Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 18: Titans 28, Texans 25 — Four Winners, Four Losers

The Texans 2021 season is over, and now attention turns to David Culley's job security.
The Texans 2021 season is over, and now attention turns to David Culley's job security. Photo by Jack Gorman
For the 2021 Houston Texans, the word "progress" is a relative term. When your team is picking third in the draft, almost by definition, the season has contained very little progress, particularly when you consider that, for the second straight season, the Texans finished with just four wins. However, this team HAD shown progress over the last few weeks, with Davis Mills becoming the starting quarterback again.

The Texans came into Sunday's game with the Tennessee Titans having won two of their last three games, and with hopes of spoiling the Titans' shot at the one seed in the AFC. For the first half of Sunday's game, it looked like the Texans had forfeited all of the aforementioned progress, trailing 21-0 at the half. However, they pieced together a valiant effort in the second half, coming up just short, 28-25.

Now, the most important and intriguing Texans offseason in recent memory gets underway, with head coach David Culley's future squarely under the microscope. We will eventually get to Culley, but let's hit some other winners and losers from yesterday:

WINNERS
click to enlarge Mike Vrabel has a great shot at coach of the Year. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Mike Vrabel has a great shot at coach of the Year.
Photo by Jack Gorman
4. Mike Vrabel
As we've discussed on a weekly basis, the league is littered with former Texans' employees on rosters everywhere. Well, there are also coaches with the Houston Texans as a stop on their resumes, as well, and perhaps no former Texans employee has had a better 2021 season than Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. Having lost his three most important skill players (Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, Julio Jones) for big chunks of the season, including MVP candidate Derrick Henry for half the season, Vrabel's ability to coax 12 wins out of this team, along with massive improvement on the defensive side of the ball, should give him pole position for the NFL's Coach of the Year award, in my opinion. It's sad to think the Texans had Vrabel right there in the building four years ago, and that they are instead languishing with David Culley.
click to enlarge Danny Amendola had a career day, with seven catches for 113 yards. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Danny Amendola had a career day, with seven catches for 113 yards.
Photo by Jack Gorman
3. Danny Amendola
The signing of Amendola before the season was a bit of a head scratcher, given his age (36 years old). Of course, when you consider his Patriot roots, and Nick Caserio's proclivity for old Patriot players, it becomes less head scratching. Amendola had spent most of the last several weeks on the injured list and then the COVID list, but he was able to turn back the clock on Sunday. In the absence of Brandin Cooks, who had suffered a knee injury in the first half of the loss to the Titans, Amendola became Davis Mills' go to guy, with seven catches for 113 yards, two touchdowns, and a two point conversion. It will be interesting to see if, like Rex Burkhead, Amendola is brought back on a one year deal next season for his leadership traits.

2. Bill O'Brien propaganda train
As Bill O'Brien prepares for tonight's College Football Playoff title game, as offensive coordinator for Alabama, his agent is working overtime, getting his name tossed into the mix for some of the gigs that are open (or about to come open) around the league. Here is the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport lugging all sort of water for O'Brien here:
I am sure O'Brien will try to say all the right things in an attempt to coach Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville. I'm sure he will say he just wants to coach, and is cool having limited to no say in personnel. I pray that Jags owner Shad Khan believes him, and hires him. That would add so much more sizzle to two Texans vs Jags games each season.
click to enlarge Davis Mills has played well enough to keep the team from drafting a QB. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Davis Mills has played well enough to keep the team from drafting a QB.
Photo by Jack Gorman
1. Davis Mills, 2022 Week 1 starter
For 30 minutes on Sunday, it appeared that Mills was going to go into the offseason with his biggest clunker of a start since resuming his role as the starter back in Week 14. However, behind an abandonment of the running game and some uptempo offense in the second half, Mills was able to regenerate 25 points of offense in the third and fourth quarters. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that he did it without Brandin Cooks, who injured a knee in the first half. Since returning to the starters role, Mills has a passer rating of 102.4, which over the course of a full season would make him the sixth highest rated passer in the league. Of course, Mills' first six starts of the season are part of his overall stat picture, but the version of Mills we've seen since Week 14 is definitely good enough to be the starter for this team in 2022.

LOSERS

4. Kansas City Chiefs fans
Had the Texans pulled off the upset on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs would have elevated to the number one overall seed in the AFC, a crucial accomplishment for a team's Super Bowl probability, as the one seed now gets the only first round bye in each conference. (Green Bay is the number one seed in the NFC.) It was fun watching Chiefs fans forced to root for the Texans on Sunday, and see another fan base, in particular one spoiled by having Pat Mahomes its quarterback, forced to experience what rooting for the Texans is like. Welcome to our nightmare, Kansas City, the water is warm!

click to enlarge Hopefully, David Johnson has played his last game as a Texan. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Hopefully, David Johnson has played his last game as a Texan.
Photo by Jack Gorman
3. David Johnson
I will  preface this by saying David Johnson seems like a decent and kind human being — my saying this is a gigantic tell that he is about to get sideswiped with a tsunami of shade — but if I never have to watch him carry a football for the Houston Texans ever again, it will still be too soon. He is the walking embodiment of the DeAndre Hopkins trade, and every touch of the football is a reminder as to just how horrific a GM Bill O'Brien was, and what a disastrous decision it was to allow Bill O'Brien to make a series of equally disastrous decisions as the GM. Good luck, David Johnson, but go away, David Johnson. Never come back.

2. Joe Judge
If you're TRYING to get fired (and I have no evidence to support that Joe Judge is trying to), this is a pretty good way to go about it. Quarterback sneak on 3rd and 9 from your own four yard line. This happened in an NFL game. God bless, Joe Judge....
click to enlarge David Culley'smloyalty to his staff is puzzling, to say the least. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
David Culley'smloyalty to his staff is puzzling, to say the least.
Photo by Jack Gorman
1. David Culley
As recently as a week ago, reports surfaced locally and nationally that the Texans would likely be retaining David Culley as head coach in 2022. Then, late this past eek and over the weekend, it seemed like the temperature on Culley's set got turned back up. Now, all we know is that Culley has a year end presser today at 3:45 p.m., and GM Nick Caserio has one on Tuesday morning. That doesn't lay out like a media schedule that includes firing a head coach, but with the Texans, you never know. Quite honestly, I would have fired Culley after this answer about Tim Kelly's job security last Friday:

But maybe that's just me.

It's going to be a very interesting next few days around here, to be sure.

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 afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast