How quickly hope fades for the Houston Texans.

This year’s nail in the coffin came on the heels of an easy win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 18. Despite a recent beating by the Colts, the Texans were still only a game out of first place, albeit in a division shaping up as literally the worst in NFL history. Still, the team was coming off a win, in playoff contention, and owner Bob McNair had made a wise political decision by rescinding his $10,000 donation to anti-HERO efforts. The Big Mo was on the Texans’ side.

Or not. In about 72 hours, the Texans played one of the worst 30 minutes of football in the history of the modern game; lost one of their marquee players to injury, likely forever; and have cut their coach’s handpicked one-time quarterback, but not before his immature behavior Malletted a wedge between head coach Bill O’Brien and general manager Rick Smith, a feud that is now playing out in the public prints.

Let’s start with that QB. According to reports, on Saturday Ryan Mallett was late to a morning team meeting and then missed the team’s charter flight to Miami, citing a Saturday traffic jam that failed to ensnare any of the other 53 Texans. Yes, on the same day. As petulant as he is inaccurate, these were Mallett’s second and third strikes this season. Back in training camp he missed a practice, claiming that his cellphone died and with it his alarm.

With that track record, O’Brien might have just told Mallett to head down to NRG Stadium and clean out his locker. And if you believe “sources with direct knowledge of the situation who weren’t authorized to speak publicly” who dished to the Houston Chronicle’s Brian T. Smith, that is exactly what O’Brien wanted to do.

According to those sources, O’Brien was overruled by general manager Rick Smith, who didn’t want to travel to Miami with only one real quarterback. Still, Mallett might as well have stayed home Sunday hurling 90-mph footballs through brick walls or whatever it is he does at his crib, as there was no way O’Brien was going to let him take the field. The coach’s conviction was tested by the carnage of the Florida game, which deceptively went into the books as a semi-respectable defeat, as Mallett sat on the sidelines.

Really, though, despite the 44-26 score, that game was a horrible disaster from which the reputation of no Texan coach or player (save Shane Lechler—who totally crushed it on punts) survived unscathed. It stands out as epic even in the narrative of this sorriest of franchises, and it could prove a turning point in the city’s relationship with its football team.

The first half had stat geeks in a tizzy, scouring the annals of NFL history for *ss-kickings of this magnitude. Some game superlatives:

  • Six minutes into the second quarter, the Dolphins had gained 305 yards to the Texans -2 and had scored 41 points to the Texans 0. At that point, the Dolphins were on pace to win 138-0 and rack up more than 1,000 yards of offense.
  • The Texans launched mediocre NFL starter Ryan Tannehill into the pantheon of greats (for the day, anyway): Tannehill became the 64th person since 1948 to earn a perfect quarterback rating, putting him alongside the likes of Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Peyton Manning. He completed his first 18 passes, added to the seven completions at the end of the previous game, and now holds the NFL record for consecutive completions.
  • Dolphins running back Lamar Miller churned out 236 yards of total offense in the first half. According to ESPN Stats Info, Miller ran for 125 yards before contact. That’s right, he ran the length of one field and a quarter of another untouched.
  • O’Brien left fragile franchise running back Arian Foster on the field, and Foster shredded his Achilles tendon, ending his season and quite possibly his career.
  • There was this volleyball-set play, stiff competition for the infamous Rosencopter incident in LolTexans rumblin’, stumblin’, fumblin’ lore. Cue “Yakety Sax” and enjoy.
  • If you are looking for Texans first-half highlights, you’ll have to content yourself with Lechler’s punting and, um, Hoyer’s recovery of his own fumble? (Lechler’s big day made it a trifecta of joy for Aggie fans. Unfortunately for Texan fans, the other two—Tannehill and Miami interim head coach Dan Campbell—were on the wrong sideline.)

Lest we forget, this shellacking came a few weeks after the Falcons laid down a strikingly similar, if not quite as statistically sexy, 42-0 beatdown on the Texans, and a couple of weeks after they lost to a Colts team quarterbacked by a 40-year-old backup a few days removed from his “deathbed.”

Observers both in Houston and around the country are beginning to pin the origin of the team’s systematic problems come on owner’s box. The Smith-O’Brien schism is further exposing this truth. (By Tuesday, the coach and GM had at least pretended to bury the hatchet.)

We’ve reported our own opinions on McNair’s shortcomings as an owner, from his reliance on character over talent to his extreme interest in politics, but we aren’t the only ones. Bitter Texans fans have long accused the Chronicle of homerism, but you can’t say that about Brian T. Smith’s latest column.

 Do the Texans believe in the screaming O’Brien?

How long will McNair remain devoted to a ninth-year GM who has all of two wild-card playoff wins?

Is 2-5 OK on Kirby Drive as long as the millions keep rolling in and the home games keep selling out?

All I know is I never thought I’d see an O’Brien team with less heart than in Kubiak’s last year. Even sweet Kubes would’ve kicked Mallett off the plane.

Hell of a season, Texans. Hell of a way to start a funeral.

A funeral? Smith sells it short. Funerals are temporary, and the best ones leave you feeling whole, resolute, glad to be alive, smiling through tears, full of memories about the best of the dearly departed. This franchise is more like a pauper’s graveyard: eternal, forsaken, and yes, where careers go to die in unjust near-anonymity, unsung by the masses. This potter’s field is where the vast bulk of Andre Johnson’s career was interred under a heap of his teammates’ incompetence, and barring a total organizational overhaul, it’s where the careers of JJ Watt and DeAndre Hopkins will meet the same fate.

So far more than 21,000 fans responded to a Chronicle poll asking, “What should the Texans do after Sunday’s debacle at Miami?” Forty-four percent picked the nuclear “fire everybody” option, but even that isn’t likely. O’Brien still has four years and $20 million left on his contract, and Smith is the godfather of McNair’s grandchild.

But is coaching really the problem? Under Gary Kubiak’s watch, the Denver Broncos are now 6-0. O’Brien miraculously maintained Penn State’s respectability after the Sandusky scandal. Is there something in the Houston smog that made those guys forget how to coach? Or maybe McNair needs to spend a little more cash on a creditable starting QB than he does on trying to swing elections? In the last two years, McNair has donated $5.5 million to GOP candidates while paying Hoyer $4.7 million.

Perhaps more importantly, have Houston Texans fans ever asked themselves if they need to fan better? Show a little tough love to a team that has done nothing but take in billions of dollars while walking all over them for thirteen years?

But hey, the Colts lost too! The Texans are still in the playoff hunt! And TJ Yates is back!