Houston Texans fans, rejoice! You finally have a new quarterback. Sadly, it’s one of your old quarterbacks: Ryan Mallett, who was announced as the starter for the 2014 Houston Texans last November—a tenure that lasted two games before an injury ended his season last year.
Mallett was ousted as this year’s starter during training camp, when former Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer claimed the role. But in his first start with the Texans Sunday, Hoyer stank up the joint something fierce, completing just over 50 percent of his passes, throwing an interception, averaging under seven yards per attempt, getting sacked four times, and posting a QBR rating of 12.3 out of 100.
Mallett stepped in for the struggling starter near the end of the fourth quarter (and the fans at the stadium were ready—they spent much of the second half chanting his name). Mallett played well in relief duty, albeit in a game that was largely out of hand at that point, and head coach Bill O’Brien announced this week that Mallett would take the wheel going forward, beginning with the week two game against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The saying goes that when you have two starting quarterbacks, you don’t have any, and there’s no clearer example than Houston, where they’ve had lots of non-starting starting quarterbacks. There are a lot of teams who’ve had bad runs with QBs over the years—the Cleveland Browns come to mind—but the Texans’ situation might be the most pathetic, simply because they’ve never had someone who fans could get behind. Even the adequate tenure of Matt Schaub ended so poorly that saying his name in Houston now requires fans to spit on the ground; and inaugural starting quarterback David Carr’s name is so cursed in the city that fans were terrified that there was even a possibility of drafting his younger brother, Oakland Raiders starter Derek Carr, in 2014.
Here’s the list of everyone who has ever started at quarterback for the Houston Texans: David Carr, Tony Banks, Dave Ragone, Matt Schaub, Safe Rosenfels, T.J. Yates, Matt Leinart, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, and Brian Hoyer. It’s like a Jeopardy! clue where the response is “Who are a bunch of people who will never get a good table at Del Frisco’s?”
Entering the 2015 season, there was little reason to believe that the worm had turned in Houston. Mallett is a career backup whose resume highlight is that he had served as an understudy to Tom Brady, a pedigree that’s done little for mediocre-at-best quarterbacks such as Matt Cassell and, well, Brian Hoyer. A quarterback competition between two guys whose only real NFL credential is not being Tom Brady isn’t the sort of thing that energizes a fan base. And when Hoyer was crowned during training camp there was a strong suspicion that he might not last. But the way it played out was particularly ridiculous: He didn’t even make it through a whole game before coaches decided that he wasn’t their guy.
And thus begins the Ryan Mallett Era. But a few games down the line, the end of the Ryan Mallett Era will probably signal the beginning of the next Brian Hoyer Era. Unless Mallett summons on-field talents that he apparently couldn’t muster during training camp, the odds are good that he’s going to blow a game or two. And if O’Brien has declared that his approach to choosing a quarterback is to be fickle—like yanking a struggling starter and anointing his backup after three-and-a-half quarters—then there’s no reason to believe that Mallett has a lot of QB job security.
It’s possible, of course, that Mallett surprises us. O’Brien expressed great confidence in Mallett Thursday when he declared, “He’s a decisive player. Let it rip and go play quarterback.” That’s encouraging, but it’d be more encouraging if he had made such declarations about Mallett before the season started, before he expressed confidence that Brian Hoyer was the guy to lead this team.
All of this leaves the Texans in a weird position: They have the best player in football on their team, but he plays defensive end. They have one of the best running backs in the NFL, but he’s injured. They’re two years into a rebuilding project that shouldn’t have been necessary to begin with—the team had been a playoff contender before Schaub’s slide—but they’re squandering good years with good players.
At the end of the 2013 season, the Texans had the number one overall pick in the 2014 draft. That was something of a monkey’s paw—consensus best-player-available Jadeveon Clowney was the smart pick, and the microfracture injury he suffered was more “bad luck” than “bad pick,” and even a QB-needy team shouldn’t have looked to Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles when Clowney was available. But the team opted not to trade up in the first round to acquire current Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater, and similarly declined to take Derek Carr at the start of round two. The prospects in the 2015 draft were rougher, but the fact that the Texans have continued to neglect the quarterback position—whether by failing to pick one up in the early rounds of the draft in 2014, or to get in on the action that saw promising young players like Sam Bradford and Nick Foles traded—for two years of J.J. Watt’s prime is a serious bummer.
We’ll hope for the best from Ryan Mallett. He’s only started one NFL game with his pectorals muscle intact, anyway—and they won—so he may be the sort of player who turns it on in games even if he’s not a great practice quarterback. But if Texans fans who chanted Mallett’s name on Sunday are roaring “Hoy-Er! Hoy-Er!” by week four we won’t be surprised.