For nearly three full seasons, since being drafted in the fourth round out of Pittsburgh, Tom Savage has watched seven other quarterbacks, most of them with less arm talent and less potential, walk through the doors at NRG Stadium, and get chance after chance to start at quarterback for the Houston Texans.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler. That's the list. Through some of their runs on top, Savage had to sit idly by, with no opportunity to compete for the job. Through other games, Savage happened to be injured and had to watch in street clothes. Either way, Tom Savage has never really been given an opportunity to "run his own crew," as the mob folks would phrase it.
For whatever reason, this franchise has always seen spastic, plucky undrafted guys, rednecks with punctuality issues, and robotic pretty boys who happened to share a QB room with Peyton Manning as more "capo" material than Tom Savage. So Savage waited patiently for his chance, for an opening.
Meanwhile, in a parallel football universe, for practically 16 weeks of 2016 NFL football, Brock Osweiler had been the starter at quarterback for the Houston Texans. It all began very hopefully back in March when he signed a four-year, $72 million contract to be the face of the franchise, the final missing piece that would, at the very least, put this team in the conversation with serious Super Bowl contenders. After all, Osweiler had gone 5-2 starting important games for the Broncos on their Super Bowl run in 2015, until he was replaced by Manning in Week 17.
To call the Texans' decision to anoint him the starter the "Osweiler Experiment" would be flat out incorrect. You don't give $37 million in guaranteed money to "experiments." Fitzpatrick, Hoyer, Mallett, Yates, Weeden — THOSE were experiments, drenched in varying degrees of blind faith, reclamation and triage. Osweiler was, for this franchise, the "Chosen One."
That decision has been an unmitigated disaster, with Osweiler grasping the offense the way a third grader grasps advanced calculus, with Osweiler totally unable, physically and mentally, to make certain, very basic throws that even the most pedestrian of quarterbacks — like, say, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden, for example — can make in their sleep. It's been flat-out garbage to watch.
Honestly, Osweiler's ineptitude completely calls into question whether the average, All-22-watching NFL fan could do a better job of picking players for this team than Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien. It really does. They claimed to have watched EVERY snap Osweiler took in Denver, and what they saw was a franchise quarterback. They plugged Osweiler into the system, coached him up relentlessly, and they got Craig Whelihan. That's about as damning as it gets for anyone whose own job evaluation is predicated on evaluating football players (although, to be fair, I don't know that any of us have any idea what exactly Rick Smith is evaluated on).
Texans fans are loyal, and for 15 seasons of loyalty, the thanks they've been given at quarterback is about three good seasons of Matt Schaub and a landfill-size pile of wretched refuse. They've had enough. They want hope.
On Sunday afternoon, with about ten minutes to go in the second quarter of a game against the 2-11 Jacksonville Jaguars — that's where the circuitous roads of Tom Savage's aspirations and the end of the line for Texans fans' patience with Brock Osweiler intersected, in the waiting arms of Jaguar linebacker Tevin Smith as he cradled Osweiler's 16th interception of the season.
Boos poured from the stands, and as the Texans' 2016 season teetered on the brink of the abyss, O'Brien finally made the change — Tom Savage went into the game, and he was good. At times, he was VERY good. He completed 23 pf 36 passes for 260 yards. He threw no picks. Most of all, he threw simple passes (many of them to DeAndre Hopkins, who has to feel like he's been rescued from a mine shaft) that most Texans fans had been self-brainwashed into thinking were erased from the playbook.
The Texans won the game by a score of 21-20, and unlike in the previous seven wins of the season, quarterback play was a HUGE reason why. For once, we didn't have to hear about esoteric things like "getting us into the right play" or "running a clean huddle" as reasons why the quarterback played well. Savage capably THREW A FOOTBALL TO HIS TEAMMATES at a high level, something Osweiler has not done all season.
Indeed, as it turns out, Texans fans were sitting Sunday at the intersection (we hope...God, we hope) where Osweiler Drive ends and Savage Lane begins. And for a couple of hours, it was damn glorious.
Let's get to the winners and losers in this deal...
4. Jadeveon Clowney
One quick sidebar that would have dominated the postgame conversation if the Texans had not just benched their $72 million starting quarterback — for the second week in a row, Jadeveon Clowney was the best player on the field. He was disruptive, he was violent and he appears to have finally made the transition from being "rewatch-the-game" dominant to being "box score" dominant. Five tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss, a pass defended, two QB hits — that's a J.J. Watt-like stat line. (It's so scary to think what those two will do next season with a fully healthy Watt.) Above all else, Clowney's body language and demeanor are those of a guy who is finally realizing his potential as the No. 1 overall pick in 2014. On Sunday, with no Watt and no Whitney Mercilus, there was no other dynamic pocket crusher out there to draw attention...and it didn't matter. Clowney wrecked shop repeatedly, albeit on a shaky offensive line, but that's what No. 1 picks are supposed to do. He did it. Welcome to the party, JD...
3. Chris Simms
Now, back to Tom Savage... you know who liked Savage coming out of college? Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms, that's who! Rather than rehash his take, I will embed video of Simms uncomfortably screaming at you that the Texans are now a Super Bowl contender with Savage at quarterback...
Houston is about to shake up the playoff picture and it's all thanks to QB Tom Savage pic.twitter.com/LXdpeWZmlW— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 19, 2016
Honestly, I hope Simms is right; I'm just fearful that he's one of those unhinged guys who scream this animatedly when they win a game of Connect Four, and kooks like that are rarely, ultimately correct.
2. Titans season ticket holders (and brokers)
The emergence of Tom Savage wasn't the only unexpected development on Sunday. The Tennessee Titans went into Kansas City and defeated the Chiefs 19-17 on a last-second, 52-yard field goal by Ryan Succop, in a game where Chiefs head coach Andy Reid did everything he could to lose the game and Titans head coach Mike Mularkey pulled out all the stops to win it, including a failed two-point conversion attempt in which the Titans scored to make it 17-16 late in the game. So now the Texans and the Titans are both 8-6, with the Texans having clinched the tie breakers between the two, and with the two teams playing each other in Week 17. This makes this coming Saturday (because of the Christmas holiday, most of the schedule is on Saturday this weekend), in Week 16, a bit of an odd situation.
The Titans play the Jaguars at noon on Saturday. If they win that game, the Texans game against the Bengals, which kicks off at 7:25 p.m. that night, is completely meaningless, as the Texans would have to win in Nashville either way to win the division, and the chances of their catching the AFC North winner for the No. 3 seed in the playoffs are extremely remote at best. I am not saying the Texans will treat the Cincinnati game this Saturday like a meaningless game if the Titans beat the Jags, but I could see them being cautious with guys like, say, Whitney Mercilus, who is nursing a back injury, or Johnathan Joseph and his rib injury. John Simon most certainly wouldn't return for that game, and maybe they would give Brian Cushing (and the two broken bones in his back) a rest. Whatever the case, if you wanted Week 17 drama, it appears you are getting it.
1. DeAndre Hopkins
All season long, one of the biggest mysteries of this NFL season has been the answer to this question — how is it that DeAndre Hopkins, the supposedly QB-proof wide receiver, can't find any rapport with the Texans' handpicked $72 million man, Brock Osweiler? Hopkins had 100-yard games with Hoyer, Mallett, Yates and Weeden last season. This season, he could barely get open, and when he did, Osweiler was sailing balls over his head or zinging them at his shoelaces. Savage came into the game Sunday, and it was like the clock was turned back to 2015 for Hopkins. Suddenly, he was open. Suddenly, he was getting balls thrown in places where he could make plays. Honestly, the most encouraging Tom Savage throw of the afternoon to me wasn't even a completion. It was a deep ball into the end zone that Hopkins probably SHOULD have caught but didn't. It was a perfectly thrown ball, thrown with deft touch, that I don't think Osweiler could throw against air right about now. Honestly, just thinking about it has me feeling like Chris Simms! Big picture, if Savage is indeed the guy, it will be interesting to watch how he works with Hopkins. Hopefully, this is a chance to squelch the storyline of Hopkins wanting to remain a Texan long-term (mostly a media concoction of a storyline, admittedly).
Of all the upheaval caused by a Savage promotion, finding a good CGI guy to remove Brock from all of these H-E-B commercials might be the most worrisome...
HEB already changed there commercials for Texans Tom Savage Brock Osweiler out pic.twitter.com/fpLg58lhdn— Rockets 16-17 Champs (@RoyHern65291237) December 19, 2016
Good luck, Scott!
3. Tom Herman's special brand of honesty
One quick college football side note — I'll just leave this right here...
The Cougars went on to lose the Las Vegas Bowl by a score of 34-10 to San Diego State. It was announced immediately following the game that Orlando would be leaving U of H to become Herman's defensive coordinator in Austin. The end.
2. Jalen Ramsey
Let me preface this one by saying that I think Ramsey is a splendid player. A rookie cornerback who plays like a veteran, Ramsey is going to be a pain for the Texans wide receivers to deal with for a very long time. That said, he is the perfect Jacksonville Jaguar. After the game, he was asked about a pass interference call on him that kept the Texans' game-winning drive alive, and here's what he had to say:
“All I know is I started that drive with my mouthpiece on my hamlet, I ended that drive and my mouthpiece was on their sideline, I’m not sure how that happens without getting called hands to the face but it did,” Jalen Ramsey said. “Specifically I want to call out, I don’t know his name, I don’t really care for it, field judge 104, by far the worst official in the NFL, he needs to be fired 100 percent, terrible, terrible, terrible.”
If that wasn’t enough Ramsey even implied the referees were in the Texans pocket.
“(Field judge 104) may be a kin to (DeAndre) Hopkins or something, I don’t know, he’s just a homer, I feel like the whole officiating crew they were homers,” Ramsey said.
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The refs screwed us!...the battle cry of the 2-12 squad.
1. Gus Bradley
Speaking of 2-12, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley's record fell to 14-48 after the loss on Sunday. Since he arrived in Jacksonville in 2013, Bradley's teams have fought hard for him (almost) every Sunday, but there's just not enough talent, on the roster and the coaching staff, to overcome just how bad Blake Bortles is at playing American football. And so it was that Bradley's firing was announced after the game on Sunday, an odd symmetry when you consider it was after a road game in Jacksonville in 2013, Bradley's first season as a head coach, when the Texans fired Gary Kubiak.
Whatever happened to that Kubiak guy, anyway?
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.