You are what your record is. That was (and presumably still is) the mantra of Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells, which makes what I'm about to say all the more appropriate considering that the prominent members of this Houston Texans' coaching staff are either direct descendants or second generation descendants of the Parcells coaching tree.
Last year, the Texans finished the regular season 9-7. This year, the Texans finished the regular season 9-7. There are certainly different wrinkles that define each season, but in general saying that the 2014 and 2015 editions of the Texans are equal in overall caliber is a fair statement. The main difference between the two seasons is that, in 2015, the Colts were kind enough to have what will likely be one of the very few single digit win seasons they'll experience with Andrew Luck as their quarterback.
And so the Texans got to raise another AFC South banner. And so they went to the playoffs. And so they got their heads handed to them on Saturday afternoon, 30-0 at the hands of a better prepared, more talented Kansas City Chiefs squad. I don't think the Chiefs were any hungrier than the Texans, I think the Texans desperately wanted to win. In those nature videos, the mouse desperately wants to win against the hawk. He's just unequipped to do so.
Like the mouse, on Saturday, the Texans were unequipped to defend themselves and deal with the Chiefs, from literally the first play (a 106-yard Knile Davis kickoff return for a touchdown) to about the time that J.J. Watt's lower extremities gave out. The rest was just running out the clock.
So for the Texans, the key difference between last season's 9-7 team and this season's 9-7 team is that this season's team actually heads into the offseason with the benefit of a raw, biting wake up call, a playoff wipeout in their own building to remind them that, at their core, this team is still an entire offense and four special teams units away from competing with the good teams in this league (as if the New England game wasn't enough of a reminder). They are a middleweight who has no business fighting heavyweights, a wannabe whose best moments are fantasizing about MAYBE having a chance to win a playoff game.
The fact of the matter is that this team, barring a barrage of home runs in offensive personnel moves this offseason, is much closer to sliding back to something like 6-10 than making a move to 11-5 or 12-4. Have you seen the opponent list for next season? You swap out the AFC East for the AFC West, and the NFC South for the NFC North. The schedule's non-division road games will be Green Bay, Minnesota, Denver, New England, and a game against the Raiders somewhere (maybe Mexico City). I mean, yikes, right?
But back to yesterday. If you needed a stark on field reminder of where the Texans truly are, you got it on Saturday. You wanted the playoffs, you got the playoffs. Now, pick your teeth up on the way out.
Let's get to some winners and losers....
4. Knile Davis
The top two items on my Texans' checklist headed into the game on Saturday were these — 1) play the Chiefs even on special teams and 2) get an early lead. Winning the special teams battle was probably too much to ask considering the Texans' special teams were dead last in DVOA rankings this season, but just being OK on special teams seemed like a reasonable request. Well, Knile Davis wiped out both of those initiatives 11 seconds into the game with a 106-yard return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Special teams? Nope, they suck. Early lead? Yeah, right. More like "game over."
3. Brian Cushing
Trying to find a Texans player to slide into "winners" in this game is like trying to find a Miss America candidate in the Omega Mu house. I guess we can go with Cushing, who racked up 13 tackles on the day and had a key interception early in the game which gave the Texans a little bit of life when they were still trailing only 7-0. Truthfully, Cushing has probably played well enough this season to get himself off of the "potential cap casualty" square on the Texans game board.
2. Ben Roethlisberger
After suffering a shoulder injury with his team still leading the Bengals in the fourth quarter in Cincinnati, and then watching the lead dissipate and backup Landry Jones throw a pick that seemingly sealed the Steelers' fate, Big Ben came off the bench following a Jeremy Hill fumble with 90 seconds to go to lead the Steelers back to an 18-16 win in their playoff game Saturday night. He somehow did this with an arm that could only throw the ball about eight yards with any zip and certainly he got plenty of help from two idiotic personal foul penalties against Vontaze Burfict and Pac Man Jones (more on that in a moment), but Big Ben got the job done and the Steelers now go to Denver for a divisional round game, albeit with Big Ben's wing still clipped and Antonio Brown in concussion protocol. But that's what the best do — they find a way.
1. Brian Hoyer
A winner? Yes ...for one reason and one reason only — because of the Steelers win over the Bengals, the Texans would've had to go to New England for a divisional round game if they'd beaten the Chiefs. Because they lost on Sunday, the Texans avoid that embarrassment and Brian Hoyer avoids having his brain fed to Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, et al. What Hoyer lost in his credibility as a football player on Saturday he gains in safety for the remainder of the postseason. Presumably, he can't get concussed on his sofa.
4. Brian Hoyer
Now for this part of the Hoyer story. Let's just put this as simply as possible — you know how much we were all gushing over T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden coming in and winning games as backups during the regular season? In a perfect world, that would be Brian Hoyer's role — the dutiful backup who can "win you a game" in, like, Week 11 when your capable starter goes down. Unfortunately, Brian Hoyer is the Texans' starting quarterback, and as much of a film rat as he may be, he absolutely melts against superior competition. Hoyer's wins this season as a starter? Jacksonville (twice), Tennessee at home, New Orleans at home, and a contribution of three points to the win in Cincinnati. Against Kansas City and New England? Completely flummoxed. Not just that, but his "bedside manner" as the starting quarterback in dire situations is so frenzied and nervous that I can't imagine his teammates having any confidence that he can lead them out of the darkness. If the Texans' trailing by a couple touchdowns are a burning building, Hoyer is a walking gas can. He's just not a good quarterback, and I don't know what his role is now with this team next season. Jacoby Jones got run out of town for a fumble in a playoff game. Hoyer's performance yesterday was far more egregious.
3. "Last two minutes of the half" Bill O'Brien
Rewind to the Buffalo game back in early December. The Bills had the ball in Texans territory up by a touchdown in the last two minutes of the half, the Texans had all three timeouts, and the Bills were set to start the second half with the football. Bill O'Brien used none of his timeouts in that situation to get the ball back for his offense, even though his team was moving the ball on offense against the Bills. Inexplicable and inexcusable. Now fast forward to Saturday afternoon. The Texans trailed 13-0, couldn't move the football at all (except for one Alfred Blue 49 yard run), had all three timeouts, the Chiefs had the ball but the Texans were set to get the ball to start the second half. It was the classic "let's get into the locker room and regroup" situation. So what does O'Brien do? He starts burning timeouts, which really just served to extend the Chiefs chances to score more points. Ultimately, the Texans got the ball back, after burning the three timeouts, and took a knee. HUH?!?! O'Brien needs to play lots of MADDEN this offseason so he can learn clock management, because he makes no sense.
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2. The Watt-Cat
Speaking of coaching, there was one point in the game where the Texans still had hope on Saturday. Trailing 13-0, and following Alfred Blue's 49 yard run (in which I think he was caught from behind by the 99 year old woman who wanted to meet J.J. Watt) and a nice wildcat win by Jonathan Grimes, the Texans found themselves in 1st and goal at the Chiefs two yard line. They had momentum, they were running the football, and surely four cracks from the two yard line just running it out of I-formation would get the Texans within one score. Unfortunately, instead, it got weird. Out trotted Vince Wilfork and J.J. Watt, and Watt lined up at quarterback in the wildcat. On a play in which Bill O'Brien, by definition, welcomed the entire Kansas City defense to take a run at his best player (who's been dealing with injuries the whole second half of the season), Watt was stuffed for a one yard loss, not because he's not good at football, but because he was a defensive end playing quarterback running behind a defensive tackle in a playoff game. Seriously, what the fuck, Bill?
1. Pac Man Jones
In one of the most fantastic collapses in playoff history, as mentioned earlier, the Bengals somehow parlayed having the ball deep in Pittsburgh territory with less than 90 seconds to play, up 16-15, into an 18-16 loss. The best part? Three of the biggest assholes walking the NFL earth were directly responsible. It was glorious. Running back Jeremy Hill, he of the sucker punch at LSU and sexual assault of a 14-year-old allegations, fumbled to give the ball back to Pittsburgh, and then Vontaze Burfict (all around asshole) and Pac Man Jones picked up 15 yard penalties to move the Steelers into field goal range. Burfict got called for a dirty hit on WR Antonio Brown and Pac Man got called for pushing a referee. You can't make this stuff up. The Bengals are an amazing train wreck ... right, Pac Man?
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.