Willingly committing to Texans fandom is essentially the football equivalent of the kid who asks for a hoop and a stick for Christmas when his parents would have willingly bought him the gaming console that is the Cowboys.
But, whatever. Welcome aboard our bandwagon! There’s plenty of room, so stretch your legs. Maybe someday soon contrarian Texans will start adopting Houston’s bunch as the cooler of the two, kind of like the Clippers in LA. For now, though, it seems that there’s still time for you to get with the program so you can say, in the distant future, “I was way into them before they were so popular.”
The first step in achieving Texan fandom, though, is renouncing all things Dallas. You must start expressing savage hatred not just for the Boys, but for all things Dallas. You must speak of Dallas as a toxic ant mound populated by fire ants who all drive leased BMWs, and you must mock their lack of recent playoff success even though, alright, they do have those five Super Bowl wins (and you must plug your ears when it’s pointed out that no Houston team has ever competed in even one).
People will tell you that the Texans have never played in an AFC Championship game, a distinction they share with . . . well, nobody. Even the Jaguars have been to two. Think about that.
But let’s also think about this: It’s totally bogus that the NFL counts the Browns’ three losing AFC Championship appearances before they moved to Baltimore. The Texans, in that way, should totally be allowed to have kept the Oilers name and uniforms and their two losing AFC Championship appearances! And the new Browns haven’t made any AFC Championship games either, so it’s so unfair implying that they have. We are not alone, Texans fans, the Browns are with us by any fair assessment. So there—Cleveland and Houston are equals!
It’s this kind of mental gymnastics routine that you will have to perform to be a true Texans fan. You must learn to dredge up grudges. You have to ferret out the most pathetic moral victories. And most importantly, you must learn to cultivate your sense of schadenfreude—there are times when it is absolutely imperative for your own sanity to savor a Cowboys debacle as much or more than yet another meaningless Texans win that takes us over the hump from 8-8 to 9-7.
So, them’s the basics of being a Texans fan. To bring you up to date, here’s what to do for this season.
Basically, you can fake your fandom by just changing a few names from the same script the Texans have entered almost every season with for the last decade or so, before which they were even worse than they are now. Or maybe—the season debut was not promising.
The offensive line is mediocre at best, thin as wasp-nest paper, and its star—left tackle Duane Brown—has still not reported to practice over a salary dispute. Let’s hope he’s working out in the meantime, practicing his footwork, hitting the sleds, all that good stuff. Meanwhile, we are gonna roll with a left tackle named Kendall Lamm for “at least” the season opener. And that family name of his seems foreboding—as in it suggests where quarterback Tom Savage might want to go with an inexperienced undrafted free agent out of Appalachian State protecting his blind side.
…or at least Savage might have gone on the lam in the season opener if he were even slightly more agile than Michaelangelo’s David. Mercifully, if you can call it that, O’Brien pulled Savage after he was sacked six times in the first half. Watson managed to sidestep enough onrushing Jags to eat NRG turf only four times in the final two quarters. See? There’s another moral victory!
Regarding the receiving corps, if you ever faked being a Texan fan before, this part is easy. You probably used to say, “If only Houston could find a number two guy to stop other teams from double-teaming Andre Johnson, they might really have a great passing game.” Just replace Johnson with DeAndre Hopkins. Exact same deal: Hall of Fame talent, aggressively mediocre team; Ultimately, we’ve got twin Dale Earnhardts in a Kia. And that’s especially with the electrifying Will Fuller out for much of the season with a broken collarbone. When not dropping perfectly thrown touchdown passes, Fuller is really something. Watch him take that inside break on the DB on that post route, leave him in the dust, and then…
The other potential number two receiver—Jaelen Strong—sat out the first game over a weed suspension, which also almost sidelined third-round draft pick D’Onta Foreman before he ever suited up for a game that mattered. As a Longhorn fan and a Houstonian, I was overjoyed when the Texans finally drafted a Horn whose name would show up in box scores. They’ve historically avoided Burnt Orange alums for years in favor of Aggies, or former coach Gary Kubiak’s fetish for Colorado State players, or owner Bob McNair’s love of players from his native state of South Carolina, even if they went to Clemson, arch-rival of his alma mater, the University of South Carolina. And then Foreman went and got himself popped for possession of marijuana and a gun. His drug test came back negative, and the gun was not his. It seems likely that he will be totally vindicated, but dang, it brings back flashbacks of the days when Aggies used to tease the “Bonghorns” about their NFL busts/ disappointments/college flameouts.
Ahead of Foreman is Lamar Miller, whose career day came against the Texans, back when he was a Miami Dolphin, when he ran and received for about 400 yards and 17 touchdowns (mostly untouched) in one of our franchise’s more recent grand debacles. Since then he has been just as average as he, and this franchise, can be. As my little sister used to say when she was in pre-K, “You like it, you love it, eat it.”
Yes, most of you are probably wondering when I was going to bring up the quarterback situation. In short, all is normal in that it is still a dumpster fire. The best QB in Texans’ franchise history is Matt Schaub, in that brief window of time from when he went from successful back-up in Atlanta to top-five starter in Houston to post-traumatic-pick six-afflicted disaster in Houston. He really was pretty good there for a little while in between! Remember?
So, the questions are: who was the second-best QB in Texans history? David Carr? Umm, no.
Let’s see who was the biggest winner in his time under center at NRG. If you go by winning percentage of QBs who’ve started ten games or more, you get the immortal Sage Rosenfels. That can’t be right, can it? Yes it can, sadly. And if you take away the ten games requirement, Brock Osweiler is in second place. Look it up.
How bad can it get? This bad: Hometown hero (as a University of Houston alum) Case Keenum is a guy you still hear people pine for on radio call-in shows, even though Keenum lost his first eight starts as a Texan. And then he won his last two (in garbage time of the 2014 season), whereupon he was shipped to the Rams for a seventh round pick. Which is not to say he was the right choice, but when the team’s back-up plans for 2015 started with Brian Hoyer and moved through Brandon Weeden, Ryan Mallett, and T.J. Yates, it’s hard to argue that the Texans should not have stood pat there.
Eight guys have started at QB for the Texans in the last three seasons alone, and of them all, Ryan Fitzpatrick was the most successful, as measured by QB rating, if not wins. Ryan. Joseph. Fitzpatrick. (Fun fact! The eight picks he tossed in a Houston uniform outnumber the children he has with wife Liza Barber by only two! Why did I include this? For fun halftime chatter at your next horrific Texans watch party!)
Sigh. So what about this season? Is it the dawning of the Tom Savage era, or is he just keeping the seat warm for number twelve overall draft pick and slayer of the Crimson Elephant of Tuscaloosa, DeShaun Watson? Will one or both of them be enough to ravage the little sisters of the poor that are the rest of the AFC South (wait, those Jags looked fierce the other night, or maybe that’s only because they were playing the Texans), and guarantee us another 9-7 playoff campaign? Only time will tell. All we know for sure is that the veteran Savage remains a mystery at an age when most really good QBs are long-established, and the fact that Watson did not lock down the position ahead of him in preseason does not bode well. Nor does that fact that Savage’s sack-wracked first half performance score higher in QB rating than Watson’s more exciting, if equally ineffective second half.
Oh, and the defense? They should be pretty good. Maybe really good. J.J. Watt is back. Probably not at the otherworldly level that he was before his two very, very serious back surgeries, and the reparation of five torn core muscles, but possibly at an all-pro level again. This is all provided, and this sadly is an all-too-real prospect, that his back doesn’t go all wonky again. Jadeveon Clowney finally stayed healthy and lived up to his freakish athleticism last year, but the idea that both of those guys would ever being firing on all cylinders together, bookending the Texans line at full steam, is gone. But hey, still, if high-motor nose tackle D.J. Reader can tie up as many or more blockers as the now-retired Vince Wilfork once did, and with even a diminished Watt, and a healthy Clowney and Whitney Mercilus and Bernardrick McKinney coming off the edge to boot, the Texans D should be rugged as a pair of Tony Lama boots. Even with an average secondary. But again, that was not how it looked on opening night. Offensive guard Xavier Su’a-Filo had as many tackles as Watt and Clowney combined. Shaun Watson equaled both our most acclaimed defensive studs in the same category, and Watson’s lone tackle saved a touchdown . . . off a pick he threw, but still. Moral victories people. You like ‘em, you love ‘em, eat ‘em.
Still, for those of you who choose to adopt this team, you are choosing to love what The Wire’s drug kingpin Stringer Bell memorably called “a 40-degree day.”
We are the 40-degree-day of teams. As String put it, after describing the various effects of twenty and thirty-degree days (too cold) and 50- and 60-degree days (quite pleasant, by winter-in-Maryland standards), he had this to say: “But 40? Nobody give a f*** about 40! Nobody remember 40! And y’all [epithet deleted] is givin’ me way too many 40-degree days! I mean, what the f***?”
As a Texans fan you are always looking at 6-10 at bottom, and 9-7 at top, a quick exit from the playoffs and very little to remember from the previous season going into next year, except that it will forever be same as it ever was. Just like the year before that, and the year before that. Yeah, every once in awhile we will throw a 12-4 out there (followed by an inevitably swift exit from the playoffs), or a freak cold snap 2-14 disaster as out of nowhere as a pre-Weather Channel blue norther, but the Texans are generally nothing if not consistently blah.
Yep. Prior to that stinker of a debut, I was thinking 9-7 at best, another post-season humiliation, and a contract extension for head coach Bill O’Brien in January, and wait for next year’s chilly but not miserable season. Now I am not so sure. With that offensive line and the quarterback situation still critical, it’s hard to pick out six wins on their schedule, even with the woeful Bengals coming up and the godawful Colts sharing their division. The Jags actually do look decent, and the Titans are a smidge better than last year, opening loss to David Carr’s little brother Derek’s Raiders notwithstanding. (Another fun fact: the Texans drafted Su’a-Filo just ahead of Carr, pretty much solely because the Carr family and the Texans have bad mojo, after the franchise threw him to the wolves behind a terrible offensive line and ruined a once-promising career. That’s not the party line though—as of last year, the Texans were still defending their choice for on-field reasons: “We chose who we chose and we’re happy with who we chose,” said O’Brien, before allowing that “Derek is having a good year.”
So: maybe the worst offensive line in recent NFL history. One go-to receiver. (Forgot to mention, at least two and maybe three of our tight ends went out with concussions in game one, including the improving C.J. Fiedorowicz and his back-up Ryan Griffin.) A dilemma at QB: play the stiff or sacrifice the rookie. A defense that looks like hell on earth on paper but was manhandled by Blake Bortles and rookie Leonard Fournette. (Who is the real deal, people. And his donation of $50,000 to Harvey relief was much appreciated—the New Orleanian never forgot what Houston did for his native city after Katrina.)
With all those revelations in hand it’s impossible to pick out nine wins on this schedule. Hell, it’s hard to find six.
So no, this won’t be a pretty season, but we are accustomed to that down here. As long as the Cowboys flame out gloriously again, your real work is done here.