Heading into the season, all that most NFL teams can ask for is to be playing a meaningful game in Week 17 with an opportunity to control their own destiny.
With one game to go, thanks to yet another loss (their 13th in a row) and a 24-23 win by the Cowboys over the Redskins, the Texans head into Week 17 needing a loss against the Titans to sew up the number one overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Redskins (whose pick is owned by the Rams) are still lurking with a mathematical possibility at the number one overall pick, but the Texans fortunately control their own destiny.
Suck badly enough (like they have the last 13 weeks), and the pick is theirs.
Somehow I don't think that's the type of "meaning" nor the type of destiny to be controlled that the Texans were thinking about when they ran their record to 2-0 back on September 15, the last time they won a football game. Not at all.
On Sunday, it was the same story, different score, as Denver continued their march to the postseason with a fairly routine 37-13 win over the Texans in the final home game of the season (Fan Appreciation Day!).
As always, there were winners and losers. Let's take a look....
4. Randy Bullock If there's one Texans player who may have actually benefitted from the Texans' collapse this season, it's the portly kicker out of Texas A&M. (I love the word "portly.") Bullock managed to weather a midseason storm that saw the Texans bring in three kickers for workouts after he missed three field goals in a game against the Colts in early November, and he's quietly converted 11 attempts in a row. Most of all, the fact that the Texans are rarely in a position for him to screw up with the game on the line means that we've all almost forgotten about him. Bullock is basically the office worker who's able to anonymously shuffle papers around his desk all day and stay employed for like 20 years because nobody notices him. (On top of that, he has to be thrilled with all the sweets that are floating around the office during these holidays.)
3. Elementary school discipline tactics Texans' interim head coach Wade Phillips said this week that he would continue to put players in "time out" at practice when they committed penalties. (Because clearly the way to get through to millionaire athletes is to punish them with empty, grade school disciplinary tactics with no real consequences attached.) Well, hell, apparently it worked -- only four penalties this week! Hopefully, everyone got a gold star and a lollipop after the game, too. Got to balance the punishment with proportional reward.
2. Sun bathers One silver lining in this otherwise dreary season? It appears that the powers that be at Reliant Stadium have become much more liberal about opening the roof and going "topless." Hell, with as much as the roof was open over the second half of the season (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Denver games), Reliant was downright whorish. Very lax in its "roof ajar" morals.
1. Peyton Manning 32-51, 400 yards, 4 touchdowns, no interceptions, and 37 points on the scoreboard in a game where it didn't even feel like he played all that well. Oh, and the final touchdown of the game, the one that broke the single season record, was soaked in "F**K YOU" sauce to the Texans, the team that in 2012, when Manning reportedly wanted to come here, thought they had everything they needed already in....
4. Matt Schaub ....who countered Peyton's huge day with this stat line: 18-37, 176 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, 3 sacks taken (including two in a row to take the Texans out of game tying field goal range in the third quarter), and countless check downs. Have we checked to see that Schaub isn't actually the third Carr brother?
3. Texans Secondary, Celebration Station I know there's no official metric out there to accurately gauge it, but if there were, I'm fairly confident that the Texans would lead the league in CTAP ratio. That stands for Celebration-To-Actual-Production ratio. It's been this way all season, but my two favorite episodes of excessive, unwarranted celebration Sunday came on the following:
1) The first Denver drive of the game when Shiloh Keo celebrated a third down pass breakup with a ridiculous strut, when virtually every other safety in the league probably would have picked the pass off and still have been running to the end zone.
2) In the fourth quarter, cornerback Brandon Harris trash talked Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (after blatantly holding his arm) on an incompletion, after which Peyton Manning promptly tossed it over the top to Eric Decker for a touchdown on the next play.
2. Derek Carr as a Houston Texan legacy We all know that Texans' owner Bob McNair has a special affinity for David Carr, and anything Carr related. In 2006, he made the impossible task of fixing the mentally spent signal caller a condition of employment for whoever the new head coach would be, and consequently ended up hanging onto him another year (some would argue several more years) longer than he should have. Now, along comes another Carr, younger brother Derek, being touted as a possible high draft choice in a draft where a) the texans need a quarterback and b) will be drafting high. And despite Carr's throwing for nearly 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns this season, Texan fans have understandably screamed a collective "NOOOOOOOO" anytime his name comes up.
Well, I think you can all rest easy, Houston, because after the younger Carr's performance in the Las Vegas Bowl against USC, even Bob McNair has to be a little bit scared off. Carr went 29 of 54 for 217 yards (a paltry 4.0 yards per attempt), and if you watched the game, you saw him routinely overthrow Fresno State wide receivers and panic in the face of USC's pass rush. Honestly, if I were an NFL general manager, I wouldn't touch him until the third round. If you're using a first or second round pick on a quarterback, it has to be someone you feel very confident in taking you to a Super Bowl, and given that that was Carr's only game against a collective defense with NFL talent and that's what happened, I'd stay away. Buyer beware. My guess? Carr needs a huge Senior Bowl to wash the taste of that USC game out of scouts' mouths.
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1. Mike Leach There's no doubt about Mike Leach's tactical impact on the college football landscape. The Washington State head coach is one of the godfathers of the spread concepts and pass happy offenses we see proliferating the college game today. So how does a guy who is so smart become so stupid in the last five minutes of games in which he is coaching? Up 15 points with four minutes to go in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl (a tradition like no other!), Leach still had his quarterback Connor Halliday throwing the ball. Two incompletions in particular could have burned off over a minute of clock time and made a Colorado State comeback a virtual impossibility. Instead, his team punted, gave up a touchdown, coughed up a fumble and another score to tie the game, and then coughed up a fumble on the ensuing kickoff with less than 30 seconds to go that led to the winning field goal. 18 points in the final 2:52, and a 45-30 lead became a 48-45 loss.
Shhhh, genius at work.
And if you think there is a bad gambling beat story behind the reason I'm including Mike Leach in a Texans' column, well, then you must be a regular reader of mine.
Starting January 3, 2014, listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.