Around this time of year, if you surf your movie channels long enough, you'll stumble across a Christmas movie called The Family Man starring Nicholas Cage. In the movie, Cage plays a millionaire bachelor who leads an opulent, but emotionally barren life, so an angel (played by Don Cheadle — yeah, you heard me) sends him into an alternate universe in which he married his college sweetheart (played by the lovely Tea Leoni) and runs an auto parts store, but is more emotionally fulfilled.
It's a classic "see how your life would have gone if you'd chosen differently" story, allowing Cage's character to critically evaluate his decisions and his life in general. That's sort of what the Texans had going on at NRG Stadium on Sunday.
You see, back in 2014, it was believed that the Texans, who were about as in need of a young quarterback as a team could be coming off a 2-14 season, really liked Jimmy Garoppolo. Unfortunately, they passed on him in the second round of the draft, selecting guard Xavier Su'a-Filo instead (which is the equivalent of picking a life as a garbageman instead of marrying Tea Leoni), and the Patriots snatched him up and the rest is history.
Now, Garoppolo is a San Francisco 49er, and if Sunday is any indication, life with Jimmy G as their quarterback would have been decent for Texan fans, as Garoppolo (334 yards passing) engineered a 26-16 win over the Texans. Of course, Deshaun Watson with two healthy knees trumps anything else out there, including Garoppolo, but Garoppolo seems to have San Fran on the way back to respectability.
Let's dig into the Texans' loss on Sunday, a depressing affair that dropped them to 4-9 on the season:
4. NFC West
Before the season, it was my opinion that the NFC West was going to take over the dubious distinction of "worst division in football" from the AFC South. San Francisco and the Los Angeles Rams appeared to be two of the worst teams in football, Arizona was below average, and this appeared to be Pete Carroll's worst Seahawk team since Russell Wilson arrived in 2012. Well, the moral of this story, as always, is that I am an idiot. With the addition of Garoppolo, the NFC West can make a case as the division with the most exciting future, with Garoppolo, Wilson, and Jared Goff all among the most prominent quarterbacks under the age of 30.
3. Baker Mayfield
We interrupt this 49ers-Texans post to tip our hat to the sixth Oklahoma Sooner to win college football's most prestigious award. Mayfield, as most predicted, won the Heisman Trophy in a runaway on Saturday night, with his 732 first place votes providing an easy cushion over runner-up Bryce Love (75 first place votes) of Stanford. Mayfield becomes the first former walk-on to win the award (Mayfield was a walk-on at Texas Tech in 2013) since athletic scholarships became a thing in the 1950's, and amazingly, for an award that virtually ALWAYS went to seniors for most of its history, Mayfield become the first senior to win the award since 2006 (Troy Smith, Ohio State). It will be very interesting to see how the NFL views Mayfield come draft time, as he's drawn comparisons ranging from Johnny Manziel (not good) to Russell Wilson (much better).
2. Houston's Mount Rushmore
If you're a loyal Texan fan who made the trek out to the stadium on Sunday, there wasn't much to feel good about, so hopefully you were paying attention to the stars that WERE out on Sunday. There was your Texans honorary team captain, Hakeem Olajuwon....
.... and there was cheerleader du jour, Simone Biles....
These were cool sideshows. Unfortunately, inevitably, there was a coin toss, a kickoff, and a game that was played. It happens.
1. T.J. Yates
The circumstances under which Yates had to enter Sunday's game were unfortunate, to say the least, and we will get to Tom Savage's concussion in just a minute, but let's evaluate this from a pure football standpoint, and remove human emotion for a second. First, Yates' two-plus quarters were crisper, more decisive, and more mistake-free than anything Savage has done as the starter this season. Admittedly, it would have been nice if Yates hadn't cooled off after his fast start, but overall, 14 of 26 for 175 yards and two touchdowns is very solid. Now, for the bigger picture take — regardless of Savage's health status, Yates should start the last three games of the season. It can certainly, easily be argued that Yates gives the Texans a better chance to win those three games, and beyond that, I'm all for bringing Yates back next season as a backup to Watson (along with a to-be-determined, drafted rookie of similar skill set to Watson), so let's make these three games a semi-audition for Yates. Look, I have no idea why Yates hasn't been able to keep a job at other stops, but for whatever reason, he has some mojo here in Houston. Let's use these last three games as a stage to see if the mojo is sustainable.
4. Human brains
This was just an absolutely brutal sequence for Savage.....
Tom Savage hits head on ground, appears to have seizure while ref looks on, comes back in the game 5 minutes later. pic.twitter.com/gW9lYxDIwQ— TheRenderNFL (@TheRenderNFL) December 10, 2017
The seizure-esque hand motion is hard to watch. Oh, by the way, Savage went back into the game for a series after this, so how's that concussion protocol working for you, NFL? That's now two weeks in a row that Savage has been examined for a concussion, and going back to last season, the second time in eight starts that he's been knocked out of a game concussed. Those are not medical numbers Savage wants as he heads into free agency (or, you know, tries to lead a normal, brain-disease-free life). Savage being knocked out of the game was one of the top headlines on the web Sunday, just a couple bullet points above tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz's career possibly being over after suffering his fourth concussion in less than two seasons. What a brutal season.
3. Texans offensive line
Meanwhile, the healthiest part of the Texans roster continues to be the offensive line, which is another way of saying that it's the part of the team that has no excuse for its sucky-ness. The starting offensive line are five guys who the team generally views as "starting caliber," independent of any attrition at their positions. The problem is that they stink right now. Jeff Allen, Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Breno Giacomini (who, amazingly, is also a captain for the Texans) have been abject disasters all season, Greg Mancz has been far worse at guard than he was last season at center, and center Nick Martin has been okay, but seems to be hitting a wall. The Texans have zero explosiveness in their running game right now, and over the last three games, they've averaged under three yards a carry. Their long run on Sunday was a 15 yard scramble by Yates. It's bad right now.
We interrupt the "Losers" portion of this post by posting about some good folks in Buffalo, who some of you might categorize as "losers" themselves. Check out the weather at yesterday's Colts-Bills game....
Field's gone. Press box is behind end zone. I can see through the snow to the near 20-yard line. The other 80 yards are just gone. Colts sideline, gone. Scoreboard, gone.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelStar) December 10, 2017
.... and now check out Bills fans....
Bills fans have upgraded to splashing hot grills pic.twitter.com/6vGZWK65ws— Busted Coverage (@bustedcoverage) December 10, 2017
Hopefully, this makes you Texan fans feel a little bit better about your lot in life.
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1. Kevin Johnson
The Texans let cornerback A.J. Bouye leave in free agency, in part, because they had former first round pick Johnson returning from a foot injury this season. When Johnson was healthy during his first two seasons, he'd been fairly solid, so speculating that he would progress from solid to very good in his third season shouldn't be considered a real reach by the Texans. However, when he's been on the field in 2017 — he missed three games with a knee injury — Johnson has been average in his best moments, and a liability in his worst. Yesterday, Johnson was targeted four times and allowed catches each time and gave up a passer rating of 118.8 when targeted. The Texans will have a decision to make on Johnson's fifth year option this offseason, and I would imagine they will exercise it, but Johnson will need a major step up in his level of play to justify their decision.
Oh, and in case you're wondering how Bouye is doing, here was his day yesterday....
Seven Targets.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 11, 2017
0.0 Passer Rating Allowed! pic.twitter.com/MXExknXTyN
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.