Culture / Sporting Life

Case Keenum Haunts the Texans

Don’t Dare Blame J.J. Watt’s Wildcat Play For This QB Debacle

BY // 01.10.16

Brian Hoyer walks away briskly, almost unnoticed. Which is as much of an indictment as anything. Quarterbacks are not supposed to disappear into the scenery.

That’s what happens after Hoyer’s done with his media responsibilities and perhaps done with the Houston Texans altogether. He gets one fist bump from a teammate, but otherwise his retreat into the night and another uncertain offseason goes unrecognized. Wearing a sports coat, designer jeans and a few-days stubble, Hoyer could fit into any crowd of young professionals.

This is how the Texans’ season ends: With a boring whimper. Hoyer throws away the playoff game the Texans fought so hard to get, contributing four interceptions and two fumbles to a 30-0 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He wastes the Texans defense, the all-hands brilliance of DeAndre Hopkins and all the coaching wrinkles Bill O’Brien brought to the table.

“I think I made some bad decisions that really hurt the team,” Hoyer says. And the understatement of the year goes to …

It didn’t have to be like this, of course. The Texans could have had Case Keenum starting this playoff game. They could have had a fighting chance. The most dubious move of Houston’s offseason — jettisoning Keenum, a promising young starting NFL quarterback, to the St. Louis Rams for a seventh round draft pick — came back to haunt again in the final game of the season.

Keenum almost beat the Chiefs in his first NFL start despite playing in fearsome Arrowhead Stadium, losing Arian Foster in the opening minutes of the game and watching a rookie-year Hopkins fail to make one of the acrobatic end-zone catches that have since become his signature. There’s no way Keenum would have thrown four interception in this game.

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The former University of Houston record breaker has never thrown more than two picks  in any NFL game.

There is a lot of talk about these Texans needing only a game manager at quarterback. With only 15 career NFL starts under his belt, Keenum is already a much better game manager than Hoyer ever will be. And Keenum’s flashed the potential to be so much more. But O’Brien — a great coach who has made some very questionable personnel decisions — gave up on the local star.

You won’t hear about this from the Houston media, though. Instead, a 30-0 playoff loss has brought a lot of teeth-gnashing about … one J.J. Watt Wildcat play.

The backlash against O’Brien’s decision to direct snap the ball to Watt on one goal-line play is so over-the-top and misguided that it’s comical, The funniest part is the notion that O’Brien hurt the Texans’ momentum. Are you kidding? What momentum? The Texans had about as much momentum in this game as Jeb Bush does in the presidential race.

A direct snap to the hulking Watt has a better chance of producing a touchdown from the 2-yard line than a Hoyer throw does. O’Brien’s being creative and doing what he can. Whenever one of these Watt offensive play works, it’s a huge spark for the Texans.

“It was a jumbo package and we felt like it was going to work,” O’Brien says. “And it didn’t work. That’s on me.”

That should be the end of it. The Texans had been practicing having Watt run from the wildcat in a goal-line situation with the 330-pound-plus Vince Wilfork serving as a monster fullback for weeks. It’s an interesting wrinkle, not something to condemn or mock.

Hoyer’s quarterback play is the only thing that deserves mocking. The other Texans did not exactly rush to defend No. 7 in the wake of 30-0.

“You just can’t turn the ball over,” says running back Alfred Blue, who rushed for 99 yards in his first career playoff game.

“That’s not my side of the ball,” Watt says.

“He is a grown man. I can’t sit here and say I feel sorry for a grown man,” Hopkins says. “You learn and this is football, you make mistakes. I don’t feel bad for him because I know he is going to move on and be a better player.”

It’s hard to imagine Texans fans swallowing the idea of Hoyer’s next chance happening in Houston. The Texans look like a bad team that won a putrid division, offering as much resistance as a doomed Star Wars icon in the NFL’s playoff opener. Just head out there on that bridge, OK?

The Texans’ reality is more complicated than this, though. There is a good chance everything’s different if Houston has a Case Keenum to start this game. This is simply a talented team without a quarterback — and that gets ugly fast in the NFL playoffs. No matter what the buildup is.

The Texans bring out Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio and Houston boxing legend George Foreman for a little bit of extra karma. Texans fans fill the stadium early this time, wave their white towels like the future of mankind depends on it. Then … disaster.

Knile Davis returns the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown, finding a hole in Houston’s kickoff coverage large enough for Shamu to fit through with ease. So much for the pageantry. Hoyer compounds things by adding a telegraphed first quarter interception and a unforced fumble in which he simply drops the ball while attempting to throw. D’oh!

The Texans can’t stop tripping over themselves with all the grace of a doomed Quentin Tarrantino character. While the game is put away in the third quarter, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith completes seven of eight passes for 111 yards. Hoyer goes three for nine for 15 yards.

Wave goodbye to the season.

“You can say moral victory, you can say came back from 2-5, you can say whatever you want,” Watt says. “But at the end of the day this league is about winning championships and we didn’t win a championship, so it is a disappointment. Quite frankly, I don’t care what anyone else says about that.

“We did accomplish some great things, but that doesn’t matter to me. In this league it is about winning championships and we didn’t do that.”

The Texans just don’t have a capable quarterback. They had a young one and gave him away. Now, Case Keenum goes into the offseason as another team’s No. 1 quarterback, maybe even the quarterback of the NFL’s return-to-LA team. There’s no such anticipation for the Texans. Just uncertainty and a new set of doubts.

The Texans have one of most creative coaches in the NFL. They have the best defensive player in the game. But they sure could use Case Keenum.

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