After Sunday's infuriating 27-20 loss to the New York Giants in the Texans' home opener, I am running out of words to describe this team and their start to the 2018 regular season. Stop me if you've heard this before — the Texans started slowly Sunday, fell behind 20-3, and amidst a sea of bad penalties, turnovers, and bone headed play calling still managed to hang around at the end of the game (sort of).
In other words, same old story, and at this point, the city of Houston has no confidence that the answers reside somewhere between Bill O'Brien's ears. HIs postgame press conference was the picture of resignation, complete with his muttering the verbal death blow "It is what it is." Translation — I've got no idea how to get us out of this mess.
So he and the team will pay lip service to correcting problems, and undoubtedly there will be lots of grinding (I'm told they're grinders), but make no mistake — this Texans team is an absolute dumpster fire right now, and if there is a Kubler-Ross scale for handling "Texan fan grief." as best I can tell (and I feel uniquely qualified to opine on this, hosting the postgame show and spending dawn to dusk at the stadium on game day) the Texans' fan base is sailing through anger and well on their way to apathy.
And if you're Bob McNair, apathy is the worst, WAY worse than anger. The only reason we can't say Sunday was the nadir of the O'Brien Era is because, in two weeks, they play the Cowboys at home, and losing to them would sink things even lower than they are right now. But the Texans' 2018 season is, no doubt, on life support. Let's get to Sunday's winners and losers....
4. J.J. Watt
There are not a lot of Texan players or coaches I feel badly for thus far this season, but I feel absolutely terrible for J.J. Watt, who missed 24 games over the last two seasons, worked his way through multiple grueling rehabs, and now appears to be all the way back. I feel badly for him because there has to be part of him that is saying to himself "I came back for THIS?!?" By "this" I mean things like his teammates taking the first half of games off and his head coach calling plays like he's using a random number generator. Bill O'Brien and about 85 percent of the roster are failing J.J. Watt right now. It's 2014 all over again —- Watt puts up a bunch of crooked numbers on the stat sheet (Sunday he had 3 sacks, 3 TFL's, 4 QB hits, and 8 tackles) and most of his on-field teammates are mere spectators. Good to have the old J.J. Watt back.
3. Will Fuller
For the second straight game, Fuller went over 100 yards and got into the end zone. Fuller is showing off the full range of routes each Sunday, and is rapidly developing into a guy who, if he stays healthy, brings the juice of a true No. 1 receiver. He's just become a really solid, and at times spectacular, player. His hands no longer seem to be an issue, and on Sunday he flashed some things blocking on the outside, notably on Jordan Thomas' 39 yard catch and run in the first quarter on the first drive of the game. The ascension of Fuller to go with Hopkins is one reason (on a very short list) to be optimistic that the Texans can pull out of this nosedive at some point.
2. Saquon Barkley
Barkley came into Sunday's game largely looking to get out of first gear. Aside from a 68-yard touchdown run in the season opener, he was averaging well under three yards per carry on the season. Sunday, though, Barkley made a major impact, both early and late. In the first half, he had four carries that went for double digit yards (13, 15, 24, 10), and then on the final touchdown drive, he got Zach Cunningham in man coverage and made a 21-yard catch to put the Giants in the red zone. Most of all, Barkley was a workhorse who was rarely brought down by the first tackler. He lived up to the considerable hype of being the No. 2 overall pick.
1. Eli Manning
There's no other way to put it — for what the Giants needed to do to win this game, Eli Manning damn near pitched a perfect game. Statistically, he was 25 of 29 for 297 yards and threw two touchdown passes. Most importantly, he protected the football, no turnovers. If you were rooting for the Texans, Manning's mastery of the middle of the field was absolutely disheartening. He peppered Texans defensive backs with crossing routes to Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard, and when he wasn't doing that, he was finding poor Zach Cunningham and dealing to Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and Barkley. On the Giants' final touchdown drive to go up 27-15, Manning ran nine plays and seven of them stayed in bounds, chewing up 35 to 40 seconds worth of clock on each play. Say what you will about where Manning is in his career arc — I, for one, still think he's a below average quarterback at this stage of his career — but he was dealing on Sunday.
4. First half scoring
The Texans are doing themselves zero favors with their dormant energy level and mistakes early in games. Unlike their first two games, at least on Sunday, they took a lead early, with a Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal staking them to an early 3-0 lead. However, it didn't last, and eventually, the Giants would take a 20-6 lead into the locker room at halftime. Collectively, the Texans have been outscored 55-19 in the first half this season, the mark of a team that is unprepared or in no fear of consequences for uninspired play.
3. The Greenbrier
If this season continues to slide into the abyss, at some point, likely after the season is over, every facet of preparation will be evaluated, and let's face it — this is a team that has started this season like they spent three weeks at a cushy country club in the hills of West Virginia. As someone who gets to spend a week there covering the team, with temperatures in the 50s at night, I say "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE TEXANS.... WIN SOME GAMES!"
2. Julien Davenport
I'll just say this about Davenport, and this goes for Martinas Rankin on the left side — the combination of these two guys is going to get Deshaun Watson maimed before the season is over. The Texans tackles were bad last season, but nothing like this. I'll just sum it up with a couple of tweets....
So I’ve rewatched the first half of the Texans game. My Julien Davenport scorecard thru 30 minutes:— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) September 24, 2018
False starts: 3
Nearly getting Watson killed: 10
This is yucky... pic.twitter.com/3KUoZ3Bg6J
I don’t think these back to back plays will@make Martinas Rankin’s sizzle reel. These tackles man.. pic.twitter.com/QeGf2vLFlC— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) September 24, 2018
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1. Zach Cunningham
It was a rough afternoon for the Texans' second year inside linebacker, whose strength is supposed to be in coverage on running backs and tight ends. Unfortunately, he made mistakes that were integral to three Giant scoring drives. On the drive that led to a field goal to make the score 10-3, Cunningham was called for an obvious pass interference on tight end Evan Engram for 10 yards. On the touchdown drive that gave the Giants a 20-3 lead, Cunningham was a step slow in coverage on Rhett Ellison on the touchdown pass. Finally, on the last touchdown drive, he gave up a 21 yard jump back to Saquon Barkley in man coverage. Cunningham, whose offseason led to a lot of hope for growth in his second year, has been a disappointment thus far this season. He is not alone in that regard,
And yes, I could have put Bill O'Brien as one of the four losers, but I don't want to be repetitive. I''l leave that to the Texans.
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.