Stop me if you've heard this before — the Houston Texans went on the road last night in prime time and played one of the better teams in the NFL. They proceeded to put the entire city of Houston through a three-hour root canal, which by the fourth quarter, had most of the city either doing some online shopping or playing Candy Crush, with the game on TV as sad background noise, like a Harry Chapin album or something.
And the cats in the cradle, and the silver spoon... little boy Brock, and the man in the moon... Broncos 27, Texans 9. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Winners and losers, let's go...
4. Devontae Booker
We all know Gary Kubiak likes to run the football, and when he finds a back that fits his zone blocking scheme, he will pound you with said back. Oftentimes, these are unheralded guys (sometimes, undrafted guys — more on this in a minute), guys like rookie Devontae Booker out of Utah, whose smooth running style is reminiscent of another back who wore number 23 for Kubiak back in the day. The Denver head coach indicated this week that we would see more of Booker in tandem with C.J. Anderson, and the truth is the Texans saw more than enough of both guys — Anderson carrying for 107 yards on 16 carries and Booker getting his first real action of the season with 83 yards on 17 carries. Both got into the end zone. The Broncos bludgeoned the Texans on the ground, and exposed the Achilles heel of this defense — a run defense with just two sharp teeth (Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney) and a bunch of gums in the front seven.
3. Arian Foster
Speaking of Kubiak running backs who wore number 23, prior to the game last night, news came down that former Texan and current Dolphin running back Arian Foster was announcing his retirement from football. At the age of 30, despite an offseason in which Foster rehabbed maniacally to come back from the Achilles tear that ended his 2013 season seven weeks in, his body was just no longer cooperating, and Foster had reached a breaking point in trying to come back from injury, yet again. I could go on for several paragraphs about Foster, whose career arc was as quirky as his personality, but will sum up his legacy as a football player as such...
Arian Foster’s legacy: sure fire top 3 Texan of all-time, one of best all-purpose RBs of this decade, many health-related what-ifs. #Namaste— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) October 25, 2016
2. A.J. Bouye
One guy who came to play last night was Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye, who quite honestly, has come to play all season long, rating as the No. 1 cornerback in football on Pro Football Focus (93.2 coverage grade). Last night, Bouye notched nine solo tackles and allowed completions on 6 of 10 targets for only 38 yards with a long of 11. He also knocked away two passes. Like Foster, Bouye has become an undrafted free agent success story on the Texans's watch. Bouye is an unrestricted free agent after this season, which means this could be the end of the line for Johnathan Joseph in 2017, with a $7 million cap hit and no dead money. Bouye, at age 25, is a guy worth investing in.
1. John Elway
Whether Elway wanted to keep Brock Osweiler or not — and all indications, such as a $16 million per year contract offer, are that he did want to keep him — the bottom line is that Elway's passive-aggressive barbs of "Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make" are playing out entirely true in this case. The Broncos have a much more favorable QB situation than the Texans, who have committed themselves, financially and psychologically (for the coaches, at least), to a guy who, as it turns out, turns into mush when the spotlight is shone upon him, like a bowl of vanilla soft-serve, which oddly enough is the perfect metaphor for the offense of the Texans under the seemingly baffled eye of Bill O'Brien.
4. Brian Cushing
I'll just say this as politely as I can — Brian Cushing is just a guy running around on the field right now. He doesn't make plays, and any tackles he makes are ten yards down the field and here's perhaps the most damning thing you can say about an NFL player (but this is what I see, so I'm going to say it) — Cushing looks like a guy who realizes the six-figure game check well is going to run dry soon, likely after this season, so he isn't going to do anything to sustain any more damage to his body and head than has already been sustained over his eight seasons in the league. Cushing just isn't playing an energetic, physical, impactful brand of football. Not even close. We are at the point now where it's worth disclosing the numbers involved with a Brian Cushing release after the season...
The Texans would save about $5.3 million against the salary cap next season. Cushing isn't doing anything right now that Max Bullough can't do five times better at one-tenth the cost.
3. Derek Newton
How good is Von Miller? So good that the mere need to change direction in trying to keep him away from Osweiler caused Derek Newton to buckle and tear both of his patellar tendons, a devastating injury that, quite honestly, could spell the end of Newton's career. You have to feel for Newton, who was injured literally about 15 minutes into training camp, made it back for the start of the regular season, and now must rehab injuries in both knees simultaneously to find his way back onto the field. The saving grace is that the seventh-round pick got to a second contract, with about $10 million guaranteed, but man, I don't think I've ever seen anything like Newton crumbling with no contact whatsoever from Miller. (Does Miller get to add those two patellar tendons to his stat sheet in some way? I feel like he should be able to — three tackles, eight QB hurries and two shredded patellar tendons.)
2. Brock Osweiler
So last night, Osweiler went back to Denver, his former team, and a city that's been essentially ridiculing him since he decided to take Bob McNair's money this past offseason. You learn a lot about a player by how he responds to situations like this — people laughing at you, saying you're not worth the money. Osweiler responded with a historically pathetic performance, the second-lowest passing yardage total (131 yards) in NFL history for a QB who threw more than 40 passes in a game. Osweiler is an absolute mess, and the two years the Texans are forced to keep him (and probably play him) because of the guaranteed money in his deal feel like an eternity right now, because the only way backup Tom Savage doesn't give them a better chance to win than Osweiler is if he is literally sitting in the corner, picking his nose and playing with Legos at practice every day. Brock stinks right now, and postgame footage like this will do him no favors with the fan base...
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For God's sake, save it for the tunnel, bro. You just embarrassed yourself and your team on national television. What are you doing?
1. Bill O'Brien, talent evaluator
For a guy who is supposed to be some kind of quarterback guru (and let's retire this notion right now — O'Brien is not a guru of any sort of anything at the moment), his handpicked guy and his unimaginative playbook are going to get him fired, if it keeps going like this in big games against good teams on national television. (Although, let's face it, a string of 9-7 seasons and AFC South titles probably keeps him employed forever.) Make no mistake about it, O'Brien has a "quarterback play" issue going on right now in 2016, but the bigger problem is his "quarterback evaluation" issue going back to his first season here. I know several teams passed on Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo, but as a supposed "QB guru," it was O'Brien's job NOT to be one of those guys. Instead, he chose to roll for two seasons with a puddle of bacterial waste at quarterback, which then painted him into this "overpay for Osweiler" corner in which he currently sits. So while O'Brien has a short-term problem in that he needs to get Osweiler to raise his level of play to at least a C- for now (hell, C- would feel like Brady right now), the bigger problem is that O'Brien himself created the very dynamic in which Osweiler is even here to begin with. O'Brien didn't inherit this situation; he allowed it to happen! And that may be more damning than all of Brock's aborted drop-backs this season combined.
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.