old soap while channel-surfing and you were able to catch up on four years' worth of storylines in an afternoon? In other words, nothing had changed.
Well, if you hadn't seen a Texans game all season, then the Monday night game against the Titans was essentially the equivalent of finding an episode of Days of our Texans; in short, investing three hours Monday night told you everything you needed to know about the Texans over the entirety of 2009.
There was the good:
-- Matt Schaub throwing for over 300 yards despite a pocket that was Jell-o around him and no semblance of a running game off which to run play action
-- Andre Johnson making a couple big plays down the field
-- David Anderson and Kevin Walter providing the tough, chain-moving yardage in the passing game
-- A defense that bent but, for the most part, didn't break.
There was the bad:
-- Total inability to run the ball
-- Allowing a series of soul-crushing scrambles on third down by Vince Young
-- Inexplicable lulls on offense
-- Penalties: 7 for 72 yards
And there was the ugly:
-- Dunta Robinson (CUT HIM, RICK)
-- Gary Kubiak's personnel decisions (Chris Brown twice as many touches as Steve Slaton? Really?)
-- Gary Kubiak's late-game management (Settling for a 49-yard field goal attempt from a guy who has missed two of his last three, including a shorter one in this exact situation two weeks ago)
-- Another game where the Texans could have gone to overtime in situations where good teams DO go to overtime
-- The Texans giving us six more days where discussion of what their record COULD BE will drown out what their record IS
The easy target of scorn for Texans fans on Monday night was Kris Brown. The instant gratification of piling on the guy who missed the kick added to the fact that kickers do not look, act, run, (really, fill in any verb) like actual football players yields a simple solution -- hang the kicker. "You're a kicker, you're paid to do one thing, and that's make field goals." It's a simple battle cry that is based mostly in truth.
That said, it is incumbent upon the head coach to, above all else, do one thing -- put his players in the best position possible to succeed. If a coach does this, and then the players don't execute, then you need to fix (or change out) the players. If a coach does NOT do this, then you need to fix (or yes, eventually change out) the coach.
On Monday, Gary Kubiak did not put his players, particularly Kris Brown at the end of the game, in the best position possible to succeed. End of story.
With one timeout left and 1st and 10 at the Titans 37, Kubiak chose to go with the following play sequence:
1st down and 10 -- Six yard slant route to Kevin Walter
2nd down and 4 -- spike the ball
3rd down and 4 -- Matt Schaub QB sneak for no gain to position the ball for a 49-yard field-goal attempt
No use of the timeout after 1st down (when there were still 16 seconds or so left), no attempt to move the ball down the field WITH A TIMEOUT IN HAND and THE BEST WIDE RECEIVER IN FOOTBALL ON YOUR TEAM on third down. Kubiak's explanation: "There's eight seconds left in the game, I'm not gonna take a chance on throwing an interception or getting a sack. Kris has kicked many 48 or 49 yard field goals at this place easily."
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In other words, Kubiak played not to lose. In other words, he trusted his kicker who had missed two of his last three attempts to make a 49-yard field goal over his multi-million-dollar quarterback making a proper decision to keep from losing yardage. In other words, he trusted his kicker who was rocking a "deer in the headlights" look that Jason Campbell would have been proud of over the very passing offense that Kubiak himself constructed to go get them another 8, 10, 15 yards (hell, maybe even a pass-interference call).
Basically, Kubiak went all in on Kris Brown over Matt Schaub (and Andre Johnson...and Kevin Walter...and David Anderson...). Would Kris Brown have still made it from, say 38 yards out? We'll never know, but the psychological difference in those 10 yards or so would have been huge. And they were there for the taking. Kubiak chose not to take them, or even try to take them. In short, he did not even TRY to put Kris Brown in the best possible position to succeed.
I tweeted after the game that when you willingly put the game into the figurative hands/literal feet of your kicker, you deserve whatever you get. Kubiak got what he deserved; unfortunately, his players who had fought their guts out for sixty minutes did not.
Listen to Sean Pendergast from 3-7 PM weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" on
1560 The Game, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.