It's been a while since the Houston Texans lost a road game in Jacksonville, four years ago to be exact. In fact, the last time the Texans went to Jacksonville and lost a football game was in 2013, a 27-20 loss amidst a lost season made even more frustrating with head coach Gary Kubiak's constant yo-yoing back and forth between Matt Schaub and Case Keenum at quarterback.
When the Texans landed back in Houston after that game, it only took a good night's sleep for owner Bob McNair to fire head coach Gary Kubiak — well, a good night's sleep and eight seasons of, by and large, mediocre football.
In 2013, that loss to the Jaguars was, sadly, an even fight between two really bad football teams. On Sunday, the Texans were walloped by the Jaguars in the complete opposite of an even fight, a 45-7 thumping which saw the Texans slide to 4-10 on the season and the Jags clinch the AFC South crown that had belonged to the Texans the last two seasons.
With that loss, the Texans are now a painfully average 31-31 under O'Brien. I doubt the same fate awaits O'Brien tomorrow morning that awaited Kubiak four years ago, but the storm clouds are undoubtedly swirling over NRG Stadium right now. We shall see. For now, let's discuss some football from this past weekend....
4. Case Keenum
Before we get into the debacle in Jacksonville yesterday, and so long as we are mentioning Case Keenum, let's give a little shoutout to the former Texan and lifetime Coog. Since Sam Bradford went down in Minnesota with a knee injury earlier this season, Keenum's performance has ranged from solid to spectacular, and yesterday he bounced back from his worst performance of the season by going 20 of 23 for 236 yards and two touchdown passes in a 34-7 win over the Bengals. The Vikings currently sit at 11-3 with the inside track on a first round bye in the playoffs. Additionally, they are proof that if you lose your starting quarterback, you can continue to win games with a solid defense and a good offensive line. Your season doesn't have to completely crater. You know who else is proof of that? I'll tell you.....
3. Nick Foles
..... so far, the Eagles are also proof that a decent backup quarterback can still win games, if you have a roster that is deep and well put together. The Eagles lost MVP candidate Carson Wentz during last week's game against the Rams in Los Angeles. Since taking over in the fourth quarter of that game, Nick Foles has led a late game comeback over the Rams, and yesterday was 24 of 38 for 237 yards and four touchdown passes in a road win over the Giants. The Eagles are now 12-2 on the season, and with a win over the Raiders or Cowboys (both at home) in the final two weeks of the season, they will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which is huge considering the teams in the playoff mix in the NFC are largely warm weather or dome teams. So kudos to the Eagles for withstanding an injury at quarterback to keep on keepin' on. Which brings us to.....
2. Deshaun Watson
I get that the Texans' roster has been gutted more than the average NFL roster by injuries. Losing Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt on defense is no joke. That said, neither of those two plays offense, and it's incredible to see now just how vital Watson was to that Texans' offense, and what a complete and utter abomination it is when he isn't in there. An offensive line is supposed to protect the quarterback, but the fact of the matter is that Watson was protecting this sham of an offensive line by hiding just how horrific a unit it is. That Texans' offensive line is the only unit on the team that's been largely healthy all season, so they have no excuses there. In fact, it's hard to imagine that, if Xavier Su'a-FIlo or Breno Giacomini were to get injured, the Texans couldn't find a better solution panhandling for change on Kirby. They've been that bad. The Texans averaged nearly 35 points a game in Watson's six starts. They average 14 points a game in games started by Tom Savage or T.J. Yates. That's a roster problem, not a coaching problem. That's a GM problem. More on that in a minute....
1. Blake Bortles
Kudos to Bortles for hanging in as the butt of numerous jokes during the first three seasons of his career to come back and become serviceable enough to be a solid quarterback for a 10-4 football team. On Sunday, he was more than serviceable. He made plays. Bortles was 21 of 29 for 326 yards and three touchdown passes, and he did that without the services of WR Allen Robinson (injured in Week One), WR Allen Hurns (also injured), leading receive Marquise Lee (injured early in Sunday's game), and RB Leonard Fournette (injured). Those are the top four playmakers on the Jags' offense heading into the season, and Sunday they were all out for all or most of the game, and the Jags scored 45 points. Weird.... another team who's still able to score points even after losing significant pieces on offense.....
4. Jadeveon Clowney
Hey look, Clowney has been great again this season after coming into his own last year. Each Sunday, he is operating pretty much on his own in that front seven when it comes to generating a pass rush and making splash plays. That said, Clowney sounded like a sour grapes loser after the game yesterday when asked about Blake Bortles' improvement....
Jadeveon Clowney was asked if Blake Bortles is improving his reply 'He's trash'— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) December 17, 2017
This season probably needs to just end, and end as soon as possible.
3. Texans red zone defense
The Jaguars were six for six in the red zone on Sunday. I don't care how many guys you're missing on defense, when you give up a touchdown EVERY time the other team gets into the red zone, then questions about effort become completely fair game.
2. This Buffalo Bills fan
Someday before I die, I need to make a road trip to Buffalo in December for a game. I can't believe people like this can afford to go to NFL games....
last Bills home game of the season pic.twitter.com/R3d0XnLMx6— Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 17, 2017
Hey, when that guy gets out of the burn unit, someone let him know that, if the season ended today, the Bills would be in the playoffs!
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1. Rick Smith
Since the season is now officially lost, Texans games are pretty much bereft of meaningful plays and short-term storylines. Everything is about the big picture — how did we get here, why is it so bad, and where do we go from here? As a result, the Texans' postgame show (of which I am the host on SportsRadio 610) has turned into a three hour piñata session each week, with general manager Rick Smith serving as the cardboard donkey and the callers serving as the stick swingers. The tenure of Smith (and whether it should end) probably deserves its own post, but the vitriol spewed at the Texans' GM is completely warranted considering his willingness to enter the season with this offensive line and the precipitous drop off of talent level on this roster after the first dozen or so players.
I'll leave you with this — there are eight other general managers still employed with the teams they were with the day Smith was hired by Bob McNair back in June 2006. Smith has the worst winning percentage of all of them, and aside from Rick Spielman in Minnesota, they have all either won a Super Bowl (New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New Orleans) or own the team (Dallas, Cincinnati).
And then there's Rick Smith, with his three wild card round playoff wins in 11 seasons. Yay.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.