The holidays are the perfect time for us to face the eternal dinner table question for Texas NFL fans: who’s better, the Texans or the Cowboys? Last year, that question was easy to answer. The Cowboys were one of the league’s best teams, and the Texans stank. But this year, it’s been tougher. Sure, the Texans have the better record, but fans of the injury-plagued Cowboys could snap back with, “Let’s see how your team would do if Brandon Weeden were playing quarterback!”
Alas, we can now offer an apples-to-apples comparison: Cowboys castoff Brandon Weeden did, in fact, play quarterback for the Houston Texans on Sunday, and they won—something that the Cowboys failed to do in any games with Weeden as a starter. Thus, we can authoritatively state that the Texans are better than the Cowboys this year.
Weeden stepped in for the Texans after second-stringer T.J. Yates went down with a torn ACL. (Regular starter Brian Hoyer was already out with a concussion.) And in the most important game of the Texans’ season, Weeden came through. Though his final stat line of 11-18 for 106 yards and a touchdown is not exactly impressive, it was plenty to keep the team’s head above water as they wrested sole control of the AFC South from the Colts, resulting in the team’s first win in Indianapolis in franchise history.
That Weeden won a meaningful game for the Texans probably sticks in Jerry Jones’s craw—the Cowboys turned to the undrafted Kellen Moore (whom the Cowboys re-signed after cutting the young player in November) in week fifteen—and have been utterly unable to find a solution at quarterback with Tony Romo injured. And though the question of “would the Cowboys have been better if the leash Jones gave Weeden hadn’t been so short” is one that could presumably keep fans who saw their team’s playoff hopes officially die this past week awake at night, especially in the wake of what happened in Indianapolis Sunday. Weeden is a winner now, and he’s winning games for a team that plays down I-45 from Jones’s ‘Boys.
The Brandon Weeden era in Houston is not likely to be a long one. Hoyer is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol, which means that his status is up in the air, but odds are good that he’ll be back before too long. Weeden might end up starting on Sunday against the Titans, but his role is still the Texans recently-promoted number two. He’s not someone that even a head coach like Bill O’Brien, whose approach to the quarterback position is “ehhhhh, some guys who used to back up Tom Brady a while back are probably fine,” is likely to be excited about as a longterm prospect. But on a team with a defense as stout as that of the Texans, with a receiving threat like DeAndre Hopkins on the outside, Weeden’s five-yard passes may well be enough.
The Texans aren’t a great team, but they probably don’t get demonstrably worse with Weeden, in other words. That’s kind of a backhanded compliment, but it’s fair. Any team that’s relied on four different quarterbacks during the course of a season is a team that is just lucky to be alive during a playoff race, and the Texans don’t need the same sort of production from a quarterback that the Cowboys did.
The Texans don’t play a good team the rest of the season—they’ve got the Tennessee Titans next week, and the Jacksonville Jaguars the week after that—and because of the win against the Colts yesterday, they only have to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs. The fact that there’s a possibility that Weeden could end up starting a home playoff game for the Houston Texans would have seemed absurd just two months ago, when the Texans were 2-5 and he was starting games for the Cowboys, but the NFL season is an unpredictable thing. The Brandon Weeden era in Houston has thus far been uninspiring, but it’s been good enough in relief—and that’s enough to make Texans fans happy and Cowboys fans sad, which should make for a merry Christmas in Houston.