Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 17: 49ers 23, Texans 7 — Four Winners, Four Losers

Davis Mills came back down to earth on Sunday.
Davis Mills came back down to earth on Sunday. Photo by Jack Gorman
Well, it was fun while it lasted. When the epitaph is written on the depressing 2021 Houston Texans' season, at the very least we can say that they enjoyed one actual wining streak during the season. Ironically, it will have occurred when their roster was the most depleted it's been in the history of the team, thanks to COVID-19.

The two game winning streak sadly ended on Sunday afternoon in Santa Clara, CA, as the San Francisco 49ers outclassed the Texans by a final score of 23-7. Stylistically, this game looked a whole lot more like the Davis Mills starts from earlier this season, as the Texans' quarterback barely broke the 100 passing yard barrier (until some garbage yards at the end), and he committed an ill timed turnover that swung momentum in the game.

Now, there is one week to go, until we can begin focusing on the truly important things for a rebuilding team — the draft, free agency, and trading Deshaun Watson. Here are your winners and losers from yesterday:

WINNERS

4. Desmond King
On a day where there weren't many individual performances to celebrate, King was the most noticeable player for the Texans defensively. His interception in the first half was turned into a touchdown by the offense, and his pass breakup in the third quarter stopped the Niners on 4th and 1 to keep the Texans in front for the time being. Since his benching in Week 8 for disciplinary reasons, King has been one of the more consistent performers for the Texans' defense, and he is someone I would not mind seeing brought back on a reasonable deal next season.

3. Dan Reeves' legacy
As a longtime fan of the NFL, I always knew that Dan Reeves was one of the more respected and successful head coaches in the history of the league, best known for leading the Broncos to three Super Bowls (all three blowout losses) in the late '80s, alongside Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. However, until the news of his passing at age 77 over the past weekend came out, I didn't realize how historically significant a figure Reeves was, when you add his playing career to his coaching career. When you add up Super Bowls in which he played for the Cowboys, at the advent of the Super Bowl Era, along with trips as an assistant coach and those trips as a head coach (three with Denver, one with Atlanta), only two human beings have participated in more Super Bowls in a playing or coaching capacity than Reeves: Bill Belichcik and Tom Brady. I was mildly surprised to see Reeves is not in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps it happens posthumously. Either way, may Dan Reeves rest in peace.

2. Andre Johnson, HOF finalist
Speaking fo the Hall of Fame, a bit of good news for Texan fans this past weekend, in a year that's been largely bereft of ANY good news — wide receiver Andre Johnson is among fifteen finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2022. Here is the full list of finalists:
This may deserve a longer post at some point to truly handicap Andre Johnson's chances of getting in this summer (I think it's a near lock Johnson gets in eventually, if it doesn't happen in 2022), but I would sum up the case for each side thusly — on the one hand I don't think he gets in this summer just because, unless you're a Peyton Manning/Brett Favre type, the committee usually makes you wait a year or two, at least. On the other hand, Johnson is clearly one of the five or six best  players on this list (only Thomas, Ware, and Willis have more All Pro berths), and the two other wide receivers (Holt, Wayne) both had Hall of Fame quarterbacks and Hall of Fame fellow wide receivers on their teams. Andre Johnson had neither.

1. Trey Lance
His numbers wound up looking better than the actual game he had, but you can see some of the physical traits with Lance that compelled the Niners to gut their future drafts in order to move up and select him with the third overall pick this past spring. It is practically imperative for Kyle Shanahan that Lance turn into a franchise quarterback because of what they gave up to get him. He's helped with an array of weapons (George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel) and a solid offensive line. Put it this way — Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence is probably watching Lance operate yesterday, and wishing the had somehow fallen to the third pick in the draft.

LOSERS

4. Engineers that designed FedEx Field
Here in Houston, we love Jalen Hurts. The Eagles quarterback is from Channelview, and by all accounts, he is a great dude. So excuse me if I get a little miffed when I see that he was almost crippled (or worse) by a slew of drunk Eagle fans whose weight couldn't be supported by the rails along the runway back to the locker room....
I'm putting heavy money on Hurts winding up on the COVID reserve list this week. That just looks like an Omicron kind of crowd.

3. Jacksonville Jaguar fans (possibly)
The one team that's been hard at work trying to find their next head coach is the one team that has (a) fired their head coach, and (b) has no shot at the playoffs. They are also the one team who's lost twice to the Texans! What's up, Jaguars! The Jags have been turning over every stone in the NFL assistant and former NFL head coaching ranks. However, my favorite rumor popped up Sunday morning, courtesy of Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com:

"[Jags' GM Trent] Baalke has also recently been pushing Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien to ownership as a possible candidate. O'Brien earned accolades as a play-caller under Nick Saban and has previous experience as head coach in Houston. However, the bitter end to his time there, and his history of power struggles and personality clashes, won't likely do much to stem the tide of public sentiment in Jacksonville against the early stages of this hiring process."

If this were to happen, O'Brien getting hired by the Jags, I would have great optimism in 2022 being the greatest year of our lives. Meanwhile, the Jags lost to the Patriots by a score of 50-10 on Sunday.

2. Antonio Brown
In a media session last week, the mercurial Buccaneers wide receiver blamed the media for conjuring up unnecessary drama. Six days later, here was the scene as Brown literally quit in the middle of a game and threw his gear into the stands at MetLife Stadium:
It's long been wondered when exactly we would see the straw that broke the camel's back in ending Brown's career. Considering Tom Brady was the last person willing to vouch for him, I would say we are probably there.

1. Overpriced and/or under-talented O'Brien holdovers
There was a sequence in the second half of this game where the game was essentially lost. Tight end Pharaoh Brown, who is much louder on Twitter and talking trash than he is on the stat sheet, had a holding penalty to nullify a 50-yard catch by Brandon Cooks. Shortly thereafter, Ka'imi Fairbairn, one of the five highest paid kickers in football, missed a 46-yard field goal that would have tied the game. Then, on the Niners subsequent possession, safety Eric Murray missed a tackle on the Deebo Samuel touchdown catch that put the Niners up two scores for good. I will miss none of these people when they are discarded by Nick Caserio after the season.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast