Loss to Rams would put Bill O’Brien’s Texans in unprecedented predicament
LOS ANGELES -- Bill O’Brien has been through a lot since he arrived on Kirby Drive.
And I mean a lot.
Bottoming out at 2-5 in the 2015 “Hard Knocks” year, after Ryan Mallett couldn’t make the team flight to Miami and the Dolphins embarrassed the fractured Texans in a nasty blowout.
All the endless quarterbacks from 2014-16, which left a gritty coach pulling weekly answers off the couch and from hunting trips during annual chaotic journeys to 9-7.
Suddenly losing Deshaun Watson’s brilliance 10 days ago, just when O’Brien finally had the real QB he’d longed for and the Texans had the offense we’d begged for.
But even with everything O’Brien and his Texans have been through since he took over on Kirby, they’ll reach a new low Sunday if they fall to the NFL’s surprise squad at Memorial Coliseum.
Another victory for the Jared Goff-Sean McVay partnership (and old friend Wade Phillips) would mean 3-6 for Houston’s failing football team. O’Brien was never three games below .500 after the midway point of his previous three seasons. Even when the Texans hit 2-5 in ’15, they won seven of their final nine games and turned a four-game winning streak in the middle of the year into O’Brien’s first AFC South title.
The 2017 Texans turned a post-Watson no-show into a galling 20-14 home loss to the bad Indianapolis Colts last weekend. Fall again in L.A., and O’Brien’s team will be in a place it has never been before, even in the years with countless quarterbacks, constant front-office drama and Brock Osweiler having the ball yanked from his hands.
“I know we got to get going,” O’Brien said. “We keep going down the road of not winning games, we’re not going to be where we want to be. … We try to say it’s 16 one-game seasons. But I know that we need to pick it up. We need to get going.”
Can they? Do they actually have it in them?
Or are they just over and done, in an off year that started backward in Week 1?
Those are the real questions in Week 10.
That’s why Colin Kaepernick received as much attention in Houston as the Astros this past week, and (off the couch again) T.J. Yates was allowed to split first-team reps with (formerly benched) Tom Savage.
Post-Watson, the Texans have become one of the NFL’s most desperate teams, and it will take a road victory no one expects - or going 6-2 in their final eight games - to return life to a season that’s down to its last breaths.
Talk of the town
O’Brien’s name also was linked to Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL this week and the fourth-year coach jokingly made a Three Stooges reference, which gives you a pretty good feel for where the Texans are before they face the league’s highest-scoring attack.
The Texans (28.6) are actually just behind the Rams (32.9) in average points. But one set of numbers is now outdated, thanks to Watson’s departure.
Just getting a first-half touchdown pass out of Savage will be a breakthrough at the ol’ Coliseum.
And when you factor in that a disappointing Texans defense ranks 30th out of 32 teams in average points allowed (26), there’s the obvious potential that 3-6 could feel worse than it looks if Sunday afternoon turns into another Goff-McVay blowout.
“Sean’s doing a good job with him. (Goff) can make all the throws, which you knew that coming out of college - that’s why he was drafted No. 1,” O’Brien said. “He’s in a good rhythm. He’s got a good mix of three-step and intermediate routes, down-the-field routes, short routes.
“The running game, they’re averaging 132 yards per game rushing the ball with (Todd) Gurley. They’ve got a great offense, so it’s a big challenge for us.”
And then some.
Did we want more than 9-7 the last three years?
Obviously. As we were told, 9-7 is not the bar on Kirby.
But we also learned to never count O’Brien’s Texans out.
They were 5-6 in 2014 during O’Brien’s rookie campaign, won four of their final five, then nearly turned Case Keenum into a last-minute playoff berth.
After falling to 2-5 in ’15, the Texans were 6-7 with three games to go. Of course, they won all of those - including a first-ever victory at Indianapolis with Brandon Weeden and Yates - and captured the division.
Even with Osweiler and constant drama, O’Brien’s Texans never fell below .500 last year.
Echoes of the Astros
Now they’re in football L.A., trying to save their 2017 season and prevent the deepest hole of their coach’s career.
There were bright-orange Jose Altuve and World Series champion Astros shirts on my third flight to California in three weeks.
There also were the normal cross-country Texans travelers, but the red and blue was subdued and blending in in Week 10. The followers thought they’d be flying to Los Angeles to witness Watson soar in the famous Coliseum. They paid to watch a 3-5 team trying to prove this isn’t the beginning of the end.