NFL Wrap: Losing Teaches Lessons, Except When It Doesn’t

I’d love nothing more than to put on my professor hat right now, step to the lectern, and rhapsodize on the lessons learned from the Texans’ 27-17 defeat at the hands of Cleveland. There’s just one problem: Anyone who’s been watching Houston play pro football this season couldn’t have been the least bit surprised by any of Sunday’s events.

While it’s true that losing often offers a unique opportunity to learn about one’s team, that’s not the case here. To borrow a quote from the not-so-great Dennis Green, the Texans are who we thought they were: A mediocre club capable of the occasional promising flash, but never any sort of consistent quality. Even this season’s highlight has proven to be fool’s gold. Once upon a time, I argued the Texans’ week 2 win over Carolina was the biggest victory in franchise history. Now we know Carolina was never that good to begin with. Turns out, neither were the Texans.

Sunday’s game showcased many of the problems we’ve seen all season (not to mention, seasons past): A non-existent pass rush (the one sack came courtesy of Mario Williams, which is good, but was merely the result of a blown assignment by the Cleveland O-line, which is bad), no big-play threat in the backfield, and a maddening propensity to turn the ball over. No shocking revelations to be seen there.

The only true surprise: Houston’s inability to create big plays against the Browns’ heretofore swiss-cheese defense. Say what you will about this year’s Texans, but they’ve displayed a stunning knack for producing big plays on offense. Yet they found themselves stymied on Sunday, overcome by too many dumb decisions and costly turnovers.

Unfortunately, Matt Schaub was guilty on both counts, and it’s his performance which has to be seen as the most troubling. This was a game he should have owned. Instead, he gave it up with some questionable decisions and an arm that, at times, conjured images of the noodle masquerading as Chad Pennington’s right appendage. Bear in mind, I have long been on record as a Matt Schaub fan, and I’m by no means jumping ship now. But any honest assessment of his play against the Browns will not appear flattering.

So, no, we didn’t learn anything about the Texans we didn’t already know. Unless you count this late-game gem courtesy of CBS color analyst Steve Tasker: “They’ve [the Texans] got an aggressive, young, very good defense. But I still think they’re a player or two away from being a very good defense.”

Well said, Steve. That’s just the kind of analysis we can’t live without.

Speaking of which, I’ve got a few comments I’d like to share regarding the rest of Sunday’s action from around the NFL, so you’re getting a wee bit extra today. I figure it’s the least I can do since my week 12 picks bombed so bad. I mean, I was bound to have an off-week eventually, but I felt positively violated after some of yesterday’s bizarre endings.

-- My personal highlight of the day: Watching Eli Manning throw four picks (3 of which were returned for touchdowns) in the afternoon, then seeing a Citizen Eco Drive commercial during the Sunday night game which breathlessly told me, “Unstoppable. Eli Manning is.” How pissed do you think the watchmakers at Citizen are right now? Then again, shouldn’t their marketing people have known better? Eli Manning is to competent quarterbacking as Heidi Klum is to savvy lingerie ads.

-- Speaking of competent quarterbacking, I don’t see how David Carr could possibly have an NFL job next year, unless he gets a full-time gig modeling his pretty white gloves. He predictably delivered a wretched performance yesterday, resulting in the Carolina crowd chanting for an appearance from undrafted rookie Matt Moore (which they got after Carr’s second pick). I have nothing against Carr, but he’s obviously irreparably damaged goods at this point. And, yes, I hate Vinny Testaverde and his creaky back for bowing out 90 minutes before kick-off. Believe me, if I had any inclination that Carr was going to get significant playing time, I never would have picked the Panthers over the Saints. Not in a million years.

-- Is season two of the VY/Reggie/Mario saga going to be won by Williams? While Mario is by no means tearing it up this year, he’s unquestionably been the Texans’ best D-linemen (not that that’s saying a whole heck of a lot). Meanwhile, Young and Bush continue to turn in underwhelming performances. There’s still a long way to go in this debate, and I still believe Vince will prevail in the end (career-wise), but I never thought Mario would even win a round, so my hat’s off to him if can finish the season strong and bring this mythical title home.

-- We can remove Mike Shanahan’s “genius” label once and for all after the Broncos’ jaw-dropping loss to a down-and-out Chicago team yesterday. Anyone dumb enough to allow Devin Hester to return not one, but two kicks for touchdowns in a game, deserves nothing but a dunce cap. Honorable mention for Dolt of the Day goes to the aforementioned Tasker, who called Joshua Cribbs “The most dangerous kick returner in the NFL,” during the Browns-Texans game. Keep trying, Steve. You’ll get something right eventually.

-- And finally, a tip of the cap to the Philadelphia Eagles, who gave the undefeated Pats all they could handle Sunday night. No, they didn’t win, but they certainly exposed New England’s secondary and did a great job pressuring Tom Brady all night. The under-reported key to Brady’s record-breaking season has been the Patriots’ impenetrable offensive line, so give Philly credit for creating at least a few leaks.

Of course, it figures that Philadelphia’s best effort of the season would result in a loss. And if any doubt remained about Donovan McNabb’s future with the team, it was almost certainly erased after watching A.J. Feeley’s sterling performance. The writing is on the wall. McNabb will struggle when he returns, the Eagles will miss the playoffs (even in the horrific NFC) and Donovan will end up playing in the NFC North next year. That outcome seemed likely before the season began. At this point, it’s a veritable lock.

Hey, speaking of locks, my “lock of the week” is still perfect! That has to count for something, right? What, you mean it doesn’t make up for a 3-12 week? Fine, be that way. I’ll do better in lucky week 13, I promise. - Jason Friedman

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