So I guess the Texans aren't going undefeated. Damn.
Through the first three weeks of the season, it's readily apparent that Bill O'Brien and his staff have made some headway in fixing some of what ailed this team in 2013. However, after Sunday's 30-17 loss to the New York Giants, it's equally apparent that there is still a long way to go to make this team a consistent week to week threat to win football games.
The first half saw the Texans get a heavy dosage of what has become their customary, weekly turnover luck, with the Giants fumbling inside the Texans' ten yard line as well as mishandling a snap on a field goal. Yet still, at halftime, it was 14-0 in favor of the Giants, and could've been 24-0 easily.
The Texans fought back in the second half, cutting the lead to 17-10 late in the third quarter, but in the end, the defense's inability to stop the run (Rashad Jenning just gained another ten yards as you read this sentence), the offensive line's inability to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Ryan Fitzpatrick's inability to protect us all from Evil Ryan Fitzpatrick (three INT's) all led to this team's first loss.
Hey, no harm, no foul, even if the Giants were 0-2. Hell, you could argue, if anything, the Giants' desperation explains a big part of the convincing nature of the win. They needed this. The Texans were overwhelmed, and maybe a little tired (West coast last week, East coast this week).
As always, there were winners and losers. Let's quickly roll through them, shall we?
4. DeAndre Hopkins In Andre Johnson's time in Houston, there have been other players to register 100 yard receiving games with Johnson on the field alongside. Kevin Walter had a few back in the day, Arian Foster had a handful from the running back position. Maybe Owen Daniels or Jacoby Jones. But Hopkins is the first one to put up 100 yards in a game alongside Dre where you thought "WOW, this guy might contend with Andre as the biggest receiving threat on the team..." On Sunday, Hopkins had 6 catches for 116 yards, and that didn't even include this "play of the year, if it had counted" that was wiped out because of a penalty...
I'm not trying to start a "Who's the number one guy?!?" controversy, because I don't think it really matters. I just think Sunday will be the first of many days this season where we lament the overlap of Johnson's and Hopkins' good-to-great years together taking place in an era where the quarterback is Ryan Fitzpatrick.
3. Rashad Jennings Rashad Jennings likes playing the Texans, this much is obvious. Of his five 100 yard games during his NFL career, three of them have now come against the Texans. Sunday, Jennings was able to wash away the bad taste of a lackluster first two weeks of 2014 by carrying the ball 34 times for 176 yards. He was the best player on the field, so good that when Bill O'Brien chose to punt the ball away on 4th and one, down 20-10 in the fourth quarter, it felt like he was conceding the game because it felt like a given Jennings would gash the defense for about seven yards every carry.
2. '72 Dolphins After three weeks, we are down to the following undefeated teams: Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Arizona. That's it. The three quarterbacks of those teams are, respectively, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton, and some mish mash of Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. Each year, the remaining living members of the '72 Dolphins (They of the perfect 17-0 record.) get together and crack champagne when the final undefeated team is knocked off, safeguarding their sole ownership of immortality. This might be the earliest we've seen it happen in recent memory. Although...
1. Andy Dalton ...Cincinnati looks pretty damn good right now. I'm not saying they're going to go undefeated, or even go, say 12-4, but if there were a coaches poll for the NFL like there is in college, Cincy would have to be on top. Good to see Andy Dalton earning his nine figure contract....
4. Third down efficiency It's no secret that to win football games, the Texans need to remain "in character," staying out of poor down and distance situations, protecting the football, and generally not killing themselves with mistakes. Well, Sunday they did none of those things. In particular, offensively, third down was a black hole until the game was out of reach. While they converted 16 of 29 during the first two games of the season (fourth in the league), on Sunday they failed on their first ten third down tries (eventually converting their final two in garbage time). A big reason? Their first half third down situations, seven in all, were an average distance of over ten yards to go for a first down. On third down for the game, Fitzpatrick completed 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards and 2 interceptions, for a passer rating of 0.0, or as I call it...a BLUTARSKI....
3. "By the book" black jack Everyone has their go-to mechanism for metaphors. Me, I have a few -- WWE, Sopranos (anything mob, really), Game of Thrones, adult films, and black jack. Coaching decisions are always easiest to compare to the latter. So here goes...I loved that Bill O'Brien a) called a fake punt early in the game and b) went for it on fourth and one in his own territory (even though it failed) in the third quarter. I didn't like that he a) kicked a field goal on fourth and one inside the New York ten yard line down 17-0 and b) punted the ball away on fourth and one down 20-10 with ten minutes to go. He felt like a guy -- here comes the black jack analogy -- who was hitting on 16 in the first half and staying on 16 in the second half, and everyone knows you have to stay true to yourself where it makes sense.
2. Talk radio It was a lock that this would happen -- the Texans sustain their first loss of the season, Ryan Fitzpatrick has a bad game in the process, so everyone is frantic that O'Brien needs to try someone else at quarterback, specifically Ryan Mallett. No fewer than two thirds of the phone calls we took on the post game show (and some that we didn't take) were about O'Brien's "needing to find out what he has in Ryan Mallett," especially because (GASP!) Mallett's gonna be a free agent at the end of the year!! See, here's the thing -- the Texans gave up a conditional seventh round pick in two years for Mallett, hardly a price where you feel compelled to give him a test drive so you "make sure you get your money's worth." Ryan Mallett was not brought in to be the quarterback of the future. he was brought in because he's more talented than Case Keenum (who, incidentally, would've drawn similar support on the phones yesterday if he were still here). That's it.
1. Ray Lewis A lot of people are offended by Ray Lewis' presence on the Sunday NFL Countdown show on ESPN. A lot of people are aghast that ESPN would allow someone who may or may not have killed two people to give his opinions on crimes committed by former teammates, even getting sanctimonious at times. A lot of people are left scratching their heads wondering what in the blue fuck Ray is talking about like 97 percent of the time. Me, I hope they leave him on the show forever, due completely to the fact that his over the top ridiculousness provides much needed comic relief during all of these poor attempts at "serious talk" on ESPN.
Take Sunday, for example, where Lewis rambled for three minutes on the Ravens' cover up the Ray Rice video, informing all of us that "there are some things you can cover up, and somethings you can't," a ballsy thing to say for someone whose bloody suit still hasn't been recovered after the murder of two men at the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2000....
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I think we should invent a new game where we transcribe Ray Lewis on Countdown and transcribe old Jimmy Snuka WWF promos and then have people try to guess which is which...
Hardest. Game. Ever.