Somebody has to win the AFC South – it might as well be the Houston Texans.
Correction: The Houston Texans featuring Brandon Weeden. And after Sunday’s 16-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts, that’s exactly the case. The Texans are 7-7, with a one-game lead in one of football’s most putrid divisions. It’s an accomplishment, yes, but it also goes to a larger point: No matter how bad your record, you still have a shot in this upside-down NFL season.
The Seattle Seahawks clinched a playoff berth after starting 2-4. The Kansas City Chiefs are just one game back of the Denver Broncos after starting 1-5. Someone will win the NFC East, almost by default. But perhaps no team currently in position to make the playoffs more deserves a double take than the Texans – a team that was 2-5 following an embarrassing 44-26 drubbing at the hands of the hapless Miami Dolphins, and appeared ready to fold.
At that point, Houston coach Bill O’Brien had to wonder if he’d soon be joining recently deposed Dolphins coach Joe Philbin on the golf course. After all, it was O’Brien who was heavily featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks in the preseason, and it was difficult to tell if that did him any favors. Peering behind the scenes in Houston, the cracks were starting to show for a team that had gone 9-7 a year earlier: The shaky health of star running back Arian Foster, the lack of a number two wide receiver and O’Brien’s wishy-washy status on naming a starting quarterback.
Of course, all of those cracks soon became full-blown crevasses. Foster went on injured reserve, Houston still doesn’t have a compliment to DeAndre Hopkins and the quarterback situation has continued to haunt them all year.
It’s not like there were a wealth of options at the position. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett competed for the starting job in the preseason, and O’Brien eventually handed the reins over to Hoyer – saying there wouldn’t be a short leash on his QB. Turns out, he was kidding: Hoyer was pulled in Week 1, Mallett took the job in Week 2, the Texans lost three of his four starts and Hoyer was back in again.
Yet unbelievably (and thanks in no small part to the efforts of the NFL’s best defensive player, J.J. Watt), Houston is now possibly one win away from going to the postseason and hosting a playoff game. O’Brien must feel pretty good about his job status, even if he feels really terrible about his quarterback situation.
Hoyer suffered a concussion against the New England Patriots last week and that opened the door for T.J. Yates, who wasn’t with an NFL team until the Texans signed him in October to replace Mallett. But Yates tore his ACL against Indianapolis on Sunday, which meant that not only was his season over, but Weeden’s was now beginning again. Weeden, who made three starts for Dallas earlier this season and lost all of them, came in for Houston just a month after being signed following his release by the Cowboys.
He went 11-of-18 for 105 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, leading the Texans to their first lead in the division this season. He could now become the fourth quarterback to make a start for Houston this year, and potentially even do something even more unbelievable – start a playoff game. The Texans’ final two games are against the 3-11 Tennessee Titans and 5-9 Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams that they’ve already beaten this season.
Unlike the Colts – or, really, anyone else in the AFC South – Houston may not have a franchise quarterback, but as of today, they have something better: A division lead, and a playoff berth within their grasp. They can find their QB someday; if these Texans have taught us anything, it’s that they’ve learned to patiently persevere. Sometimes good things come to those who wait.